The children had a horrible vision, but it was also showing them the way to heaven.
When the Virgin appeared to the three little shepherds at Fatima in 1917, she allowed them to have a vision of hell that would scare any child (or adult). They saw a “great sea of fire” and, within it, many tormented souls.
A terrible image, of which Lucía spoke: “That vision lasted only a moment, thanks to our good Celestial Mother, who in the first apparition promised to take us to heaven. Without it, I think we would have died of terror and fear. ”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church confirms the existence of hell, but speaks of a punishment more severe than being banished from eternity.
The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. The souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend to the underworld immediately after death and there suffer the pains of hell, “the eternal fire.” The main penalty of hell consists in eternal separation from God in whom only man can have the life and happiness for which he has been created and to which he aspires. (1035)
The explanation that the Catechism gives is the reason why we should be afraid of hell. We must fear the prospect of spending eternity apart from God who loves us so much.
Although it is true that the children have seen hell represented as a sea of fire, Sister Lucy observed how those who were in hell suffered from immense “despair”. Hell is a place of absolute desolation, a lonely place – not the “feast of all sinners”, as many people imagine.
Dante wrote about that aspect in his Hell. In contrast to a “great sea of fire,” he describes it as “frost crusts . ”
it caught on the hairy ribs;
of hair in hair down descended then
between the shaggy hair and the frozen crusts (Canto XXXIV).
Instead of a place of perpetual fire, it is seen as a place of darkness, cold and despair. Dante’s image of hell highlights the reality of separation from God, something terrible and extremely lonely. In its interpretation, hell is a place where you cry, but nobody hears your screams, a place where you want to be next to someone, but you can never move.
The good news is that the Virgin did not want to simply show that vision to the children to scare them. She wanted them to know why we should strive to avoid hell and that we should do everything we can to go to heaven, bringing with us those we know.
She also offered a path that would lead souls to the heavenly embrace:
You saw that hell is where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world the devotion to my Immaculate Heart.
The Virgin taught the children to approach their Immaculate Heart to prevent their souls from turning away from God. She recommended practicing the First Saturday devotions, offering personal sacrifices and also praying an additional prayer during the third and the rosary:
When you pray the third, say after each mystery: “Oh, my Jesus, forgive us and save us from the fire of hell. Take all souls to Heaven and help mainly those who need it most. ”
Prayer summarizes our Christian life, recognizing our need for forgiveness, but also directing our efforts to help those who are by our side and reach heaven. The Virgin of Fatima reminds us that we should wish that all souls reach heaven, even those of our enemies. We should never wish for someone to spend eternity away from God.
In the end, the closer we get to Mary’s heart, the closer we will be to the heart of Jesus. As Saint Louis de Montfort wrote, devotion to Mary “is the surest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way to approach Jesus”.