What happened to the secret message of Fatima?

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Dear Cecil: While it hadn’t occurred to me that you might be the font of knowledge from which this information might flow, it did occur to my best friend. The mystery surrounds the message the Blessed Virgin left to the children when she miraculously appeared to them in Fatima, Portugal. It was to be opened some 50 years later, but curiosity got the better of the pope and it was opened before the time elapsed. The message was never revealed. What’s the secret? Was it that horrible? Do you think the National Enquirer might know? M.R., Washington, D.C.

Cecil replies:

Dear M.:

Before loosing my mighty torrent of knowledge, M., I’ll have to provide a little background for those Teeming Millions who never learned the charming story of Fatima because they were wasting their formative years having impure thoughts and eating hamburger on Fridays. You might do well to pay attention yourself, because your letter contains a couple of regrettable misconceptions.

Though the Catholic Church is naturally reluctant to recognize tales of miracles, cures, apparitions, and the like, it has deemed credible the story of the Blessed Virgin’s appearances at Fatima to three Portuguese children: Lucia dos Santos, aged ten, and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, nine and seven.

After the first of these appearances–they occurred monthly from May through October of 1917–word got around that something neat was going on, and with each subsequent visit increasing numbers of people came to Fatima to have a look.

Only the children could see and hear the Lady, however. The rest had to be content with a moving cloud, a rustling tree, and–on the final visit–a grand miracle, witnessed by up to 100,000 people, in which the sun danced around the sky for ten minutes.

Among other things, the Lady allegedly told the children that World War I would end soon, that another great war was coming, and that two of the children, Francisco and Jacinta, would be taken into heaven shortly. They died of influenza within three years. The third child, Lucia, entered the convent in 1925.

Though the Lady of Fatima had told the children to keep certain of their conversations secret, Lucia eventually succumbed to pressure from her religious superiors and set down the three-part “Secret of Fatima” in various written memoranda beginning in 1941. The first two parts, which Lucia revealed relatively freely, were quickly made public:

(1) The Lady of Fatima showed the children a vision of hell, including demons that “could be distinguished by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals.”

(2) In order to prevent “war, famine, and persecutions of the church and of the Holy Father,” the Lady said she would return to ask for the “Consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart.”

Lucia wrote down the third part of the secret, much more reluctantly, after Christmas of 1943, and it is this part that remains a mystery. Her memoir was sealed in an envelope and given to the bishop of Leiria, Portugal, to whom Lucia expressed her wish–not, as far as anyone has been able to determine, the Lady of Fatima’s wish–that it remain sealed at least until 1960, when it would “seem clearer.”

Later, Lucia apparently extracted a promise that it would definitely be opened and made public in 1960. Before the year of truth arrived, however, the document was passed to Rome, under circumstances that do not shine very clearly through the mist of history.

Pope Pius XII, who died in 1958, may have read it, and Pope John XXIII and a few cronies certainly did, probably in 1959. John said, “This makes no reference to my time”; though Lucia was still alive, he dispatched the document to the archives and left the matter to his successors, none of whom has yet seen fit to come clean.

The papal cover-up, combined with the red-baiting, fire-and-brimstone nature of the revealed parts of the secret, has led many observers to speculate that the message is one of nuclear apocalypse. I, however, have it on good authority that it was a personal missive to Pope John. To wit:

Dear Jack–What’s all this nonsense about birth control? We never said anything about birth control. Please check your files and advise ASAP. –Regards, G. P.S.: Kennedy for President!


In 2000 Pope John Paul II ordered the revelation of the third part of the secret of Fatima, which, this being the age of information, has now been published on the Web at:


Most of the posting consists of a lengthy exegesis of the secret’s meaning. The secret itself is short. We take the liberty of reproducing it here in its entirety:

J.M.J. The third part of the secret revealed at the Cova da Iria-Fatima, on 13 July 1917. I write in obedience to you, my God, who command me to do so through his Excellency the Bishop of Leiria and through your Most Holy Mother and mine. After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendour that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: Penance, Penance, Penance! And we saw in an immense light that is God: something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it a Bishop dressed in White we had the impression that it was the Holy Father. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God. Tuy-3-1-1944.

The significance of this revelation is obscure. John Paul II fancied the notion that the shooting of the Pope referred to the 1981 assassination attempt by Mehmet Ali Agca. The Vatican line politely dismisses such interpretations. It holds rather that the revelation alludes to the suffering of the Church during the Cold War, and may thus be consigned to the past–a piquant thought.  One hates to sound like a Lord of the Rings knockoff, but no getting around it: We have seen the end of one age, and have passed into another. 

Cecil Adams

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.