Fatima: Vision of Hell, July 13, 1917
Updated: May 24, 2018
Some 5,000 people joined the children in the Cova da Iria, the open meadow, that day on July 13, 1917 which was a Saturday that year. The children—Lucia dos Santos , Francisco Marto , Jacinta his sister barely 7—began praying the Rosary, when the familiar strike of lightning crossed the sky, then the familiar little white cloud or mist descended upon the holmoak tree. Soon Our Lady appeared, but only to the children; the bystanders could only sense that something unusual was taking place. This was the third of six apparitions that began on May 13 and would last until October, and this was most important. Not only would the children experience the vision of Hell, but our Lady would confide to them the famous three part secret.
Seeing Our Lady, Lucia asked, “What do you want of me?” Our Lady repeated what she had said previously: “I want you to come on the thirteenth day of next month and to continue to pray the Rosary every day in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary, in order to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war for she alone can help.”
Lucia then asked her to identify herself and to perform a miracle so that people will believe that you are appearing to them. Our Lady replied, [“Continue to come here every month]. In October I will tell you who I am and what I want. And I will perform a miracle so that everyone may see and believe.”
Among the things Our Lady spoke, she said gravely, “Sacrifice yourselves for sinners and say often, especially when you make some sacrifice, ‘O my Jesus, this is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the offenses committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
At this point Mary opened her hands and rays of light from them seemed to penetrate the earth so that they saw a terrifying vision of hell, full of demons and lost souls amidst indescribable horrors.[This vision was so real that the children later made severe sacrifices for the salvation of sinners.] Our Lady responded to the vision with sadness and tenderness, “You saw Hell where the souls of poor sinners go. In order to save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If people do what I ask, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end. But if people do not stop offending God, another, even worse one will begin in the reign of Pius XI. When you shall see a night illuminated by an unknown light know that this is the great sign that God gives you that He is going to punish the world for its many crimes by means of war, hunger, and persecution of the Church and the Holy Father. To prevent it, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart and the Communion of reparation on the first Saturdays.
“If people attend to my requests, Russia will be converted and the world will have peace. If not, she [Russia] will scatter her errors throughout the world, provoking wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, and many nations will be destroyed. In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me; it will be converted, and a certain period of peace will be granted to the world. In Portugal the dogmas of the Faith will always be kept” [at this point Lucia and Jacinta are given the Third Secret that was eventually given to the Pope but has yet to be publicly revealed]. “Do not tell this to anyone. Francisco … yes, you may tell him” [Lucia and Jacinta both saw and heard Our Lady but Francisco only saw the apparitions]. “When you say the Rosary, say after each mystery: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need.”
After a pause, Lucia asked, “Do you want anything more of me?” Our Lady replied, “No, today I want nothing else of you.”
While the bystanders knew nothing of what had transpired, they could see that the children were visibly shaken: their one bright faces now ashen, their brows were furrowed and their appearance marked by worry and fear. It is said that the 15th Century Mystic, St. Catherine of Siena once had a vision of the devil, and the sight was so hideous, so horrible that she begged our Lord to send her any other kind of suffering, but not to let her eyes rest on that sight ever again.
C.S. Lewis makes this point in The Problem of Pain: “In all our discussions of hell we should keep steadily before our eyes the possible damnation, not of our enemies nor our friends. but of ourselves. This chapter is not about your wife or son, nor about Nero or Judas Iscariot; it is about you and me.”
Today’s religious educators would patronizingly ask why anyone would want to teach little children about hell? They are too vulnerable. They can’t possibly understand. Why scare them to the point of giving them nightmares? And yet we teach them about all sorts of behaviors that are harmful to their health: eating junk food, smoking, taking drugs. Why not teach them what the ultimate harm to their souls will eventually bring them? Maybe these same ones don’t acknowledge that there is such a thing as a soul and that it survives the body, and that it can be lost for all eternity? At root here perhaps is really a loss of faith and a distortion of reason.
St. John Bosco in 1868 experienced a most vivid dream vision of hell, and shared it soon afterwards with the boys at the Oratory in Turin, for it was clearly aimed for their benefit.
You hardly if ever hear in most places these days a reference to hell in a homily or a retreat conference. You rarely if ever come across the word in the hymns that we are asked to belt out each week, most of which have had their lyrics changed, whitewashing any frightening mention of judgment or hell. Everything is designed to make us feel good, not necessarily to be good. The last rousing hymn I remember with reference to hell was “A might fortress is our God”, and ironically that was written by Martin Luther.
Fr. Arturo de Sosa Abascal was recently elected Father General of the Society of Jesus. On May 31, 1917 he gave an interview in the Spanish weekly “El Mundo” during which she was asked his view of the devil. Father Abascal answered, “we have created symbolic figures, such as the devil, in order to express the reality of evil.” This was truly troubling, coming as it did from a priest who holds such high responsibility in the Church, as the general superior of the largest active order of men. Yet there was no retraction, no repudiation of the report by El Mundo, and no correction from the Vatican. If the devil, as Fr. Abascal claims, is a “symbolic figure which we have created to express the reality of evil” then the devil does not exist. Because if we have created the devil, we can un-create him, and if hell – as Jesus tells us – is the place reserved for the devil and his angels, and there being no devil, then hell does not exist. If this dismissal of the devil’s existence should spread among Jesuits, then in 50 years the Society of Jesus will become “a symbolic figure which we have created.”
National poll a few years back taken among practicing Christians show that 71% believe in heaven; but only 53% believe in hell. 2/3’s believe that their chances of getting into heaven are looking good. A poll of NJ priests showed that 20% do not believe in hell. They could be the reason why you have to make an appointment in some places to go to Confession, or why the confessionals are used as storage closets.
St. Ignatius of Loyola includes the meditation on Hell in the first week of the Spiritual Exercises, and for the same reason why our Lady, the master catechist shows the children a glimpse of hell in the third apparition—because it exists, it is true.
Our Lord in the NT spoke about hell many times— as recorded in the Gospels: 15 times hell is referenced in the New Testament; 11 times eternal fire; 30 times in other parts of the New Testament such as the epistles of St. Paul and the acts of the apostles; and it is frequently foretold in the Old Testament especially the wisdom literature.
While Scripture references hell more than it does heaven, it does tell us more about heaven than about hell, and this is how it should be. The travel agent tells you more about the beach resort you are supposed to go to than about the swamp by the side of the highway that you are not supposed to fall into.
Some say, ‘But didn’t Jesus come to speak about mercy and forgiveness?’Indeed he did. But all that makes sense only if there something terrible from which we are mercifully saved; something horrible from which we are mercifully forgiven.
For every parable illustrative of God’s mercy [Prodigal, Lost coin, Lost Sheep] there are three or four others threatening divine retribution: Rich Man with Abundant Crops; Watchful and Neglectful Servants; Barren Fig Tree; Rich Man and Lazarus; The Gold Pieces; The Vine Dressers; The Wheat and the Chaff; The Drag Net; the Unjust Stewart; Unmerciful Servant, The Laborers in the Vineyard; the Two Sons, the Ten Virgins.
B. Even those parables about Mercy pack a punch: for if the Lord is going to doggedly pursue us through all the pains and sufferings of this life, then how many excuses will there be for us on the day we are expected to give a reckoning of our life?
Notice in the NT that Jesus does not begin his public ministry with the announcement of an era of tolerance, but with the word, “Repent”. This is the first and the last order of business: sin, repentance and the remission of sins. All that makes sense only if there is something horrible from which he came to save us.
If there were no hell…
then Scripture and the Church would be lying about what Jesus told us, or if they do not, then Jesus is the one who lies. If there is no hell, the fundamental reason why Christians believe anything—that is, on the authority of Christ, is now gone.
If there is no hell, then life’s choices would no longer make any difference; the choice of good over evil would make no difference if we all reached the same final end. If there is nothing after death, or if we all go to heaven regardless of what we have done, then what difference does good and evil really have. Moreover the razor-edge drama of life—the struggle between good and evil, the stuff of all real literature—would be gone. Life would be bland and blunted into a flat, meaningless nothing much like the public housing that existed in most parts of eastern Europe during the Communist years—drab, gray and without anything memorable.
The very idea of justice would be irrational; it would have a hollow ring. After having practiced law for a time in a firm that specialized in criminal defense work, it began to sicken how easy it can be to escape justice in this life. In many instances all that is needed is an intelligent, expensive lawyer who can find some procedural technicality to get you off or to postpone. Few people on the streets know that most murders and violent assaults still go unsolved, even with all our electronic surveillance . Not every crime ends like CSI or Blue Bloods.
Hitler shot himself. Goering, Himmler and Goebels swallowed cyanide. Did their fates in any way compare to the miseries inflicted on millions of innocents whom they had stripped, tortured, gased to death, burned or buried in mass graves?
[Richard Rich, the man whom Thomas More befriended and who ultimately betrayed him in an act of perjury giving false testimony for which he was handsomely rewarded by Cromwell with a fat title—the Earl of Wales, died quietly in his sleep and in his own bed.]
The doctor who performs hundreds of abortions each week [three abortions every hour in many clinics] goes home to the suburbs, has a nice drink, a fine dinner and sleeps quietly during the night. Not all abortionists end up like Dr. Bernard Nathanson who had done thousands of these until it began to sicken him, and then before he died converted to Catholicism. Where is justice?
If such heinous crimes were never properly punished–and they never are in this life–would there not be aroused in all of us that dread that there must be something unworthy, indeed perverse at the very heart of creation; that there is no rhyme of reason to Justice, truth or even love? Here many would be forced to say, “nice guys DO finish last, and the meek Do inherit the earth—all six feet of it.”.
If everyone receives the same final end regardless of what they do, then what is the real difference of giving the Nobel peace prize to Mother Theresa or to Josef Stalin?
Hinduism and Buddhism do not believe in an eternal hell, only temporary purgatories or reincarnations. The difference this makes to life here on earth is striking. Drama, especially tragedy, is something only Western culture specialized in and excelled at because it had its roots in Christianity and the doctrine of hell. There is little to nothing like it in any other religion.
If salvation is universal and automatic, then ultimately there is no free will. If we are only free to choose between one road to heaven or another, but not free to choose our destination or direction on the road—forward vs. backward, up vs. down, good vs. evil, then there would be little free will. It is no accident that those Eastern religions that do not teach hell also do not teach that the human will is essentially free. Even Islam does not really teach this, but rather that everything is governed by fate or the Divine Will. Free will and hell go together; scratch the idea of free will and beneath it you will find the necessity of hell.
If there is no hell to be saved from, then Jesus is not our Savior, but only our teacher, prophet, guru or moral example. Divine Mercy would simply be a nice but unnecessary sentiment, for it makes sense only if there is Divine Justice for doing right or wrong.
Without Hell=depreciation of Heaven. Moreover, how could we ever hope to appreciate heaven without an understanding of hell? The height of the mountain is measured from the depth of the valley.
If there is no hell, religious indifference follows. If faith in Christ as Savior is not necessary, we should recall all the missionaries and apologize to all the martyrs. They left hearth and home to bring souls to heaven. They endured unimaginable cruelty and death for heaven. If there were no difference between heaven and hell, then what a waste of passion, energy, time—lives wasted!
If salvation is automatic, Christ’s sacrificial death was not what Christ himself said it was: necessary, planned, the culmination of his whole earthly life and his reason for his coming from heaven to earth. Instead life would be a tragic accident, a stupid mistake, what Shakespeare says in Macbeth that life would indeed be “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing” [Act V]
If truth be told in most places these days, the pulpit is limp and lackluster. All the workshops for preachers, public speaking clinics, accent reduction courses are totally useless without a crystal clear picture of Christ, why he became incarnate and what he did: to seek out and save what was lost.
As long as we continue to avoid the mention of sin—especially Mortal Sin and the need for repentence the very idea of hell would evaporate from peoples’ consciousness, and thus the need for salvation. The average person in the pew may be more sensitive to the hallowness, the softness, the lack of substance in the sermon than we care to realize. They may not be able to put their finger on the theological error, but it is only a matter of time when they realize that something important is missing, and then they simply drop out altogether, or defect to the nearest mega, evangelical church. The sad truth: if you want to hear a sermon on Hell you have to go to some mega, evangelical Church.
I wish I could tell you that hell is not real, that Mortal Sin does not have eternal consequences, that what Jesus said in the NT was not from his very own lips, but simply the belief of the early Church, that Our Lady really did not show the shepherd children on July 13, 1917 a vision of hell, that they in their ignorance merely misunderstood her. But I can’t. Because it is all true, perhaps more true than we even realize.
We know that after this vision of hell these little children began to change. They started doing penance, giving their meager lunch to poorer children, saying their prayers in earnest. They desired to do mortifications. In their simplicity they would put stones in their beds to make sleeping more difficult, giving away their poor peasant lunch to poorer children while the satisfied their hunger from the wild berries that grew in the Cova, wearing rough ropes on their flesh underneath, making visits to the Blessed Sacrament to console Jesus. What does 7 or 8 year old know about such things?
The little boy, Francisco was the most obvious. He could be stubborn, doing what he wanted, not wanting to be bothered, so phlegmatic that even losing at games didn’t faze him in the least. All he wanted to do was play his flout as the sheep aimlessly grazed. The early photo shows 7 year old Jacinta with her hand on her hip. The youngest in the family, she tended to be spoiled and wanting all the attention. Lucia was bossy and wanted to take over. Then the complete turn about. From this point everything changed. They saw something which changed their lives. One day some visitors to the Cova asked him, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He remained silent. “Do you want to be a successful business man and make lots of money?” He shook his head. “Do you want to study and become a doctor?” “No”, he said. “Then, perhaps a priest so that you can offer the Mass and preach to the people?“ “No”. “What do you want? I want to die and go to heaven.”
When at the first apparition they saw this beautiful Lady all bathed in light who told them she came from heaven, they asked if they would go to heaven too? Our Lady told them the younger ones would go first and then many, many years latter, she would come to take Lucia. Within a year and half after the apparitions Francisco and Jacinta would die, very painful deaths, from the effects of the horrible influenza that swept through Europe. Lucia would die well into her nineties.
“Enter through the narrow gate. The gate that leads to damnation is wide, the road is clear and many choose to travel it. But how narrow is the gate that leads to life, how rough the road, how few there are who find it!” [Mt.7:6;12-14] While we don’t know exactly or precisely what our Lord meant. We do know that few does not mean many, and many does not mean few.
“And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna [Mt.5:30]
“And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna [Mt.10:28]
“What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but to lose his soul in the process?”
The story is told of a young man in his early thirties who was dying of aids after living what many call an alternate life style—and all the while going to Sunday Mass with his devout widowed mother who loved him very much and suspected nothing. After the diagnosis and a year later when the disease had progressed he left home and sought end of life care in an AIDS hospice run by the MC Sisters. He was encouraged to write home to his parish priest, telling him where he was and that he had but a few more weeks of life left but was compelled in conscience to tell him. “You know me, Father, and know my life for I sat with you and poured out my heart to you. Not once did you tell me—or others like me in your Sunday sermons—that what I was attempting to live was wrong and a lie, and contrary to what the Bible teaches. Instead you struggled to allay my fears and tell me there was no sin, that God in fact made me this way and that I should be grateful for my sexual identity, continue to live this way and no longer worry about going to Confession and confessing this anymore. I believed you because I was always taught to respect and believe what the priests and sisters taught us. I continued to live this lie. Now I am dying and my soul is empty. I no longer know where to turn or whom to believe. If only once you had told me the truth—however, hard or challenging it may be, I may not now be seeing my body and my life slowly vanishing before me.
If you don’t believe in hell, you will not believe in sin or repentance. You will stop going to Confession. You will be indifferent if you children or grandchildren, [your nephews and nieces or alumni] even bother to go to Sunday Mass. You’ll simply accept your daughter or son living with their boy friend or girl friend. Divorce and remarriage outside the Church will not bother you. If one of your children gets married in the banquet hall by a judge or on the beach it will not bother you. “Times have changed and there is nothing I can do about it.” You could say that, or you could remember soberly the words of St. John in his first Epistle: “For those who say there is no sin, make God a liar and the truth is not found in them.”
It is fashionable today to say that these things really do not really matter. For Jesus, it made all the difference in the world. “He who does not believe,” he warned “shall be condemned”.[Mk 16:16; jn15:22, 24-25]. “The man or woman who divorces and marries another, commits adultery because whatever God has joined together…”
Peter obviously thought it made a difference if someone who left the Faith and went back living a life of immorality he likened to [or lack thereof] to “dogs returning to their vomit” and “sows” returning after bathing in the “mud” [2Pt.2:22]
Also Jesus instructed the Twelve to shake from their feet the dust of any town whose residents refused to listen. It will go easier for Sodom on the day of judgment, he thundered, than for such a town.[Lk.10:10-12].
Tell the truth, and be prepared to do what our Lady told the children at Fatima: pray for them, do penance and make sacrifices for those who don’t. Penance and sacrifice is like incense to our prayers. It sweetens them, makes the smoke rise higher, makes our prayers more pleasing in God’s sight and worthy of granting our request.