In the course of studying the message revealed by the Blessed Virgin at Fatima in 1917, I have found that it has five aspects which it alone possesses, by comparison with other Marian apparitions.
1). The most uniquely important feature about Fatima is its association with the papacy, and the fact that this association can be traced back to the very outset of the apparitions, from whence it has continued to grow under all the succeeding popes, until we come to the significant advances in the acceptance of Our Lady’s message that have taken place in the present pontificate.
In the Holy Year 2000, Fatima attained its highest ever papal recognition when the Holy Father first beatified Francisco and Jacinta at Fatima, on 13th May; next he directed Cardinal Ratzinger to release the text of the third part of the secret, with accompanying Theological Commentary, which were published on 26th June; and finally, John Paul II entrusted the entire Third Millennium to Mary Most Holy, in the presence of the well known statue of Our Lady that had been specially brought to St Peter’s, Rome at his request from the Sanctuary of Fatima.
Each of these three significant steps in the Holy Year 2000 was characterised by its own unique aspect.
I have summarised the principal developments in this remarkable association, in my two booklets, Message of Fatima, 1917-1997, and Fatima in the Third Millennium, published by the Catholic Truth Society of London in June 1998 and October 2001.
Has the Mother of God ever made such a touching intervention before, in direct response to an urgent plea to heaven from the Chief Shepherd of all the faithful, at a moment of dire crisis that threatened the whole world ?
This is how her intervention arose. In 1917, the raging inferno of the First World War descended to new depths of horror, with the prolonged rain and the introduction of deadly gas weapons. Having been rebuffed in all his attempts to negotiate peace, Pope Benedict XV sent out a pastoral letter to the whole Catholic world, dated 5th May 1917, in which he urged all to pray fervently to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for peace, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Mother of mercy and omnipotent by grace”; and at the same time he directed that the invocation “Queen of Peace, pray for us” should be added to the Litany of Loreto.
Eight days later, the Blessed Virgin appeared to the three shepherd children at Fatima, and the last words in her first apparition constitute a direct response to the urgent plea of Benedict XV:
“Pray the Rosary every day, in order to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war”.
Moreover, at the very moment the Blessed Virgin was appearing to the three little shepherds at Fatima, the future Pius XII was himself being consecrated Bishop. He became known as “the Pope of Fatima” because he was the first pope to consecrate the whole human race to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, on 31st October 1942.
This exceptional association of the papacy with Fatima is commemorated in the painting which hangs above the high altar in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary at Fatima.
2). Secondly, Fatima is unique in that it was mentioned three times by Pope Paul VI in the Second Vatican Council, in the course of his address to the Council Fathers on 21 November 1964. The Pope spoke at the end of the third session, when the Council approved the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, whose final chapter 8 is entitled “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the mystery of Christ and the Church”.
In his address, Paul VI considered it “particularly opportune” to recall Pius XII’s consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary; bearing that in mind, he announced that he was sending a special mission to carry the Golden Rose to Fatima; and he ended by proclaiming, “to your Immaculate Heart, O Mary, we finally commend the entire human race” (cf. Message of Fatima, p. 59).
3). Thirdly, the Church has accepted the message of Fatima because in essence it repeats the “truth and call of the Gospel itself: ‘repent and believe in the Gospel’ (Mk 1:15) ... The appeal of the Lady of the message of Fatima is so deeply rooted in the Gospel and the whole of Tradition that the Church feels that the message imposes a commitment on her” (John Paul II, Homily at Fatima, 13 May 1982).
In a message to all the world’s priests on 13 May 1963, Cardinal Larraona, speaking as Pope John XXIII’s legate at Fatima, declared that Our Lady’s message contains “inexhaustible treasures and spiritual riches … Fatima is a living realisation of the Gospel ... indeed, never has there been a supernatural manifestation of Our Lady of such rich spiritual content as that of Fatima, nor has any recognised apparition given us a message so clear, so maternal, so profound”.
4). Fourthly, the Blessed Virgin’s request for the Holy Father to consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart, in a certain way parallels the request which Our Lord had made some 20 years previously, in June 1897, to Sister Mary of the Divine Heart (the Countess Droste zu Vischering), that the Pope should consecrate the world to His Sacred Heart. This act, which he described to the Bishop of Liege as “the greatest act of my pontificate”, was carried out by Pope Leo XIII on 11 June 1899.
5). Finally, the message of Fatima is unique in containing a prophecy which constituted both a warning and a specific spiritual remedy for the most grave evils to have afflicted the 20th century, namely: the two World Wars, and the rejection and denial of God (the “errors of Russia”) that continues to threaten the Church throughout the world, but especially in the once-Christian West, in the form of secularism and materialism. As Cardinal Ratzinger explained in his Theological Commentary on the third part of the secret, the Blessed Virgin’s prophecy “does not mean to predict the future but to explain the will of God for the present, and therefore show the right path to take for the future”. Hence, the message of Fatima helps us “to understand the signs of the times and to respond to them rightly in faith”.
In the words of John Paul II’s message to the Bishop of Leiria-Fatima on 1 October 1997, “as we observe the signs of the times in this 20th century, Fatima is certainly one of the greatest, among other reasons because its message announces many of the later events and conditions them on the response to its appeals (my emphasis): signs such as the two world wars ...”.
The Blessed Virgin’s prophecy recognises the power of evil, but also shows how each one of us can help to overcome it, insofar as we do or do not respond to her requests for prayer, penance, the offering up of the sacrifices encountered in fulfilling our daily duties, amendment of life, daily rosary, and the Five First Saturdays Eucharistic communion of reparation for sin. But in this prophecy evil does not have the last word, for the Blessed Virgin promised that “in the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph” as the prelude to “a period of peace (which) will be granted to the world”.
For his part, Pope John Paul II fulfilled Our Lady’s request with his consecration of the world and Russia at St. Peter’s, Rome on 25th March 1984, “heaven has accepted it”, as Sister Lucia has testified, and in consequence the Church experienced the unexpected cessation of Marxist atheist persecution in Central and Eastern Europe. Then in the Holy Year 2000, the Pope took the three most important steps yet in his pontificate with regard to Fatima, which together demonstrate that to accept and live Our Lady’s message is more than ever urgently relevant to the situation of the Church today.
As the Pope said, on returning to Rome after beatifying Francisco and Jacinta at Fatima on 13 May 2000, “let us receive the light that comes from Fatima, let us be guided by Mary. May her Immaculate Heart be our refuge and the way that leads us to Christ”.
Hence it seems that the fulfilment of the Blessed Virgin’s promise will come when the Church embraces those requests that are directed to her, following the example of Pope John Paul II.
A slightly abbreviated version of this article was published in the May 2002 issue of StAR, Vol 2, No 5 (pp. 10, 11). For subscription details please email: email@example.com