The Miracle of the Sun occurred on Oct. 13, 1917, during the sixth and final monthly apparition of Our Lady of Fatima to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. A torrential rain had been falling. The ground became extremely muddy. Everything and everyone was soaked. The sun, which began zigzagging in the heavens and throwing off many colors, suddenly appeared to become unhinged from the sky and to hurtle down towards the earth. People screamed in fright. And then, in an instant, the sun returned to the heavens and the ground and everyone standing on it was completely dry.
“I first heard about the Miracle of the Sun as a young child,” said Stefano Mazzeo, writer/producer/director of EWTN’s blockbuster new mini-series “The Message of Fatima.” “I thought, ‘How do [unbelievers] explain that?’ Someone said it was mass hysteria. But it couldn’t be because people outside the village were seeing it. Even then, I realized that this was a supernatural event.”
During this 100th anniversary year, the Church invites her children to return to Fatima. To assist in this effort, EWTN is premiering a blockbuster mini-series, “The Message of Fatima.” Over the next six months, viewers will have the opportunity to experience the six apparitions, month by month, message by message.
Not everyone knows that an Angel appeared to the three shepherd children in 1916 to prepare them for the apparitions from the Mother of God the following year. Episode 1 of this important docu-drama, which airs at 6:30 p.m. ET, Wednesday, May 10, prepares viewers for what is to come by conveying the Angel’s messages. At 8 p.m. ET that same evening, Fr. Mitch Pacwa will interview Writer/Director Mazzeo on “EWTN Live.”
Then, just as at Fatima in 1917, EWTN will air an account of one of the six apparitions on the 13th of the same month in which they originally occurred. Each monthly episode will begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, beginning Saturday, May 13 and ending Friday, Oct. 13 with the Miracle of the Sun.
Filmed on location in Fatima, the series will feature reenactments by children who look stunningly like the original seers, expert commentary, an original score, authentic costumes, and settings such as the church in which the Fatima seers were baptized, went to their first Confession, and received their First Holy Communion.
What is the message of Fatima? There is a lot to it, but Mazzeo, who was also the writer/director or producer of “The Inquisition” and “Wales – The Golden Thread of Faith” on EWTN, says: “In every apparition, Our Lady asks us to pray the rosary, but she also asks for acts of reparation and sacrifices for sinners because hell exists and there are people in hell. We cannot say who is in hell, but we must make sacrifices to keep people from going there. We need to try and live a pure life and to make reparations to save sinners.”
Despite the supernatural subject of the series or, more likely because of it, filming hasn’t been easy. As Fr. Louis Marie O.P., Promoter General of the Rosary, one of the film’s experts, told Mazzeo: “If you’re working for Our Lady, the devil will attack you.”
Mazzeo said he soon realized that falling into bed after a hard day of filming and forgetting to say his rosary was not a good idea! “I got attacked by a group of mosquitoes and my face swelled up really huge,” he said. “Also, the audio didn’t record one morning, so we had to shoot the whole thing again.”
After incidents like the above, Mazzeo said the crew became “very particular to say our prayers.” And they paid off. “I’m sure there’s been a spiritual battle over the program, but I think we’re winning it.”
The casting is phenomenal. The three Portuguese children, who look eerily like the three seers, are the exact ages of the seers. Because they can’t speak English, filming was a challenge, but the children’s enthusiasm for their roles is evident in the final product.
For the role of the Blessed Mother, Mazzeo was presented with a screen test by a young Catholic actress in London named Rachel Clifford, who immediately got the part. “We couldn’t just have anyone playing Our Lady of Fatima,” he says. “The actress not only had to look the part; she had to be the part. To find a devout Catholic girl in England who looks like Our Lady of Fatima when in costume is providential.”
Mazzeo’s production team also managed to obtain a Dorthean habit, which is what Sister Lucia, one of the visionaries, wore after becoming a nun. For the important Portuguese shoot, the group worked with a local Fatima group called Casa do Povo, who supplied the costumes and did reenactments of the children and adults singing and dancing in and around Fatima. They also located and hired people from local film production armories in the south of England, who arrived on set with real machine guns (which regular citizens aren’t allowed to own) for an important scene in Episode 4.
Says Mazzeo: “What Sister Lucia saw [on July 13, 1917] was a vision of a congregation representing the Church coming out of a desolate city in ruins. The Pope was leading bishops, priests, nuns, and other religious and the congregation up a hill. The Pope kneels in front of the cross, puts his hand on it and prays – and soldiers arrive and shoot them all.”
To give the series its rich context, Mazzeo also brought in experts such as Fr. Carlos Cabecinhas, rector of the Shrine of Fatima; Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Archbishop Emeritus of Krakow, Poland; Nuno Prazeres and Ana Reis of The World Apostolate of Fatima; Fatima Theologian Pedro Valinho Gomes; Most Rev. Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of Karaganda, Kazakhstan; Most Rev. Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury, England; Fatima Author Donal Foley, as well as Fr. Louis Marie.
Mazzeo said he hopes viewers will take away a greater belief and knowledge of the message of Fatima. “I always try to go for the wow factor and I think Our Lady has helped a lot with that.”
But while the mini-series is entertaining, it is also important.
“Pope Benedict XVI said, “We would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete,” Mazzeo said. “The message will continue to be lived out as long as there are people on earth. It’s a private revelation, so we don’t have to believe it, but it does lead us to and re-emphasize the deposit of faith. I cannot say for sure that anything will happen this year, but I believe that the message of Fatima is not finished yet. The prophesies are ongoing.”