Experience ‘Fatima’ through eyes of three innocent young shepherds

by Jerry Circelli

North Texas Catholic




Consider it a bit of an unconventional spiritual journey, but if you are interested in making a memorable pilgrimage to a Marian shrine in Europe, there’s no time like the present to make that happen. Your destination is none other than Fatima, Portugal, and your local movie theater and on-demand movie provider can get you there.

A new movie release on August 28 from Picturehouse, “Fatima” helps us transcend both time and place to witness the miraculous apparitions of Mary to three humble shepherd children in 1917.

The youngsters were 10-year-old Lucia, and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco, aged 9 and 7. On the 13th of each month, at around noon, between May and October of 1917, the Virgin Mary appeared to the children at the Cova da Iria near Fatima, Portugal. The apparitions were interrupted, however, in August, when the youths were arrested by local authorities.

“Fatima” makes us a witness to the children as they come face-to-face with the Virgin Mary. We see the mother of Jesus through the eyes of children and we share in their suffering as government officials and Church leaders try to force the young seers to recant their experiences.

Movie producers do an excellent job of giving us a realistic perspective of the challenging times when the 1917 Miracle of Fatima took place. Persecution of the Church had been underway since a revolutionary government came to power in Portugal several years earlier. In addition, the nation was in the midst of terrors brought on by World War I.

In this turbulent and unstable environment, oppressive government officials were determined to discredit the children’s claims to have seen the Virgin Mary, reasoning that they were being used by the Church to foment citizen unrest.

It is precisely here, amid this mayhem that we can come to understand the true meaning of faith and what it takes to stand up for our beliefs. And we learn that lesson through three innocent children.

“It’s a great story of heroism and courage,” Producer Dick Lyles told the North Texas Catholic. “It’s a phenomenal story of what these three children went through. They stuck by their guns and told the truth until the very end. To its core, this is an inspirational story.”

Lyles explained that the movie opens in modern-day Portugal, with a noted skeptic named Professor Nichols (Harvey Keitel) visiting a convent in Portugal where Sister Lucia resided as an elderly nun. He presses the sister about the apparitions she and her cousins experienced as children in Fatima.

3 shepherd children of fatima3 shepherd children of fatima

“Fatima” tells the story of the Blessed Mother’s appearance in Portugal in 1917 through the eyes of three innocent, young shepherds — Francisco (Jorge Lamelas), Jacinta (Alejandra Howard), and Lucia (Stephanie Gil). (photo courtesy/PictureHouse)

The producer said, “One of the questions this skeptic asks her is, ‘Why would Mary choose to appear to you and Jacinta and Francisco?’”

Lyles continued, “Think about somebody being asked that in our narcissistic culture. Well, Sister Lucia gets a little smile on her face and says, ‘Because it was necessary.’”

Six months after Mary’s first apparition to the children, Lyles explained, the faithful flocked to the Cova da Iria to join the children in prayer with the Blessed Mother. They also witnessed the Miracle of the Sun, during which people testified that they saw the sun dance, approach the earth, and zigzag across the sky.

“Seventy thousand people showed up,” said Lyles. “They had no internet, no TV, no phones. Just word of mouth. It was absolutely incredible.

“So obviously, Sister Lucia was right. It worked.”

While many people may be familiar with the popular 1952 Warner Bros. movie, “The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima,” Lyles said the new production by Picturehouse is different in many ways.

“The Warner classic was a great movie. There’s no question about it, and it is still one of their best-selling movies after all these years,” Lyles said, adding that the early film was “a little bit Disneyesque.”

Lyles said he and his fellow producers were determined to make their cinematic depiction about the Miracle of Fatima story more true to life. 

“The difference is this movie is filmed in a down-to-earth, gritty perspective. We see things in the context of the Portuguese civil war that was being fought at that time during World War I.  This movie also shows what the kids really went through from a much more realistic and dramatic point of view.

Fatima movie poster

“The priest in the neighboring parish was dragged out into the street and beaten almost to death three months before the first apparition took place,” Lyles explained. “So the clergy and a lot of others were scared to death that this was going to get them all in trouble at the time, so they really put incredible pressure on the kids to recant their story. We wanted to capture more of that realism.”

yles said he agreed with some religious scholars that by August 1917, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco really became martyrs, “because they proclaimed  their faith, they were threatened with death because of what they said and what they believed, and still stuck by their beliefs.”

The case in point is demonstrated in the movie, as government authorities take the children, one by one, into a room for interrogation. Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco are made to believe that those ahead of them had been killed for not recanting their stories. Even under the threat of death, they remained steadfast in their faith.

“So that means they probably crossed the threshold of martyrdom,” Lyles said. “Even though they weren’t actually killed, they met the criteria of martyrdom established by the Church.”

The producer continued, “Now when you think about that and you think about the challenges Catholics face today, the question we should each ask ourselves is, ‘Are we willing to make that same level of commitment to stand up for our faith that these children — ages 10, 9, and 7 — made 100 years ago?’”

Watch “Fatima” and ponder this question yourself.

And in the process, renew what you perhaps once knew but have forgotten about Fatima and the three secrets revealed to the children by the Blessed Mother.

And finally, discover why Pope John Paul II became so devoted to Our Lady of Fatima. The pope visited Fatima three times — on May 13, 1982, on the first anniversary of the assassination attempt on his life; on May 13, 1991 on the 10th anniversary of the assassination attempt; and for the Great Jubilee of 2000, when he beatified Jacinta and Francisco.

Beautiful cinematography, with scenes filmed near Fatima, uplifting music featuring Andrea Bocelli, inspirational depictions of the Virgin Mary, convincing performances by gifted young actors, and actual footage of Pope John Paul II to the Shrine of Fatima, all help to make this movie a must-see.

More information and updates about “Fatima”

COVID-19 has caused countless disruptions throughout the world and the movie industry has met with its share of related challenges.

Although originally set to open in theaters earlier this year, the release of “Fatima” was postponed.

“Fatima” is now slated to open in theaters and through on-demand television viewing starting August 28. To keep apprised of theater locations and how you can access the on-demand viewing, visit fatimathemovie.com.

Fatima movie poster

Consider it a bit of an unconventional spiritual journey, but if you are interested in making a memorable pilgrimage to a Marian shrine in Europe, there’s no time like the present to make that happen