Witnesses of the miracle of the sun

Lilla Danilecka talks to Joao Ribeiro Ferraz.

LILLA DANILECKA: - 89 years ago the news about the apparition of the Mother of God was spread very quickly. What were the circumstances your parents got to know what was going on in Fatima?

JOAO RIBEIRO FERRAZ: - My father was born in 1901 and my mother was born in 1907. It was my father that told me about the apparition. He was 16 then. My mother died very young, in 1945 when I was a little boy and she could not tell me anything. I only know that she and her sisters saw the miracle of the sun from the window of her family house in Olival.

- Did your parents know personally the children from Fatima? What did they experience on 13 October 1917?

- My parents did not know personally the little shepherds and they did not speak to them after the apparitions. When the Mother of God appeared in Cova da Iria thousands of people tried to reach them at all cost and ask for prayer or intercession for concrete graces. My father was a simple rural carpenter, working from dawn till dusk. By nature he did not talk much and he did not tell us a lot. As far as I can remember he had strong simple faith and he brought us up in discipline. Every Sunday we went to church together. He did not tolerate any excuses. On 13 October 1917 he went to Cova da Iria, where over 70,000 people gathered; many people came from the farthest parts of Portugal and even from abroad. It was raining very heavily on that day, the ground was soft and all people stood with their feet in mud. They had capes and umbrellas. Suddenly, the clouds broke and the sun appeared as a spinning disc in the sky. The best term to describe that phenomenon is 'spin/whirl' because the sun was revolving on its axis, and then it began a dramatic dance in the sky, which was shimmering with all the colours of the rainbow. The miracle could not only be observed in Cova da Iria but within several kilometres. Practically, all local citizens witnessed the miracle of the sun. My father told me that when people saw what was happening in the sky they fell on their knees in the mud, many confessed their sins aloud, thinking that the end of the world was coming. They cried, 'Have mercy! We are dying!' When the sun ended its dance the whole sky was clear, and people were amazed that there was no mud and their clothes and hair became completely dry. This is the end of my father's story. He neither commented on the apparition nor discussed it at length. When he was asked to speak about it he gave only facts. But my aunt, my mother's sister, who saw the miracle of the sun with my mother from the window of their house in Olival, recollected that at first people were very frightened but soon the fear was replaced by a feeling of inner peace. The Mother of God predicted the sign of the sun in advance and all people could see it. So they believed that the apparitions were true and that made them joyful. Actually it was the aim of the miracle, which Lucia asked the Mother of God to make. Other members of my family recollected that they had witnessed the miracle of rose petals. The petals fell from the sky on the oak over which the Blessed Virgin had appeared to the seers. People wanted to catch the petals but they disappeared when they reached the people's hands.

- What would you say was the level of religiousness in your family and environment in those times?

- I was born after the apparitions in Fatima and I remembered piety and religious eagerness at home. Every evening we gathered to pray, on Sunday morning we went to Mass and in the afternoon we went to say the Rosary and to adore the Blessed Sacrament. Every 13th of the month, especially from May till October, people used to go to Fatima. We set out the previous day in the afternoon so that we could take part in the procession with candles in the evening. Then we slept on the grass or on the floor in the church. The next morning we heard Mass, after which there were prayers and songs till 3.00 p.m., when pigeons were released from the window of the basilica. They went directly towards the oak, over which the Mother of God had appeared, and sat next to her statue. That happened each time; all pigeons flew directly to the place of the apparitions. Then we took out white handkerchiefs and waved them, singing good-bye to the Mother of God. Those gatherings had some kind of patriotic dimension because when Antonio de Oliveira Salazar seized power in 1928 the government did not like the Fatima events. Earlier Portugal, being under strong Masonic influence, was known for its persecutions of the Church, fall of morality and common anti-church and anti-monarchy protests. My father knew the mayor of Ourem himself. The mayor was a freemason who captured and arrested Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta a few days before 13 August 1917.

- When did you become aware of the message of Fatima? When did you understand its significance to the world and to yourself?

- When I was 11 our class tutor told me to make a walking pilgrimage to Fatima, carrying all my manuals before taking the final exams in elementary school. Altogether we were to go 30 km. Only one classmate did not go. And he was the only one who failed the exams. When I reached Fatima I met a taxi driver from my village that wanted to give me a free ride home. But I took an oath to return on foot and I did so although I was tired. In 1959 I went to study Romance philology in Lisbon. Then I began reading literally everything what I found about the Fatima apparitions. I studied its historical and patriotic context. In 1968 I joined the general wave of rebelliousness. I was 30 and like my most of my peers I suffocated under the military regime that had stayed in power for 40 years. As a teacher of French I could go for a language internship to Grenoble. I decided to leave Portugal in order to avoid army service since I was a pacifist. After I had finished the internship I got a job in the Portuguese embassy in Luxemburg and after several months I settled in Belgium.
Mary 'caught' me at the moment I least expected. After having moved to Belgium I started my own business. I was fed up with religion and decided to leave everything that was connected with it. I stopped practicing faith, I went to Mass from time to time but I went to church on a weekday and not on Sundays. It seemed to me that Mass was my own matter and I could decide myself when I was to attend it. My life was completely occupied with earning money. In 1977 I had a severe car accident. I could not move for six months. I began thinking of the sense of my life and then I remembered the roots of my faith, which I had carried from my childhood, and my entire Christian upbringing. I underwent conversion. After I had recovered I went on a pilgrimage to San Damiano in Italy and then for nine months I prayed the novena I had began on the path of my pilgrimage. I promised to pray the novena to the Mother of God and I kept my promise. Afterwards I began organizing prayer groups, which focused on adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the spirit of the old fraternities of the Blessed Sacrament.

- In 1989, commencing with Berlin, the regimes of the countries of the Soviet block fell like domino pieces when touched by a finder. However, after 17 years one must admit that communism has not been abolished completely, especially in the mentality of the older generation and circles of the governments in many countries...

- In 1956, when I was a teacher of French in Lisbon, I went with my pupils on a pilgrimage to Fatima. The road was wet and at some point the driver got into a skid. The coach turned a total of 360 degrees and we kept going, even without stopping. We prayed the Rosary all the time, hundreds of Hail Mary's. Despite such an obvious sign I began doubting what those 'kilometres' of the Rosary were for. I felt they were senseless. The Hungarian uprising was collapsing. The same happened in the Czech Republic a few years later. We were losing hope. However, in 1989, when I watched the fall of the Berlin wall, the end of the regime of Ceausescu in Romania, etc., I understood that those millions of rosaries, which people had prayed to our Lady of Fatima for decades, created powerful pressure that finally blew up the walls of communism. All our prayers had great power of intercession with God who decided that there were enough prayers and acted with his strong arm. Obviously, one must remember that the biggest promise of Fatima is conversion of Russia, which has not fully come true...
Naur, 19 July 2006.

Apparitions in Fatima

The Marian apparitions in Fatima were the answer to the appeals for peace made by Pope Benedict XV. The last appeal of that Pope was one week before the first apparition in Fatima. The Mother of God appeared to three children: Lucia dos Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto. During the first apparition, 13 May 1917, the Mother of God asked the children to come to that place for six months, at the same hour on the 13th day. Naturally, the children fulfilled her request.
Our Lady of Fatima was sad because of people's sins that were against God and hurt her motherly heart. During the four of the six apparitions he mentioned sins and sinners. She asked for prayer and sacrifice to save sinners. During each apparition she spoke about the Rosary. She kept saying to the children, 'Say the Rosary every day'.

"Niedziela" 42/2006

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl