The famous apparitions of the Virgin Mary to the children of Fatima took place during the summer of 1917, during the time of the First World War. The little Portuguese village where this took place were mostly poor people, many of them farmers, and the children of the village traditionally were given the job of taking the sheep out to graze on the hillsides.
The three children who received the apparitions were Lucia, who was ten years old, and her two younger cousins, Francisco and Jacinta. Together they tended the sheep and, with Lucia in charge, they would often pass the day by praying the Rosary. It was in the summer of 1916 that an Angel appeared to them several times and taught them a prayer to the Blessed Trinity.
On Sunday, May 13, 1917, toward noon, a flash of lightning caught the attention of the children, and they saw a bright, radiant figure appearing over the trees of the Cova da Iria. They saw this figure only as “a Lady,” and the "Lady" asked them to pray for the conversion of sinners and for an end to the war. Also, they were told to come back every month, on the 13th.
Further apparitions took place on June 13 and July 13. This began to get the attention of large crowds of people, and the local government authorities did not like the idea of people gathering together like this, fearing that the people might just turn into a mob. So on August 13, when the children tried to go to the Cova da Iria, they were stopped by local authorities from going. Even though they were stopped on the 13th, they saw the apparition on the 19th. On September 13 the Lady requested that the Rosary be prayed for the intention of an end to the war. Finally, on October 13, the "Lady" identified herself as "Our Lady of the Rosary," and again she asked for prayer and penitence.
On that day, something strange also took place: the sun seemed to tumble from the sky and crash toward earth. The children had been forewarned of it as early as May 13, the first apparition. The large crowd, which was estimated to be at 30,000 by reporters who were there, saw this phenomenon and came away astounded.
Official recognition of these "visions" which the children had at the Cova da Iria came on October 13, 1930, when the local bishop - after long inquiry - authorized devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary at the site. The two younger children had died: Francisco in 1919, and his sister Jacinta in 1920. Sister Lucia died in 2005.
Even though people seem more interested in the apparitions themselves, and the miracle of the sun, the important thing is the message brought by the Blessed Virgin Mary – namely, that we should pray, that we should repent of our sins, and that we should dedicate ourselves to being like Mary herself – obedient, and willing to do whatever God tells us.
O God, who in the blessed Virgin Mary didst consecrate a dwelling place meet for thy Son: We humbly pray that we, observing the appearing of the same blessed Virgin, may obtain thy healing both in body and soul; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.