I led an afternoon of recollection yesterday for the local St. Gregory VII Chapter of Catholics United for the Faith. My two talks were entitled "Fatima and Lent: the Call to Prayer and Penance."
The story of Fatima begins, I believe, before Our Lady's appearance there in 1917 and before the appearance of the Angel of Peace in 1916. I think it begins in 1909.
Last May Fr. Jaime Rasura, S.J., who is an associate pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in San Diego, sent me a copy of a 1909 leaflet of the Apostleship of Prayer. In those days the Holy Father had only one prayer intention that he gave to the Church through the Apostleship of Prayer. In 1929 he added a monthly Mission Intention. His General Intention for January 1909 was "Catholicity in Portugal." The reflection in the leaflet for this intentions reads: "One of the aims of the Apostleship is the union of Catholics in prayer for the needs of the Church. At the opening of the New Year Our Holy Father, who knows so well the wants of his children, urges us to pray for Portugal, which at present is in great danger...."
What danger? In 1908 King Charles I had been assassinated. The country was in turmoil and Pope St. Pius X asked the world to pray for Portugal. Matters only got worse. In 1910 there was a socialist revolution and an anti-religious party took over the leadership of the country. The papal nuncio was expelled, religious houses were closed, processions were banned, priests and religious were forbidden to wear their clerical garb or habits, priests and bishops who opposed these measures were imprisoned or exiled. Perhaps some people at the time thought that their prayers the previous year were in vain.
A few years later God sent the Angel of Peace and Our Blessed Mother to three children and to the world. Part of Secret that Our Lady gave to the children during her appearance on July 13, 1917 was: "In Portugal, the dogma of the faith will be kept always."
I believe that the events in Fatima and all that has followed are directly related to the prayers of the Faithful who answered Pope St. Pius X's call for prayer in January, 1909. In his note that accompanied the leaflet, Fr. Rasura wrote: "How about this 100 year old leaflet? Pray for peace in Portugal and soon after Our Lady appears to the three children at Fatima. Prayers of the A.P. are powerful."