The events that took place in Fatima beginning in May 1917 were interpreted from the outset by the Republicans holding power in Portugal and the leading force of Portuguese republicanism (Freemasonry) as not only confirmation of “ Catholic obscurantism” but almost a breach of the laws of the Republic. Quite unsurprisingly, since Our Lady appearing in Fatima called on Catholics to pray on the rosary — an act, as we already know, that carried criminal sanctions enacted by the Republican government.
“White ants” in action
Removed from power, Prime Minister Alfonso Costa did not give up on his struggle for a new secular Portugal. With his leadership, radical Republicans again formed a network of hit squads called “white ants”. As the authority on 20th-century Portuguese history, Prof. Wituch writes: “hit squads were headed and protected by Masonic lodges and in most cases paid from public funds.” One of the first actions of the “white ants” was the disrupting of Easter festivities in churches across Portugal in 1914.
The Fatima apparitions were to Portuguese freethinkers (read: Freemasons) “a pathetic and reactionary attempt to plunge the Portuguese once again in the darkness of times long past”
The rule of moderate Republicans was ended by a military takeover in May 1915 plotted and headed by officer-Masons. Fighting in Lisbon continued from May 14th to 18th, leaving 300 people dead. Parliamentary elections held in June brought Alfonso Costa’s radicals back to power. The “Great Secularist” again took the office of Prime Minister in November of the same year. Thus, the final stage of Church persecution began in the lifetime of the Portuguese First Republic.
Costa again drove into exile the two most important Portuguese bishops: the Patriarch of Lisbon and Bishop of Porto. On top of that, he had all Catholic periodicals shut down while diocesan seminaries could not normally function. The very possession of a rosary could land a person in prison. “White ants” attacked with impunity not only the members of the clergy, but also lay Catholics. Bombs were thrown into churches during services. As a result over one hundred churches were burned down while many more were desecrated and simply robbed. Due to the activity of governmentsponsored “unknown perpetrators”, twice as many Catholics (laymen and clergymen) were killed in Portugal in 1915-1917 than Portuguese soldiers fighting in WWI in Europe from March 1916 (Portugal joined the war on the side of the Entente; the number of Portuguese Expeditionary Force soldiers fighting in France and killed in action was 1,935).
It was during this dire period of the Portuguese Church that on May 13, 1917, in the village of Fatima located in the Lisbon Archdiocese, three children — Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco — received the grace of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary.