Preparation for the centennial of the Fatima apparitions began in 2010, with the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the Portuguese shrine, where he acknowledged that “in seven years you will return here to celebrate the centenary of the first visit of the Lady ‘come from heaven.’”

The expected highlight of the Fatima centennial was the apostolic visit of Pope Francis to Fatima for the feast May 13, when he canonized the child visionaries Jacinta and Francisco Marto — the youngest non-martyr saints in Church history. Yet the centennial became a much more widespread observance, an undeclared “Year of Fatima,” a movement of the faithful and local pastors.

Under St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the idea of special dedicated years was often employed. John Paul had his Years of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit leading up to the Great Jubilee of 2000, and then the Years of the Rosary and the Eucharist. Benedict added the Year of Priests, the Year of St. Paul and the Year of Faith. Pope Francis added a Year of Consecrated Life and then the recent Jubilee of Mercy.

There was no such special designation for the centennial of the apparitions at Fatima. Yet in parish after parish, in schools and chaplaincies and shrines, the centennial was marked by devotions — the Rosary, First Saturdays and processions — along with lectures about the history and significance of Fatima in the life of the Church. Above all, a wave of consecrations to the Immaculate Heart of Mary — requested by the Blessed Mother at Fatima — swept over the entire world.

There was no consecration in Rome by the Holy Father, as Pope Francis already made a consecration of the entire world to Mary in the first year of his pontificate (Oct. 13, 2013), for which he had the statue of Our Lady brought from Fatima.

Consecrations elsewhere were ubiquitous. Accounts of personal consecrations to the Immaculate Heart abounded. Parishes and dioceses by the thousands made the consecration collectively, as reported in the Register. Several countries were consecrated by their bishops, including Canada, where the bishops collectively consecrated the entire country to the Immaculate Heart, and each bishop did so in his own diocese, many of them asking each pastor to consecrate his own parish.

What accounts for this undeclared Year of Fatima? Four reasons suggest themselves.

The first is that Fatima has become a daily part of the lives of Catholics. The Fatima angel’s prayer of adoration is often prayed at times of Eucharistic exposition and adoration. More important, the Fatima prayer during the Rosary — O my Jesus…is now universal, becoming part of the most common of all Catholic devotions. Fatima has shaped Marian devotion throughout the Church. Already by the 1940s, just 25 years after the apparitions, we find Venerable Pius XII making the consecration and parishes being established under the title of Our Lady of Fatima.

Given that Fatima is part of the ordinary daily life of the Church, it would be expected that the faithful would desire to celebrate what was familiar and dear to them.

Second, during a century when history seemed particularly burdensome, the Fatima apparitions were a sign of the divine presence in history. It was as though God sent the Blessed Mother to a century where it became possible to wonder if God had been driven out entirely from the world.

“The vision of Fatima concerns above all the war waged by atheistic systems against the Church and Christians, and it describes the immense suffering endured by the witnesses of the faith in the last century of the second millennium,” said Cardinal Angelo Sodano in 2000, during John Paul’s visit to Fatima, when the “third secret” was revealed. “It is an interminable Way of the Cross led by the Popes of the 20th century.”

After the secret had been revealed at Fatima, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was charged with preparing a theological commentary.

He concluded that commentary by observing that Fatima was about the working of divine Providence in history:

“I would like, finally, to mention another key expression of the ‘secret,’ which has become justly famous: ‘My Immaculate Heart will triumph.’ What does this mean? The Heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind. The fiat of Mary, the word of her heart, has changed the history of the world, because it brought the Savior 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’ (John 16:33). The message of Fatima invites us to trust in this promise.” 

When the horizon of history appears dark, the maternal presence of Mary is more intensely desired.

A third reason is the figure of St. John Paul II himself, linked to Fatima by the assassination attempt of May 13, 1981. John Paul read the third secret of Fatima while recuperating from the shooting and saw immediately that it took place on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima to make clear that his life had been saved by Mary so that he might complete his mission. That mission included leading the Church into the third millennium, which is why the only foreign trip John Paul made during the Great Jubilee — aside from the epic pilgrimage to the biblical lands — was to Fatima.

As the awareness grows that St. John Paul was indeed the great pope sent by God for our time, it follows that the central aspects of his teaching and piety would be emphasized. Therefore it makes perfect sense that after the Jubilee of Mercy, in which John Paul’s teaching on the centrality of Divine Mercy would be reproposed, the faithful would desire a Year of Fatima.

Finally, Fatima is a powerful reminder that miracles do happen, including the “Miracle of the Sun,” Oct. 13, 1917, the most witnessed miracle in history. At a time when secular fundamentalists and scientific materialists seek to deny the entire spiritual dimension of reality, miracles — witnessed, authentic and verified — stand as a refutation, more vivid than philosophical proofs.

The Year of Fatima was an unplanned grace. It confirmed the centrality of Fatima for the contemporary life of the Church, our distinctive lens through which the mysteries of salvation are to be understood in our time.

Father Raymond J. de Souza

is editor in chief of

Convivium magazine.