This call was made for the first time on 13th May, 1917, when the three little children from Aljustrel were pasturing their sheep in the field known as the Cova da Iria.
As was their custom, the three children ate their lunch shortly after noon, and then prayed. Then, to amuse themselves, they began to build a small wall of loose stones around a bush known as a “moita” from which people were accustomed to make sweeping brushes, hence the children’s desire to protect it so that the animals would not gnaw at it. They did this because, when they found such bushes in good condition, they liked to let them grow in order to make brushes from them later on, and these they would bring to their mother when they returned home at night.
When they did this, it was a joy to see their parents’ delight with their gift and with their caresses, so that each one did their best to find whatever would give them the greatest joy and pleasure. Poor, yes! But happy, because happiness comes not from riches nor from what can often be dangerous entertainments but from love. In truth, to love and to deny oneself for the sake of love is what brings happiness, joy, peace and well-being to families.
Well, as I was saying, the children were playing and amusing themselves when they were suddenly surprised to see a flash of light, which they thought must be lightning. It was a fine clear spring day, and the sun was shining, but the children were so small that they did not know how to interpret the look of the sky. Accustomed as they were to seeing flashes of lightning immediately after it had thundered, their only thought was to urge on the flock in order to return home before they got caught in a storm.
When they had gone a few steps down the slope they saw another flash of light, which they took to be a second flash of lightning, and this made them hurry even faster and urge the flock on even more. A few steps further on, about halfway down the slope, they stopped in surprise when they saw a lovely Lady of light on a small holm oak.
They were not afraid, because the supernatural does not arouse fear; causing instead a pleasant surprise of absorbing fascination.
The lovely Lady opened her lips as if about to speak and said to the children: “Do not be afraid. I will do you no harm.”
I think that these words of Our Lady—Do not be afraid—did not refer to any actual fear we might have had of Her, because She knew well we were not frightened of Her. The words must have referred to the fear that had caused us to hurry away from the supposed thunderstorm in which we thought we were going to get caught.
It has also been said that Francisco picked up a few stones to throw at the Apparition. I don’t think this can be true. There must have been some confusion or misunderstanding about the stones that shepherds often throw around the flock when they want to get the sheep to come together and move faster.
Once the silence had been broken, and encouraged by the trust that the lovely Lady inspired in us, I asked: “Where are you from?” “I am from Heaven” she replied. “And what do you want of me?” I asked. She replied: “I have come to ask you to come here on the 13th day of the month for six months in succession, at this same hour. Later on, I will tell you who I am and what I want. Afterwards, I will return here yet a seventh time.”
When I heard this reply, the thought that I was talking to someone who had come from Heaven gave me courage and I asked whether I, too, would have the good fortune to go to Heaven, whereupon the Lady replied: “Yes, you will.” “And Jacinta?” I asked. “She will go too.” She replied. “And Francisco?” I persisted. She replied: “He will go too, but he must say many Rosaries.”
I think that this special injunction to Francisco is for all of us. It is not that saying many Rosaries, as such, is an indispensable condition for going to Heaven, but that we must pray much. Naturally, to say the Rosary every day was the most accessible form of prayer for those children, as it is today for the great majority of people, and there is no doubt that it will be difficult for someone to be saved if they never pray.
We know how weak we are, that we slip back and fall. Without the help of grace, we shall not be able to pick ourselves up or overcome temptations. We can only acquire the strength we need, the strength that comes to us from grace when our soul meets with God in prayer. It was Jesus Christ Himself who told us this and urged it on his Apostles shortly before He gave Himself up to death for us: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt 26:41). And He gave us an example, preparing Himself by his prayer in Gethsemane for his sacrifice and his death. In addition to this, among other things in the Our Father, He taught us to pray: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Mt 6:13).