According to Catholic belief, today is the 100th anniversary of the final apparition of the Virgin Mary at Fatima, a Portuguese village. The Washington Post recalls what happened that day. First, the events leading up to the day:

The children were tending a flock of sheep outside the tiny village of Fatima, Portugal, when they first saw the angel. He was transparent, they said, and shining like a crystal.

Lucia Abobora, 9, and her cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, 6 and 7, were stunned.

“He said, “Do not be afraid. I am the angel of peace. Pray with me,’” Abobora — later renamed Lucia de Jesus de dos Santos — recounted in her memoir, “Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words,” published in 1976.

During the rest of 1916, as World War I raged in Europe, the angel showed himself two more times to the children. But they told no one what they’d seen.

In the spring of 1917, something more extraordinary began unfolding — visions that would put three children on the path to sainthood and transform Fatima from an ordinary village to the site of a Catholic shrine venerated and visited by millions.

The Virgin Mary appeared to the children on May 13, 1917 as “a lady dressed in white, shining brighter than the sun, giving out rays of clear and intense light,” dos Santos wrote. She promised to come to the children on the 13th of each month.

The Virgin is said to have appeared each subsequent month on May 13, and spoke to the children. More:

On Sept. 13, 30,000 people were present when dos Santos said the Virgin Mary told her, “In October I will perform a miracle so that all may believe.”

On that day, Oct. 13, 1917, the crowd of believers had swelled to 70,000.

About 2 p.m., some began to see what later became known in the Catholic Church as “the Miracle of the Sun.” The rains that had plagued the day ceased, and the sun emerged from behind clouds to spin and tremble for 10 minutes.

“Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was biblical as they stood bareheaded, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws — the sun ‘danced’ according to the typical expression of the people,” reported O Seculo, a Lisbon newspaper.

The strange phenomena included odd colors.

“Looking at the sun, I noticed that everything was becoming darkened. I looked first at the nearest objects and then extended my glance further afield as far as the horizon. I saw everything had assumed an amethyst color. Objects around me, the sky and the atmosphere, were of the same color. Everything both near and far had changed, taking on the color of old yellow damask,” said José Maria de Almeida Garrett, a science professor from Coimbra, Portugal, who was at the scene.

Onlookers from as far as 25 miles away noted the strange phenomena in the sky.

The apparitions of the Virgin — which, note well, were one of a very small number in history that have been officially approved by the Catholic Church as valid — contained apocalyptic messages. Here was one of them:

You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pope Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the Consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.

This is considered to be a prophecy a) of the end of World War I, b) the outbreak of World War II; the sign in the night sky was this one, as reported by The New York Times in 1938:

London, January 25th, 1938. The Aurora Borealis rarely seen in Southern or Western Europe spread fear in parts of Portugal and lower Austria tonight while thousands of Britons were brought running into the streets in wonderment. The ruddy glow led many to think half the city was ablaze. The Windsor Fire Department was called out thinking that Windsor Castle was afire. The lights were clearly seen in Italy, Spain, and even Gibraltar. The glow bathing snow-clad mountain tops in Austria and Switzerland was a beautiful sight but firemen turned out to chase non-existent fires. Portuguese villagers rushed in fright from their homes fearing the end of the world.”

The consecration of Russia did not take place until 1984, when Pope John Paul II did it; Sister Lucia, the last surviving Fatima visionary, confirmed that the Virgin’s request had finally been fulfilled. Less than a year later, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the USSR. Four years later, the Berlin Wall fell, and two years later, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

The film above, Faces Among Icons, dedicates itself to examining the rebirth of Christianity in Russia. This isn’t big news for us Orthodox Christians in the US, but very many Americans don’t know what’s happening there. What I find most remarkable about this short film (30 minutes) is that it begins with the Roman Catholic Church’s chief representative in Russia saying that Our Lady of Fatima did not say that Russia would be converted to Catholicism; she said that Russia would be converted. What we are seeing today is the beginning of the fulfillment of that prophecy.

I believe in the Fatima apparitions, by the way. I’ve written before about how as a Catholic, I invited the Virgin’s intercession, as Our Lady of Fatima, for the sake of my desire to get married, if that was God’s will. A year and a half later, on October 13, 1996, I met the woman who was to become my wife. Without realizing what we were doing, we booked a church in New Orleans to get married in; it was Our Lady of the Rosary parish. We discovered later that on October 13, 1917, Mary said to the shepherd children, “I am Our Lady of the Rosary.” We were given a trip to Portugal as our honeymoon gift by Protestant friends of my wife’s family, people who had no idea about Fatima (as I had not told my then-Protestant fiancée about it).

We made a pilgrimage to Fatima as part of our honeymoon to thank the Theotokos for her intercession.

Eleven years ago, on this date, our daughter Nora was born. I told Julie that baby girl was going to come on the Fatima anniversary — and indeed she did. Her middle name is Lucia, after Sister Lucia. She was baptized Orthodox, the only one in our family to be done so. I see no contradiction, only fulfillment.

Please watch this extraordinary — and extraordinarily hopeful — documentary. It was made by my friend Robert Duncan, a Rome-based Catholic filmmaker.