Fatima is a village in the centre of Portugal about 45 kilometres north of Lisbon. It was there in 1917 that three humble peasant children began having a series of apparitions of angels and later The Blessed Virgin Mary. The children were Lucia Santos, age 9, and her two cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, ages 8 and 6 respectively. The children had taken their parents’ sheep to pasture in a place not far from their homes in the mountainous village of Fatima. It started to drizzle, and the children sought shelter in a nearby cave. Suddenly, across the field, a white light appeared, moving over the open space toward the cave. The three children stared in awe as they saw, in the centre of the light, a beautiful angel in flowing white garments.

On Sunday, May 13, 1917, slightly more than a year after the angel’s two previous visits, there appeared to the children a dazzling white light over a small Holm-oak tree. The vision was of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She told the children to say the rosary every day, and to bear all the sufferings God would send them. Even though there were about seventy people present at this apparition, the government refused to believe the children. At that time, the Portuguese government was secular and antagonistic towards religion, which led them to treat the children very harshly, even placing them in prison with the threat of boiling them in oil unless they confessed to having made up their story. In spite of this the children never wavered, they believed in the apparitions and continued to pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary.