by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
This Saturday, May 13, marks the 100th anniversary of Our Blessed Mother’s appearance to the shepherd children of Fatima, Portugal.
Pope Francis is making at this very moment what has been described as an apostolic pilgrimage. During his visit to Fatima, Pope Francis will canonize Francisco and Jacinta Marto, two of the three visionaries. They will be the youngest non-martyred canonized saints.
The apparitions of Mary at Fatima are among the few private revelations that have been officially recognized by the church.
Mary appeared to the three shepherd children a total of six times in 1917 from May through October. She asked the children to pray and make sacrifices for the salvation of sinners. She told them that World War I would end very soon. But if people failed to pray and repent from evil, there would be another, even more terrible war. She asked these three children to pray the rosary and to encourage others to do so for peace.
At the final apparition on Oct. 13, 1917, some 70,000 people, many of whom had come as skeptics, witnessed what has become popularly known as the “Miracle of the Sun.” Thousands saw the sun dancing in the sky. A natural science professor at a local university described the sun as “whirling.” He said the sun appeared to advance in a threatening manner toward the earth.
Lucia’s own mother did not believe the apparitions. She had made Lucia go to confession the day before the final apparition. Mary had told the children that she would provide a sign to verify the authenticity of the apparitions. Lucia’s mother was afraid the mob would kill Lucia if they were disappointed by the absence of a dramatic sign.
During the final apparition, Mary identified herself as Our Lady of the Rosary. She repeated her simple message for the world: 1) repent from sin; and 2) pray the rosary for peace in the family and in the world.
All of the popes of the 20th century were convinced of the authenticity of the Fatima apparitions. Fifty years ago, Paul VI was the first pope, as pope, to visit Fatima. In 1981, on May 13 in St. Peter’s Square, an assassin attempted to kill Pope John Paul II. Both Pope John Paul and his assassin were convinced that Our Lady of Fatima saved the Holy Father’s life.
The message of Fatima is simple and yet profound. Near the end of World War I, Mary requested that families and individuals pray the rosary daily for peace in the world and for peace in the family. Mary prophesied in 1917 the persecution of Christians that would emanate from Russia.
At Fatima, Mary also requested that Christians throughout the world pray for the conversion of Russia. With tensions currently between the United States and Russia at an all-time high since the end of the Cold War, Mary’s request remains pertinent today.
With world peace in our own time being threatened by the terrorist actions of Muslim extremists, it is fascinating that Mary’s apparitions occurred in Fatima, a town named after the daughter of Mohammed. Muslims have great respect for Mary. Our Blessed Mother has a unique capacity to help Christians and Muslims respect each other and work together for peace.
With the grave weakening of marriage and the disintegration of family life resulting from the aftermath of the so-called sexual revolution in the late 1960s, the message of Fatima to pray the rosary for peace in the family is more needed today than it was in 1917.
This Saturday, at the Cathedral of St. Peter, there will be a noon Holy Hour with eucharistic adoration, the praying of a living rosary, and a catechesis by Michael Scherschligt on the message and meaning of Fatima. The Holy Hour will be followed by a 1 p.m. Mass, which will include a consecration of the Archdiocese to Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to come.
Beginning this Saturday through next October, I encourage parishes to offer additional opportunities for family and personal consecrations to Jesus through Mary. I urge everyone to renew or make a commitment to pray the rosary for peace in our world, for peace in our family, and for a renewal of marriage and family life in our culture. In particular, I encourage families to pray the rosary together.
Pope St. John Paul in his apostolic letter, “The Rosary of the Virgin Mary,” wrote: “Families seldom manage to come together, and the rare occasions when they do are often taken up with watching television. To return to the recitation of the family rosary means filling daily life with very different images, images of the mystery of salvation: the image of the Redeemer, the image of his Most Blessed Mother. The family that recites the rosary together reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: its members place Jesus at the center, they share his joys and sorrows, they place their needs and their plans in his hands, they draw from him the hope and the strength to go on” (41).
Pope Francis shares St. John Paul’s devotion to the rosary. The Holy Father has a special devotion to Mary under the title, Undoer of Knots. The daily praying of the rosary can help unravel some of the tensions and knotty complications that are part of every family.
Thomas Hoopes, a member of the staff of Benedictine College in Atchison, has authored “Fatima: Family Handbook.” It is an excellent practical tool for families to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Fatima. If you are interested in acquiring this resource for your family, click here.
The apparitions to the shepherd children at Fatima were among the most important events of the 20th century. In the square of Fatima today, the pilgrim finds a large portion of the former Berlin Wall, perhaps the most poignant symbol of the Cold War. Also in the square is a large statue of St. John Paul, who perhaps more than any other individual was responsible for the peaceful demise of communism in Eastern Europe.
The late Pope John Paul II was so convinced that Mary had protected him that he took the bullet used by his assassin and placed it in the crown of the statue of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Fatima. I encourage every member of the Archdiocese to renew and deepen your devotion for Mary during the remaining months of 2017. Let us together place our world and our families under the protective mantle of Our Lady of Fatima.