Wednesday, August 24, 2022

The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima

Tomorrow (August 25) in Summer Under the Stars, TCM is honoring Luis Antonio Dámaso de Alonso, better known by his stage name of Gilbert Roland. One of his movies that I hadn't seen before is The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, airing at 4:00 PM. With that in mind, I recently watched it in order to be able to do a post on it here.

Catholics are probably aware of Fatima becoming one of the major Catholic pilgrimage sights, much like Lourdes in the French Pyrenees did after young Bernadette claimed to have had a vision of the Virgin Mary, something which was also turned into a major Hollywood movie, The Song of Bernadette. Fatima is a village in central Portugal where, in 1917, three children claimed to see a lady they referred to as the Lady of the Rosary, who told them to come back every month, which resulted in thousands if not tens or hundreds of thousands of Portuguese peasants going to Fatima with the children in the hopes they too could have the vision and be saved by the Virgin Mary's grace, she being the person Catholics pray to when they pray the rosary.

That much I knew, but there's more of a back story to the events in Fatima. In October, 1910, Portugal had a revolution that resulted in the young king being forced to abdicate. The parties who deposed the king were also extremely anti-clerical, in part because the Catholic Church had a lot of influence in the running of the country under the monarchy. (By the same token, the Spanish republicans of the 1930s were also highly anti-clerical, something usually downplayed in most retellings of the Spanish Civil War.) Portuguese rurals were, like a lot of peasants, much stronger believers of Catholicism than the ruling classes, leading to conflict. In the movie, the republican government is clearly portrayed as analogous to Marxists, since the movie was made during the anti-Communist era of the early 1950s; the fact that one of the pronouncements of the Lady of the Rosary had to do with consecrating Russia to the western version of Christ.

One day in May, 1917, young Lucia dos Santos (Susan Whitney) and her cousins Jacinta (Sherry Jackson) and Francisco (Sammy Ogg), had that fateful vision and told their families about it. This caused all sorts of problems since most people weren't going to see a vision, even if they had a lot of faith. But when you add in the fact the the government was trying to suppress the Church, you can imagine how dangerous it would be for the villagers in Fatima to have all those pilgrims coming. The kids, however, keep insisting that they saw the Lady of the Rosary no matter how much pressure the local government officials try to put on them.

As for Gilbert Roland, he plays a completely fictional character, Hugo da Silva, the sort of lovable rogue who shows up a lot in "kids in danger" pictures. He keeps having run-ins with the law, isn't particularly religious. Not out of the sort of anti-clericism the government has, mind you, but since the petty crimes he and the other rough male prisoners commit are usually things the Church would find sinful, how often would you see such men in church? But the kids are so pure, and Hugo is such a good guy at heart, the he eventually helps the kids out, even if he tries to find a way to make a buck off the pilgrims.

Eventually, the kids have one final mass gathering, which results, as it did in real life, in what's known as the Miracle of the Sun, in which many of the pilgrims claimed the sun danced across the sky and not only stopped a cloudburst but dried their clothes impossibly quickly, as well as other similar things. The way it's presented in this movie, however, is faintly ridiculous, leading the movie to have less power then the earlier The Song of Bernadette.

There is a plus, however; the movie has an epilogue showing color documentary footage of the 1951 pilgrimage which was addressed by a papal legate. The film itself won't make anybody believers, but it's certainly an interesting example of an era when Hollywood had much more reverence for religion than it does today.

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