This year makes a major milestone in the Church — the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of our Blessed Mother at Fatima. Pope Francis will visit Portugal to commemorate the centenary May 12-13.
From the start, the Holy Fathers have had their eyes closely on Fatima.
“We would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete,” said Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI when he celebrated Mass in Fatima to mark the 10th anniversary of the beatification of two of the young seers, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, in 2010. He added, “May the seven years which separate us from the centenary of the apparitions hasten the fulfilment of the prophecy of the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity.”
The march to this anniversary began on May 13, 1917, and continued for six months to Oct. 13, when an estimated 70,000 people witnessed the “Miracle of the Sun.”
After much study, the proclamation by the bishop of Leiria-Fatima declaring the apparitions authentic came on Oct. 13, 1930 — exactly 13 years after the final apparition and sun miracle.
On July 13, 1917, Our Lady told the children that World War I was going to end, “but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the pontificate of Pius XI.”
That is very significant, looking at the date — as there would not be a Pius XI until 1922. Among the saints he canonized were Thomas More and Thérèse of Lisieux, whom he also beatified. He also established the feast of Christ the King. But there was no apparent move on the apparitions during his pontificate.
Pope Pius XII
The early connection of Fatima with the Holy Fathers began in earnest with Pius XII. In a way, it was no surprise, since he was consecrated a bishop and at the same time elevated to archbishop in the Sistine Chapel on May 13, 1917, the day of the first apparition in Fatima.
In 1940, a year after becoming Pius XII, he approved the Fatima apparitions. And he also consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The biography of Fatima seer Sister Lucia, A Pathway Under the Gaze of Mary, recounts how the bishop of Liera and her superior ordered Lucia to write her first letter to Pius XII requesting the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
According to Servant of God Father John Hardon, Pius XII’s encouragement brought Fatima to popularity in the Church. For the Oct. 13, 1951, celebration at Fatima, the Holy Father sent an official delegate to Fatima to represent him at the Shrine of the Virgin of Fatima and preside with his authority.
In a radio message, Pius XII emphasized: “The Virgin Mother’s insistence on the recitation of the family Rosary was meant to teach us that the secret of peace in family life lies in imitating the virtues of the Holy Family.”
In 1944, under obedience to her bishop and with permission of the Blessed Mother, Sister Lucia wrote out the third secret entrusted to the visionaries, but said it could not be opened until 1960. In that year, Pope St. John XXIII opened and read it. But as revealed in Fatima for Today: The Urgent Marian Message of Hope by Fatima expert Father Andrew Apostoli, the Holy Father decided not to reveal its contents.
Lucia and the Popes
Sister Lucia was the only visionary to write to, meet or speak with popes, as Francisco and Jacinta died in 1919 and 1920, respectively.
On May 13, 1967, at the 50th anniversary of the apparitions celebrated in Fatima, Sister Lucia was greeted by Blessed Paul VI. He prayed with her, and she gave him a parchment asking him to “intensify the prayer of the Rosary” and have it said in front of the Blessed Sacrament, as recounted in A Pathway Under the Gaze of Mary. Paul VI also read the third secret and decided against revealing it.
Then came John Paul I. While still a cardinal, he visited the monastery where Lucia was cloistered. He and the others in the delegation asked her to sign a holy card of the Heart of Mary for them. Also while a cardinal, Benedict XVI visited and spoke with Sister Lucia in Coimbra in 1996. In 2008, Benedict authorized the cause for Sister Lucia’s beatification, just three years after her death.
On May 13, 2013, Pope Francis had his papacy dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, and on Oct. 13 of that year, he publicly consecrated the world to the Blessed Virgin of Fatima.
The Fatima Pope
Perhaps the pope most dedicated to Fatima was John Paul II.
St. John Paul II has been called the “Pope of Fatima” as much as the “Pope of Divine Mercy.”
Sister Lucia met him in 1982 and 1991 at the Carmel in Fatima. She met with him yet again when he beatified Jacinta and Francisco on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima in 2000.
During his beatification homily, the Pope explained how Francisco was motivated “to console Jesus and make him happy,” using the young seer’s words, since Jesus “is so sad because of the sins that are committed against him,” and how Jacinta “had been so deeply moved by the vision of hell during the apparition of July 13 that no mortification or penance seemed too great to save sinners.”
The sufferings the three young children endured in the wake of the apparitions showed their trust in Our Lady. Even Lucia’s own mother treated her harshly for many months, thinking she was making up the apparitions. The children’s perseverance was one of the lessons John Paul shared.
“Ask your parents and teachers to enroll you in the ‘school’ of Our Lady, so that she can teach you to be like the little shepherds, who tried to do whatever she asked them,” John Paul II advised the children attending the beatification. Quoting St. Louis de Montfort, he added, “I tell you that ‘one makes more progress in a short time of submission and dependence on Mary than during entire years of personal initiatives, relying on oneself alone.’ This was how the little shepherds became saints so quickly.”
Hand of Providence
Relying on Mary was key to John Paul’s life — particularly on one fateful Wednesday.
On May 13, 1981, St. John Paul was shot by an assassin. His first general audience post-recovery was held on Oct. 7, when he reminded the faithful of the day’s memorial of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. He said he “became a debtor of the Blessed Virgin and all the patron saints,” noting the day of the apparitions’ anniversary was the day he was shot. He talked of the Rosary and how he “felt that extraordinary motherly protection and care, which turned out to be stronger than the deadly bullet.” In addition, John Paul believed he was the “bishop in white” that the third secret of Fatima mentioned. He released the third secret in 2000.
Exactly a year after he was shot, on May 13, 1982, the 65th anniversary of the apparitions, St. John Paul II made a special trip to Fatima to thank Our Lady. In his homily during the anniversary Mass, he affirmed there are no coincidences in the plans of Providence.
He came to Fatima “especially in order to confess here the glory of God himself” and reminded the faithful that the Fatima message is “a call to conversion and repentance.”
“The call to repentance is a motherly one, and at the same time, it is strong and decisive,” said John Paul II. “The love that ‘rejoices in the truth’ is capable of being clear-cut and firm.”
John Paul II explained that the call to repentance is always linked “with a call to prayer. In harmony with the Tradition of many centuries, the Lady of the message indicates the Rosary, which can rightly be defined as ‘Mary’s prayer’: the prayer in which she feels particularly united with us. She herself prays with us. The Rosary prayer embraces the problems of the Church, of the See of St. Peter, the problems of the whole world. In it, we also remember sinners, that they may be converted and saved, and the souls in purgatory.”
While the “message of Our Lady of Fatima is a motherly one, it is also strong and decisive,” he continued. “It sounds severe. It sounds like John the Baptist speaking on the banks of the Jordan. It invites to repentance. It gives a warning. It calls to prayer. It recommends the Rosary.”
St. John Paul II said this call to repentance and conversion, “uttered in the Mother’s message … is still more relevant than it was 65 years ago. It is still more urgent.” Especially as we celebrate the 100th anniversary year.
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.
Stay tuned for more Register coverage of Fatima as the anniversary nears this May.
Also visit EWTN.com/Fatima for historical background.