Three Shepherd Children, Boiling Oil, and the Vatican's Best-Kept Secret. Is the World Now Ready for the Third Prophecy of Fatima? as the Pope Visits One of the Catholic Church's Most Sacred Shrines
Byline: REBECCA FOWLER
FOR half a century it has been the best-kept secret of the Roman Catholic church. When three shepherd children saw visions of the Virgin Mary above an olive tree in the Portuguese town of Fatima 83 years ago, she made three prophecies.
While two of the prophecies were later revealed to the world, the third has remained an enthralling mystery. The details are kept locked in a Vatican drawer and have been seen only by the Pope and a few of his most trusted advisers.
At first no one believed the children of Fatima. They were accused of trying to hoax adults with their fanciful sightings of the Madonna, shrouded in a ring of bright light. They were even imprisoned.
But today the town of Fatima is one of the holiest Catholic shrines, visited by six million pilgrims every year. Pope John Paul II, its biggest devotee, will join the crowds tomorrow for the anniversary of the first apparition on May 13, 1917, when he will beatify two of the children who witnessed the visions.
There is also frenzied speculation among the thousands who have flooded into Fatima for the ceremony that he may also finally reveal the last prophecy, known as the Third Secret of Fatima.
The anniversary has special significance for the Pope because it coincides with the date of the assassination attempt 19 years ago, when he was shot by a Turkish terrorist in St Peter's Square in Rome. He glimpsed a poster of Our Lady of Fatima in the crowd and was convinced she saved him.
The bullet that hit him is now in the golden crown that adorns the Virgin's statue at Fatima.
The Third Secret of Fatima has enthralled generations of Roman Catholics.
Two of the children died from pneumonia soon after the sighting. The third, Lucia dos Santos, 92, is a Carmelite nun in Portugal. In 1943 she began writing the revelations in three parts and in 1957 they were sent to the Vatican in a sealed envelope.
She enclosed instructions for the Third Secret to be revealed either in 1960 or after her death, at the discretion of the Holy See.
It soon emerged that the Madonna's First Secret was that Russia would turn to communism and spread Marxist doctrines throughout the world. In the Second, she prophesied the War would end, but another World War would follow.
Sceptics were quick to note that the first two prophecies were out of date by the time they were revealed.
But the Roman Catholic church has never let doubt get in the way of a miraculous story.
Over the years, wild theories about the Third Secret have flourished. One nun claimed the Second Coming would be a Moslem; a theologian insisted it revealed the end of Christianity; and there was terrifying talk of nuclear meltdown, the 'smoke of Satan', and an apocalypse.
In 1981 on a flight from Dublin, a former Australian Trappist monk, Lawrence Downie, took 113 hostages on an Aer Lingus Boeing 747. He forced it to land in France, doused himself in petrol, tied petrol canisters to his jacket and demanded that the Pope reveal the Third Secret to him.
After eight hours he surrendered.
SO THE Third Secret is known only to the Popes who held office from the reign of Pius XII, their most trusted advisers, and by the nun Sister Lucia.
She has been visited by cardinals, theologians and curious journalists over the decades but she has only hinted at what the revelation might be. …