If you grew up Catholic in the 20th century — especially if you grew up in a devout family or attended Catholic schools — then you grew up with a keen awareness of Fátima, Portugal. The place was marked as a star on your mental map. In religious terms, it was a capital city like Rome and Jerusalem.

In 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children in Fátima, and to them, she revealed heaven’s answers to questions that were burning in millions of hearts. Where was the world heading? What could we do about it?

I grew up in a Protestant home, so I had no awareness of the message of Fátima. Nor did I know the answers to those questions. Still, the questions burned in my heart, and life sent me in search of answers.

In fact, I can still remember the very moment I first heard about Fátima. It was Aug. 18, 1984, and my wife Kimberly was in labor with our second son, Gabriel. We were in a hospital room in Grove City, Pennsylvania, and we had the television on for distraction. As one show gave way to the next, I saw the familiar visage of Ricardo Montalbán. He was introducing a documentary and it was about Fátima.

I was not yet a Catholic. But, I had those questions, and my search for answers was bringing me closer and closer to the truth of the Catholic faith. That documentary was, I believe, a providential moment, a milestone on my road to conversion.

Decades later, in 2017, Kimberly and I made a pilgrimage to Fátima to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the apparitions.

“Lúcia dos Santos, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, the three children to whom the Virgin Mary revealed her famous ‘three secrets’ in Fátima, Portugal,” by Joshua Benoliel, 1873-1932, Portuguese. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Fátima visions proved true to events that would later unfold in the 20th century. And the seers themselves seemed to confirm the authenticity of the revelations by the remarkable holiness of their individual lives. Simple peasants with little education were granted gifts of wisdom surpassing those of the leaders of the world.

What God the Father had hidden from the wise and understanding he revealed to little children (Matthew 11:25). The children learned of the trials that were to come in a century of upheavals. They heard of wars and revolutions, persecutions, and a surge of demonic activity. They were granted a vision of hell itself.

It was troubling. Even now, it seems a lot to unload on the hearts of innocent kids. But those children — Lúcia dos Santos, Francisco and Jacinta Marto — also received instruction about how to persevere and even triumph through the most difficult times. The Blessed Virgin, as ever, urged the children to do whatever her Son told them to do. She told them, too, to pray the rosary and be especially devoted to her own Immaculate Heart.

Those who’ve followed the Virgin’s advice have known peace in the midst of strife. They’ve known consolation. They’ve succeeded in discerning good from evil and choosing the good consistently.

That’s the gift of Fátima, and it’s what I want for myself and for my family — and for you and yours.