They’re widening the roads to the Portuguese hill town of Fatima, stepping up train service, building 1,500 prefab houses, and talking about a helicopter landing pad. Chartered airline tours from the United States are selling at $505 to $895 a seat.

To hundreds of millions of Roman Catholics who venerate the Virgin Mary, May 13 is the fiftieth anniversary of her first reported appearance to three illiterate peasant children at Fatima. Since the apparitions won church recognition in 1930, Fatima has become one of the world’s major Marian shrines, centering on a large basilica with a 213-foot tower. Even in an off year, Fatima draws 1.5 million pilgrims (who get special indulgences in purgatory for making the trip) and 17,500 masses are recited.

Why Fatima? Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, perhaps America’s leading Catholic apologist, points out that Fatima was the name of Mohammed’s daughter and that in Islam she ranks second only to Mary among women. Thus, the Fatima miracles are “a pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people.”

The Fatima fiftieth, besides heightening piety and tourism, will be a boost for Mariology, that much-neglected topic of the post-Vatican II era. Major theological meetings are scheduled at Fatima in May and August. Pope Paul VI has named Curia Cardinal da Costa Nunes as his representative, and there is talk that he himself will come.

Part of the excitement about Fatima is the CIA-style story of the “third secret” told by Mary to the children. Twenty-four years after the fact, Sister Lucy, the only one of the three children still living, said they had seen a vivid vision of Hell in July, 1917. Mary had then asked frequent recitations of the Rosary and special masses, and had warned that unless Russia were consecrated ...

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