by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
There was a lot of excitement about the Aug. 21 total eclipse of the sun.
It is a rare natural phenomenon that inspired some people to travel many miles to experience it.
Friday, Oct. 13, is the 100th anniversary of a much more remarkable event dubbed “The Miracle of the Sun.” A century ago, tens of thousands of people in Fatima, Portugal, witnessed what was described as the “dancing of the sun.”
This inexplicable phenomenon occurred on the occasion of the sixth and final apparition of Mary to three poor shepherd children: Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco.
There were more than a few skeptics about the claims of these child visionaries. Mary promised the children that she would perform a great sign on Oct. 13, proving to a disbelieving world the authenticity of the message of Fatima.
Mary’s first appearance to the children was on May 13, 1917. Our Lady promised the visionaries she would return on the 13th of each month, up to and including October.
The political climate in Portugal in 1917 was very hostile to religion. The mayor of the region prevented the three visionaries from keeping their Aug. 13 appointment with Our Lady by kidnapping them.
He subjected them to a harsh interrogation, bullying them with threats of torture if they refused to admit that they had fabricated the apparitions.
Church authorities also were cautious about giving credence to the claims of the children. The church is naturally careful before providing any kind of endorsement of miraculous occurrences.
On Oct. 13, 1917, 70,000 people came to Fatima. Among them was Lucia’s mother, herself a skeptic of her daughter’s remarkable claims.
She feared what the mob might do to Lucia if nothing spectacular occurred. Her anxiety proved to be unfounded. The only ones disappointed on Oct. 13, 1917, were the skeptics.
Even Lisbon’s most prominent secular newspapers were compelled to report the amazing events witnessed not only by the thousands at the apparition site but in the neighboring towns and villages. The Oct. 17, 1917, edition of O Dia gave the following account of what transpired in Fatima:
“At one o’clock in the afternoon, midday by the sun, the rain stopped. The sky, pearly gray in color, illuminated the vast arid landscape with a strange light. The sun had a transparent gauzy veil so that the eyes could easily be fixed upon it. The gray mother-of-pearl tone turned into a sheet of silver which broke up as the clouds were torn apart and the silver sun, enveloped in the same gauzy gray light, was seen to whirl and turn in the circle of the broken clouds. A cry went up from every mouth and people fell on their knees on the muddy ground.
“The light turned a beautiful blue as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands. The blue faded slowly and then the light seemed to pass through yellow glass. Yellow stains fell against white handkerchiefs, against the dark skirts of the women. They were repeated on the trees, on the stones and the serra. People wept and prayed with uncovered heads in the presence of the miracle they had awaited. The seconds seemed like hours, so vivid were they.”
What was Mary’s message to the visionaries? On the evening of the final apparition, when interviewed by a priest regarding Mary’s message, Lucia said: “She (Mary) said we were to say the rosary and amend our lives and ask pardon of Our Lord.”
Mary told the children that the current war (World War I) would end soon, but an even worse war would follow if people did not amend their lives. Our Lady through the visionaries encouraged families to pray the rosary together for peace in the family and in the world.
This message is as timely today as it was in 1917.
On May 13, 1982, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in Fatima. Only one year prior, an assassin had attempted to kill the Holy Father in St. Peter’s Square.
During his recovery from wounds inflicted by the bullet that barely missed his vital organs, Pope John Paul observed that one hand aimed the gun, but another hand, that of Our Lady of Fatima, guided the bullet.
St. John Paul in his 1982 homily at Fatima confessed trepidation in his heart because Mary’s ardent appeal 65 years before had largely been ignored. The Holy Father felt this anxiety because of the many Christian individuals and societies that had chosen to go in the opposite direction from the one articulated by Mary at Fatima.
Pope John Paul observed that sin had made a comfortable home for itself in the modern world and the denial of God was widespread in popular ideologies.
For this reason, the evangelical call for repentance and conversion communicated by Mary to the visionaries remained relevant. St. John Paul’s counsel is even more applicable 35 years later.
Therefore, I invite you to join me at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 13, at Queen of the Holy Rosary Church in Overland Park for the praying of the rosary and the celebration of Mass during which I will reconsecrate the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Moreover, I encourage individuals — and especially families — to begin or renew the practice of praying the daily rosary.
The key to the renewal of Catholic family life is regular and frequent family prayer. The family rosary is a powerful spiritual tool for cultivating peace and joy in the home.
With the many ominous threats to peace in the world, now is the time to intensify our prayers for peace.
Contemplating the conception, birth, life, ministry, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus by pondering the mysteries of the rosary is an effective way to deepen our love for Our Lord.
The light of her Son can dance in our hearts if we contemplate the face of Jesus with Mary by praying the rosary.