Lauren Green: 'Fatima' – New film retells story of 1917 miracle for 21st-century audience

“Fatima” makes it clear that even the most religious people can have their faith challenged

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The new movie, "Fatima," retells the story of three children from the village of Fatima in Portugal. In 1917 these children said they witnessed a visitation from the Virgin Mary.

Since that experience was recounted the story of 9-year-old Lucia and her two younger cousins, Francisco, 7, and Jacinta, 6, has been the subject of intense investigations by the Catholic Church, faith-driven historians and curious skeptics.

The 1952 movie, "The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima," came out just a few years after Pope Pius XII venerated the image enshrined at the chapel of the Apparitions of Fatima.

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Just last week, the updated film version was released. Rose Ganguzza, of Rose Pictures, is the film's producer.

Ganguzza, a veteran film producer, talked about the project with me on Fox's "Lighthouse Faith" podcast.

She said, "This film project came to me six years ago from a California firm called Origin Entertainment, who had started a company that wanted to make films that had spiritual messages, and they... needed a producer. – they had optioned the rights to the 1952 movie that Warner Brothers did.

"So, they had the remake rights and they brought me five scripts. And this was the one that resonated with me because I remember this story from when I was little and being in Catholic schools and the nuns showing us that original film."

In the accounts of the apparitions, the children were believed to have had the visitation once a month for several months culminating in the Miracle of the Sun witnessed by thousands in October of 1917.

The sun was seen twirling and "dancing" immediately after a drenching downpour. But in the months before that, the apparition prophesied to the children about the coming end of World War I, of future wars and events, and even perhaps the attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II, which happened in 1981.

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The new film is truly fashioned for 21st-century audiences, who have the perspective of a hundred years of hindsight – but also, who are probably more skeptical about faith and religion than 1950s audiences.

Ganguzza, a practicing Catholic says, "How do you cross this over into a non-Catholic audience? And I decided that there should be a character that questions all of this. And that's how the Harvey Keitel character [in the movie] came about."

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The film begins with a scholarly figure named Professor Nichols, played by Keitel, who goes to the cloistered convent where an elderly Sister Lucia lives.

He questions her about the actual events to see if she still believes what she saw as a child. The film then features a series of flashbacks to 1917, to Lucia as a child and all the challenges and conflicts she and her cousins faced because they refused to recant what they saw. And as the months wear on, it becomes obvious that they must suffer for it.

In real life, Lucia became a nun as a young adult; her cousins died as children, which the Lady of the Rosary, as she is called, told them they would.

Ganguzza says, "Professor Nichols is an amalgam of a number of people who visit... her (Lucia) over the years in the convent and kept barraging her with questions. And one of the people who visited her close to her death was Mel Gibson. And he wound up calling his last daughter, Lucia, and buying a home in Fatima."

Ganguzza said she wanted to tell the story from the children's perspective and weave in the events of World War I as it raged across Europe to show how it affected their lives. The rise of anti-clericalism and a disdain of faith and religious beliefs as backward is highlighted.

The civil authorities shutter the church because of the children's claims that they’ve seen the Mother of Jesus and the throngs of people who want to find hope in their message.

But, spoiler alert, there is also a traumatic scene, which happened to the real children, that this version of the film leaves out and the 1952 version keeps in.

It's when the children are arrested, and the younger ones are taken into a separate room and told they're going to be boiled in oil unless they "tell the truth of what they saw."

All that Lucia (and the audience) hear are horrific screams. The sound is devastating. But the threat never comes to fruition, and the children are released.

Ganguzza purposely omitted the encounter fearing that it would be too frightening for younger audiences – and garner a different rating. The film is rated PG-13.

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“Fatima” makes it clear that even the most religious people can have their faith challenged.

Many of us want a comfortable religion of smiles and joy and no conflicts. But "Fatima" shows that when there is pain and sacrifice, the question becomes, "What do you really believe?"

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