Our Lady, Fatima and the Future
Our Lady, Fatima and the Future
Marian devotion is central to the Church, and to Catholic life and culture. Mary’s central role in God’s plan from “the beginning” places her at the core – literally at the heart– of the Church and the life journey of every Christian.
Every era has seen additions to the great Marian shrines of the world, and also renewal of old ones. Today, Lourdes attracts millions of pilgrims annually – to our Medieval ancestors it was unknown. In England, Catholics of the Victorian era knew of Walsingham only as a shrine destroyed under Henry VIII – today it is a major part of Catholic life, renewed afresh in this 21st century having been revived in the early years of the 20th.
In Mexico, where once a militantly anti-Catholic government sought to ban any public expression of the faith, some six million people visit the shrine of Guadalupe annually. In Poland, the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa has remained at the core of national life for centuries, was central to the life and message of the nation’s most famous son St John Paul the Great, and is world famous.
This month Pope Francis goes to Fatima.
The village is named after the daughter of Mohammed, dating back to the days when Islam was a great force on the Iberian peninsula. But in the early years of the 20th century, Portugal, and all of Europe, had other worries. In 1917, Europe was at war on a scale unknown in previous history.
When three children at Fatima reported a series of visions, they were interrogated and challenged by both the Church and the public authorities without much sympathy: they stuck resolutely to their accounts of what they had seen and heard. They claimed that Mary, in deep sorrow and with repeated solemnity, was calling for prayer and penance. She had spoken to them with great seriousness and the children never wavered in their accounts of what she said. The Church examined the visions and pronounced them worthy. The authenticity was in a sense somehow validated by the lives of the children themselves. From poor families, the children never beneited from the crowds who subsequently thronged the place, or from the attention they received and they went on to endure sufering and tragedy with touching courage. Two died in the worldwide epidemic that followed World War I. The survivor, Lucia, became a nun and the lone witness to what had occurred.
She sought to describe it all faithfully, and in 1941 the Church revealed a previously unpublished section: Mary had said that if people did not cease from sin, there would be a further war. By 1941 of course, this was already raging. Lucia also had written that Mary had asked that Russia be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, and that people pray with renewed fervour, receiving Communion on ive consecutive First Saturdays. The warning was that Russia would “spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to sufer; various nations will be annihilated.”
These words reverberated throughout the Church over the next decades: the Fatima vision became intensely bound up in the popular mind with Russia. It all itted together with the Cold War and the persecution of Christians in the USSR and Eastern Europe. Inevitably, it became mixed up in many minds with events in the world and in the Church: thus in the 1950s and 60s, rumours of a “Third Secret” of Fatima were assumed to be about a nuclear war and its ghastly aftermath, and then in the 1970s and 80s this switched to rumours of false Popes, establishment of a false religion worldwide...
St John Paul
But God is Lord of history, and visions and revelations are not horoscopes or fortune- telling. On the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, 13th May, 1981, John Paul II, the Polish Pope from a nation crushed by Russia, was shot in St Peter’s Square. The bullet struck him at point-blank range and should have killed him – as he was rushed to hospital he was heard praying “Mary, my mother...”. He had dedicated his pontiicate to Mary, taking the motto “Totus tuus” and having a large M on his coat-of-arms contrary to oicial heraldic rules. His survival from the assassination attempt was astonishing. The bullet was in due course placed in the crown of Our Lady’s statue at the shrine – where, extraordinarily, it itted perfectly.
One year after the attempted assassination he went to Fatima to give thanks. Once again there was drama: a renegade priest from Archbishop Lefebvre’s Society of St Pius X stabbed the Pope, drawing blood before he was dragged away.
That final secret
In the Millenium Year 2000 the Church revealed the final parts of Sister Lucia’s accounts of what had occurred at Fatima in 1917. There had been much speculation about what had become known as the “Third Secret”. It turned out to be essentially a continuation of what had already been revealed – a plea for prayer and penance, but with an added series of images: a ruined city, a rugged Cross, a Pope shot at with arrows, bishops, clergy and faithful people martyred.
Truth and hope
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was asked by the Pope to provide an analysis and commentary on this for the faithful.
He noted that “Those who expected exciting apocalyptic revelations about the end of the world or the future course of history are bound to be disappointed. Fatima does not satisfy our curiosity in this way, just as Christian faith in general cannot be reduced to an object of mere curiosity. What remains was already evident when we began our reflections on the text of the ‘secret’: the exhortation to prayer as the path of ‘salvation for souls’ and, likewise, the summons to penance and conversion.”
As an image of the martyred Church of the 20th century, the Fatima vision has bitter accuracy. But the essential message of Fatima includes a deep message of hope: “In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” Cardinal Ratzinger spoke of this:
“The iat of Mary, the word of her heart, has changed the history of the world, because it brought the Saviour into the world – because, thanks to her Yes, God could become man in our world and remains so for all time. The Evil One has power in this world, as we see and experience continually; he has power because our freedom continually lets itself be led away from God. But since God himself took a human heart and has thus steered human freedom towards what is good, the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word. From that time forth, the word that prevails is this: “In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn16:33). The message of Fatima invites us to trust in this promise.” (Ratzinger, Fatima 2000).
When Pope Francis goes to Fatima, there will be no shortage of discussion and analysis, and advice to him. Disappointed apocalyse-watchers have become a busy
range of lobby groups, asserting that there was surely a more exciting secret that had been withheld, and that both Pope St John Paul and Pope Emeritus Benedict were part of a conspiracy and were effectively liars, dupes or possibly blackmailed. The lobby predictions often including fire and famine with only their own followers rescued. Some had a particular and curious hatred for St John Paul, announcing that there would be a Divine intervention to prevent his canonisation, only to fall into embarrassed silence when that prediction failed along with others.
Pope St John Paul consecrated the world to Mary in 1984, and things did indeed change dramatically in Russia. The Soviet Union collapsed and a new chapter in Russia opened with an extraordinary movement towards Christianity. Conversion is always a work-in-progress. The Fatima vision announced no time-line on Russia’s spiritual journey, and doubtless it will have its halts and problems. The path is set: the conversion is happening.
The message of the Fatima visions has too often been lost amid the conspiracy theories. These have included Pope Emeritus Benedict being held “in the Vatican, perhaps drugged” against his will, and a false Sister Lucia being produced for the cameras. There has been an insistence on “the real secret” being hidden in a Vatican cupboard, whispered messages conveyed in corridors, the dreadful truth known to just a few but definitely connected with dark plots and popes forced to lie. Faithful Catholics need to counter this rubbish with authentic Marian devotion and should quietly but firmly reject the conspiracy-theorists and their material
What really matters
In 2017 the Fatima message is what it has always been: prayer and penance, and an invitation to trust in God’s love and mercy – to respond with our hearts as Mary responded with hers. Perhaps its signiicance in the future may be for Moslem pilgrimages, attracted by the extraordinary link with the founder of their religion, open in new ways to the truth of Christ and the Church. Perhaps some day there will be Russian pilgrims, giving thanks and renewing with successive popes the consecration of their country. Maybe it will be a place where the Orthodox feel they can make their peace with the
Catholic Church in a new way. As Christians, we must not seek to know the future or consult fortune-tellers or horoscopes – or try to turn Marian devotions into these.
We can only know that what really matters is the theme of prayer and penance. As Pope Francis leads the Church on pilgrimage, we can unite our prayers with his, and with those of his saintly predecessor whose faith and courage were brought there with the bullet that almost killed him.
And a message for the Church:
In 1984 the then Cardinal Ratzinger gave an interview which drew worldwide attention when it was published as The Ratzinger Report. He made a number of important points about Mary.
“With her destiny, which is at one and the same time that of Virgin and of Mother, Mary continues to project a light upon that which the Creator intended for women in every age, ours included, or, better said, perhaps precisely in our time, in which—as we know—the very essence of femininity is threatened. Through her virginity and her motherhood, the mystery of woman receives a very lofty destiny from which she cannot be torn away. Mary undauntedly proclaims the Magniicat, but she is also the one who renders silence and seclusion fruitful. She is the one who does not fear to stand under the Cross, who is present at the birth of the Church. But she is also the one who, as the evangelist emphasizes more than once, ‘keeps and ponders in her heart’ that which transpires around her. As a creature of courage and of obedience she was and is still an example to which every Christian—man and woman—can and should look.”