Composed of three parts, two of which a long time ago revealed, the Secret of Fatima is composed of revelations of Our Lady to the three Shepherds, in July 1917, asking them not to reveal to anyone.
«Do not tell this to anybody. Francisco, yes, you may tell him», that was the order given, according to Lucia.
It should be recalled that the three Shepherds witnessed the Apparitions differently: only Lucia interacted with Our Lady, she saw, listened and talked; Jacinta saw and listened, but didn’t talk and Francisco just saw. That explains the authorization to tell Francisco.
Lucia accepted to write about the Apparitions but kept the content of the Secret; she only put it in words after having received – as she explained - the authorization, as she explained, «from Heaven».
The Secret and the speculations
The fact that it is called a «secret» had nourished, for generations, the idea that the content of the revelations, mainly the third part, was related to something terrible like the end of the world, and that the Popes had wanted to keep it secret because of its «terrible revelations».
Nothing could be further from reality, as wrote cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, today Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his theological commentary on the Message of Fatima: « those who expected exciting apocalyptic revelations about the end of the world or the future course of his- tory are bound to be disappointed. Fatima does not satisfy our curiosity in this way, just as Christian faith in general cannot be reduced to an object of mere curiosity».
«What remains was already evident when we began our reflections on the text of the “secret”: the exhortation to prayer as the path of “salvation for souls” and, likewise, the summons to penance and conversion» he underlined.
The first part of the Secret of Fatima refers to the vision of hell that Our Lady showed the three Shepherds as “terrible moment”
«Our Lady showed us a great sea of fire which seemed to be under the earth. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, Iike transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in a huge fire, without weight or equilibrium, and amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. […]. This vision lasted but an instant. How can we ever be grateful enough to our kind heavenly Mother, who had already prepared us by promising, in the first Apparition, to take us to Heaven. Otherwise, I think we would have died of fear and terror», wrote Sister Lucia in her third Memoir (1941).
The second part is about the devotion and consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (to which it is linked the communion of reparation of the first Saturdays), with the special reference of the consecration of Russia, as a way to prevent a new war worse than the one that spread over Europe (First World War, 1914-1918).
«To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace 16; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world», revealed Lucia in the sane Memoir.
The third and last part is the vision the Shepherds had in which they saw the martyr and pilgrim Church: a succession of priests, religious and bishops, the Pope in front, climbing up a mountain, passing a city half in ruins, filled with corpses, killed at the foot of a cross by arrows and shots fired by soldiers (cf. Fourth Memoir – 1944).
« And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it’ a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father’. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. […] », according the account in the same Memoir.
In a conversation with cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, then Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in the Carmel of Coimbra, in April 2000, Sister Lucia agreed with the interpretation that the third part of the Secret is a prophetic vision, above all the struggle of atheistic communism against the Church and Christians and describes the terrible sufferings of the victims of the faith in the twentieth century.
«It is an interminable Way of the Cross led by the Popes of the twentieth century», underlines cardinal Angelo Sodano, Secretary of State of the Vatican, announcing in Fatima the third part of the Secret, on May 13th, 2000.
He confirms also that the interpretation of the «bishop dressed in white» is the Pope and agrees with the reading of John Paul II who, in the light of the third part of the Secret and following the assassination attempt on May 13th, 1981, in Rome, attributes to «a mother’s hand» the fact that the trajectory of the bullet was deviated enabling « the Pope in his throes» to halt «at the threshold of death».
In his theological commentary, then cardinal Joseph Ratzinger underlines the key word of that third part of the Secret which is precisely the threefold cry of the angel with the flaming sword on his left hand: «Penance, Penance, Penance! ».
That is the request for repentance and for conversion, in the certainty that the good will triumph over evil, as he continues: «the vision of the third part of the “secret”, so distressing at first, concludes with an image of hope: no suffering is in vain, and it is a suffering Church, a Church of martyrs, which becomes a sign-post for man in his search for God».
«From the suffering of the witnesses there comes a purifying and renewing power, because their suffering is the actualization of the suffering of Christ himself and a communication in the here and now of its saving effect», he underlines.
Therefore, he reminds the promise of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of John: «In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world (Jn 16:33) ».
«The message of Fatima invites us to trust in this promise», he concludes.