Pilgrims are everywhere here on the square of the Basilica of Our Lady: some are walking on their knees on the 820-foot-long marble prayer path, rolling rosary beads in their hands, and some are kneeling at the glass-walled Chapel of Apparition where the Blessed Virgin appeared to three shepherd children in 1917. Inside the 213-foot-tall basilica, six Masses are celebrated daily, and in the Pope Paul VI Pastoral Center on the opposite side of the square, confessions are heard from 9 to 5, seven days a week, in seven different languages. This is a spiritual sanctuary where troubled hearts and souls seek peace and solace.
Not many Americans had heard of Fatima, a small town in central Portugal, until the Blessed Virgin appeared six times on a pasture known as Cova da Iria, on the 13th day of the month beginning in May 1917.
At the sixth and the final apparition on October 13, about 70,000 people watched what is known as the Miracle of the Sun.
The Lisbon daily, O Dia, reported the unbelievable event: “…the silver sun, enveloped in the same gauzy purple light was seen to whirl and turn in the circle of broken clouds…The light turned a beautiful blue, as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral, and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands…”
Similar reports were published in every major newspaper around the world, along with the Lady’s prediction and messages to the world, including Russia’s abandonment of the Christian faith and embrace of Communist totalitarianism.
I didn’t come here as a pilgrim, yet I feel deeply connected to this place. Fatima and her mysteries were introduced to Koreans by Americans sometime after World War II ended, and our country, which had been a colony of Japan for 40 years, was placed under U.S. trusteeship.
To those who’ve never experienced the fear of the world falling on top of their heads, the word “miracle” doesn’t mean much. But for the “forsaken” people, like we were in June 1950 before the Red Army’s Russian tanks and ammunition, the thought of miracle is the only escape from the fear of evil.
Our church conducted countless prayer services in which we always recited the rosary, and even when the war situation worsened and our church served as a refugee center, we clung to Our Lady of Fatima. Sunday services were conducted outside the church, under the canopy of tree branches, and the congregation knelt on bare dirt or grass.
During weekdays, our devotion to Our Lady continued at home. After the evening prayer, our mother led a full round of the rosary.
Then a 9-year-old, I thought reciting the rosary was long and boring. I often fell asleep before it ended. Our father was worse. When Mom took out her rosary, he headed for the door, saying, “Good night, everyone. I have something important to do.”
Mother asked, “What’s more important than praying for your country at such a time?”
“That’s for me to decide,” he said, before slipping out the door.
I wished I could do the same. But it was unthinkable at the time, for a girl at that age.
Six decades later, I believe that the Lady of Fatima answered our innocent prayers by sending American troops to expel the Reds. Otherwise, how could that poor, helpless country have survived before the well-equipped and well-trained North Koreans? My belief is confirmed by such names as Samsung or Hyundai, in large print, glaring at me from this Portuguese landscape; that my country’s survival wasn’t a mere coincidence but one of the miracles of Our Lady of Fatima.
Prayer comes easily here, on this sacred ground, where the voices reciting the rosary are as sweet as those of angels. I ask Our Lady to convert the North Koreans and consecrate them to her immaculate heart so that we can achieve global peace someday. I pray, too, that those suffering from incurable diseases shall be healed and lead healthy lives. But for me, I ask for my peaceful ending, whenever it will be.