Fatima is a drama film set in World War I era Portugal, based on the true story of the events of Our Lady of Fatima. It follows the story of three young shepherd children who claimed to see multiple apparitions of the Virgin Mary throughout the year 1917. While it’s clearly a faith-based film, Fatima follows closely to the reported events of that fateful year and digs into the deeper questions at play in Portugal during World War I.
World War I and Portugal
In February 1917, Portugal sent its first troops into WWI. They fought with the Allies against the Central Powers, and therefore ultimately on the side of the victors, although that did not come without sacrifice.
World War I led to widespread poverty and deaths worldwide. In Portugal, civilian deaths exceeded 220,000 from starvation and the Influenza pandemic. 12,000 troops died in the war. Portuguese people were afraid and in mourning, and part of a society in transition.
Portugal had recently become a republic, and with that change in government, the country became anti-clerical. The republic was unquestionably a secular government, and treated religion with scorn. However, not all Portugese people were on the same page. It was still a very Catholic country, and many still believed in that faith very strongly.
Our Lady of Fatima
Lúcia dos Santos and her two cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto were in the fields one day when they claimed they saw apparitions of an angel. According to the children, she tells them that prayer and sacrifice will lead to the end of the war and that she will return on the 13th of every month.
When the children came home and tell their village what they saw, their accounts lead to criticism from both the secular authorities and the Catholic Church, as was portrayed in the film. It is true that the children were even detained briefly because they refused to recant their stories.
The children’s accounts predicted a worse war in the future, as well as other “secrets” entrusted to them by the Virgin Mary, who they called the Lady of the Rosary.
Both the film and the actual historical events it’s based on culminate at ‘The Miracle of the Sun’ on October 13, 1917. On that day, approximately 70,000 people descended on Fatima in response to the children’s prediction that the Virgin would perform a miracle on that day. Witnesses reported awesome solar activity, claiming the sun zig-zagged and danced across the sky and radiated different colors. In the film, the sun flickers changing light and colors, and then it rushed towards the earth, causing the crowd to begin to flee before it returns to its proper position.
Priests that investigated the events of the day were convinced, not just by the testimony of Catholic attendees, but by the secular reporters and officials also present at the event.
Ultimately, the Catholic Church deemed the events relayed by Sister Lúcia “worthy of belief” in 1930. The Catholic Church is in the process of canonizing Sister Lúcia. She lived to be 97 and passed away in 2005. Pope Francis declared her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta, saints in 2017. Francisco died in April 1919 and Jacinta in February 1920, both of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic.
Fatima accurately captures the tensions between the faithful and the anti-religious that existed through much of Europe at that time, although it clearly comes down on the side of the faithful. With any faith-based movie, there are leaps that the viewer has to take. Historical fact is blended with religious truth in a way that blurs the lines between fact and fiction, depending on how you look at Catholic miracles. However, when it comes to pure history, Fatima captures the events with unwavering accuracy.