by Geoffrey Churchman

Parishioners at the now demolished Catholic church in Waikanae (see this post) know it was named for Our Lady of Fatima so this movie on the events of 1917 in Portugal will have extra interest for them.

Fatima was a typical rural Portuguese small town in 1917 and the country by that stage was involved in World War One on the British side. The mayor regularly addressed gatherings in the town square to announce the names of local fallen or missing soldiers in the conflict.

On 13 May 1917, three local children, Lúcia dos Santos and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, while guarding their families’ sheep in the Cova da Iria reported that they had seen visions of a “lady dressed in white” and shining with a bright light believed by the Catholic Church to be the Virgin Mary. The children claimed to have seen the Marian apparition on six occasions; they said the last would be 13 October 1917 and an estimated 70,000 pilgrims went to the site to see for themselves. Many (but not all) in the crowd reported what has been referred to as the Miracle of the Sun, when the sun behaved quite unusually.

The following year a small chapel was built on the site and was subsequently enclosed within a large basilica and sanctuary, part of a complex including a hotel and other facilities. In 1930, the statue of Our Lady in the Chapel of Apparitions was crowned by the Vatican.

Two of the childtren were victims of the influenza pandemic which spread in 1918 but the oldest, Lucia, went on to become a nun and lived until 2005.

Despite all this, the Catholic Church has never formally proclaimed acceptance of the events at Fatima, merely stating that they are “worthy of belief” and its adherents can decide for themselves.

The movie portrays the environment of the era quite well, and the drama of the disbelieving reaction the children get from not only their families but authorities is quite believable.

The beginning of the film is in 1989 as Professor Nicols (Harvey Keitel) visits Sister Lucia (Sonia Braga), now an octogenarian, at her convent. The professor is a skeptic, but for his new book project he needs to question Lucia about what she experienced in 1917. Nothing about the revelations conflicted with Church teachings, indeed endorsed them, which in turn raises the issue of how much existing teachings which the children were aware of influenced their descriptions.

These are the intriguing considerations which will appeal to Catholics, but all viewers get an endearing tale and Stephanie Gil, although a few years older than the real Lucia was at the time, is a good actress; in fact all the performances and cinematography are good.

Fatima (113 minutes) is screening at the Shoreline.