Anyone who has been interested in the apparitions of Fatima from the beginning has felt a curiosity and burning desire to uncover or see uncovered the mysterious secret which the children claimed to have received from the Lady, and which they kept inviolate in the face of the most alluring promises as well as the most terrifying threats. All three affirmed it, and all three kept it. Neither inquisitorial ability nor blandishments, neither the ecclesiastical authority of the pastor nor the civil authority of the Administrator achieving anything. The children were imprisoned, threatened with martyrdom, but all to no avail.
The pastor was scandalized at their strange silence. Even the authority of His Excellency the Bishop of Leira was unduly invoked and that of the Provincial of the religious congregation of nuns to which Sister Maria Lucia belonged – it was a titanic battle within the intimacy of the soul – but still to no avail. The secret was kept. Victorious over cunning and astuteness, it was kept – until now.
Precisely on this 25th anniversary of the apparitions God has permitted the secret to be revealed, a secret which has held many souls in suspense, tormented with the idea of punishment which they imagine will inevitably fall upon us and upon our beloved Portugal. Let us thank Divine Providence for the revelation of the heavenly secret, and let us profit by the painful and serious yet healthy and regenerating teaching of this revelation concerning a doctrine which so many in our time have felt repugnance in accepting. Faith has not been strengthened, for it rests on the eternal word of Our Lord in Divine Revelation contained in the pages of Holy Scripture and in the Tradition of the Church, the pillar and foundation of truth. The same today as yesterday, the same always, since truth never changes, never compromises itself, never yields. However, we must recognize that such a vision offered to three innocent children in a place sanctified by the presence of the Mother of God assumes the aspect of a solemn warning to a generation drunk with pleasure and debased by the worship of material things.
The vision, the secret of which has been kept inviolate until today, took place on July 13, 1917, in the Cova da Iria. It was a vision of hell. Sister Maria Lucia tells us about it:
“The secret consists in three distinct things, two of which I am going to reveal. The first was the vision of hell. Our Lord showed us a vast ocean of fire which seemed to lie underneath the earth. Submerged in that fire, like bronzed or blackened embers, transparent and glowing in human form, were the souls of the damned, hovering about, in and above the conflagration, driven back and forth by the flames which with great clouds of smoke issued from themselves, rising and falling on all sides like sparks in a great fire, without weight or balance, while from the midst of the pit arose frightful groans with terrifying shrieks of pain and of despair. The devils had horrible and foul forms of strange, fearsome animals, but they too, were transparent and black. This sight lasted only a moment, thanks to our good Mother, who had forearmed us in the first vision with the promise of taking us to heaven. If it were not for this, I believe we would have died of fear and terror.”
Even some pious people refuse to speak to their children about hell, lest if frighten them, but God did not hesitate to show it to three children, one of whom was only six years old, and who He knew would be so horrified as almost to wither with fear.
“Frequently Jacinta sat on the ground or on a rock, and thoughtfully would say, ‘To think of hell! How sorry I am for the souls who go to hell! Those people, burning there alive, like wood in a fire.’
“And trembling, she would kneel on the ground, clasping her hands, and say the prayer Our Lady had taught us:
“‘Oh, my Jesus, forgive us our sins; save us from the fire of hell. Take all souls to heaven, especially those in greatest need.’
“She would remain like this for a long time, repeating the same prayer. Now and again, as though awakening from a dream, she would call me or Francisco:
“Francisco, Francisco, are you two praying with me? It is necessary to pray much to save souls from hell. So many go there!’
“At other times, she would ask, ‘Why does not Our Lady show hell to sinners? If they saw it, they would not sin, to avoid going there. Tell the Lady to show hell to all those people [she referred to the people who were at the Cova da Iria at the time of the apparition], and you will see how they will be converted!’
“After the apparition, somewhat unsatisfied, she asked me, ‘Why didn’t you tell Our Lady to show hell to those people?’
“’I did not remember either,’ she said sadly.
“But the vision of hell obsessed her, and she would ask anxiously again and again, ‘What are the sins those people commit to go to hell?’
“’I do not know,’ I would respond. ‘Perhaps the sins of not going to Mass on Sunday, of stealing, of saying ugly words, of cursing, of swearing.’
“’And only for a simple word do they go to hell?’
“’Well, it’s a sin.”
“’It wouldn’t be hard for them to have been silent or to have gone to Mass, would it? I am so sorry for poor sinners. If only I could show hell them!’
“Also she would suddenly get hold of me and say, ‘I’m going to heaven, but you are staying here. If Our Lady lets you, tell everybody what hell is like, so that they will not commit any more sins, and will not go there. So many people falling into hell! So many people in hell!’
“’Don’t be afraid. You are going to heaven.’
“’True. But I want all those people to go to heaven, too.’
“When, to mortify herself, she would refuse to eat, I would say, ‘Come, Jacinta, eat something now.’
“’No,’ she would reply, ‘I want to offer this sacrifice for sinners who eat too much.’”
During Jacinta’s illness, when Lucia went to Mass on weekdays, she would say to her, “Jacinta, don’t come. You can’t – today is not Sunday.”
Jacinta would answer immediately, “It doesn’t matter. I want to go for sinners who do not go every Sunday.”
Whenever she heard an ugly word, she covered her face with her hands and said, “Oh, my God, don’t these people really know that they can go to hell for saying those things? Forgive them, my Jesus, and convert them. They certainly don’t know that they offend God. What a pity, my Jesus! I pray for them.” And then she would repeat the prayer taught by Our Lady, “Oh, my Jesus, forgive them…”
This is the secret of the mortified life which Jacinta and her companions led. The vision of hell had horrified her to such an extent that all penances and mortifications seemed as nothing if they could save some souls from it. That vision of hell, and the memory of the torments of the damned in that abode of sorrow and pain, gave her in her suffering such a heroic courage that it frightens our softened generation. The horror provoked by the vision of hell, and the salutary effect produced in the souls of the seers, is no more than a repetition of what has taken place in the lives of some saints. For example, one day Our Lord showed to Saint Teresa of Jesus, the great reformer of the Carmelites, the place which had been reserved for her in hell had she not corresponded to a certain grace.