Tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world gathered under unseasonably warm and sunny weather in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Oct. 13, to witness Pope Francis consecrate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
The Holy Father performed the consecration before the image of Our Lady of Fatima, asking Mary’s help to "revive and grow faith."
Oct. 13 marked the 96th anniversary since the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to shepherd children Jacinta Marto, her younger brother Francisco and Lúcia dos Santos at Fatima. It also took place as the Year of Faith draws to a close on the feast of Christ the King, Nov. 24.
In front of an estimated 150,000 pilgrims, the Pope asked Mary to welcome the consecration "with the benevolence of a mother."
"Guard our lives in your arms," he said. "Bless and strengthen every desire for goodness; revive and grow faith; sustain and illuminate hope; arouse and enliven charity; guide all of us on the path of holiness."
He also asked Our Lady to teach mankind her "special love" for children and the poor, for the excluded and suffering and for sinners.
The original statue of Our Lady of Fatima had been transferred from its home at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal to St. Peter’s Square especially for the consecration. The act marked the culmination of a weekend of Marian prayer and devotion.
The events began on Oct. 12, when Pope Francis led a Marian prayer vigil in St. Peter’s Square, followed by a worldwide televised vigil at various Marian sites all over the world.
Untier of ‘All Knotted Hearts’
In his address, the Holy Father stressed that the Virgin Mary leads Christians to the mercy of God, who can untie "all knotted hearts" caused by sin. "These knots take away our peace and serenity," he said, and he urged the faithful not to give up hope that God can untie these knots. Mary, he said, "takes us with the hand of a mother to the embrace of the Father, to the Father of mercy."
Repeatedly over that weekend, the Holy Father explained how Mary, through her witness of faith, is the paradigm for all believers. Drawing on her example, he challenged the faithful to consider their own faith more profoundly, following her example of fidelity, which was shown all the way to Jesus’ crucifixion.
Her faith at that moment, he said, was "like a little flame burning in the night"; and at the empty tomb, her heart was filled with the joy of faith.
During his Sunday homily, Pope Francis reflected on the importance of Mary’s faithfulness even in moments of difficulty. "Her Yes to God was a Yes that threw her simple life in Nazareth into turmoil," he said. "Many times, she had to utter a heartfelt Yes at moments of joy and sorrow, culminating in the Yes she spoke at the foot of the cross."
Importance of Gratitude
He also preached about the importance of gratitude, especially for the Christian community and for family life. "If families can say these three things, they will be fine: ‘sorry,’ ‘excuse me,’ ‘thank you,’" he said, adding that, "all too often, we take everything for granted."
Reflecting on Mary’s example of Christian gratitude, he recalled the Magnificat, saying it is "a song of praise and thanksgiving to God not only for what he did for her, but for what he had done throughout the history of salvation."
He added that God reveals himself in poverty, weakness and humility and stressed that the journey to salvation also entails commitment.
"I ask myself: Am I a Christian by fits and starts or am I a Christian full time?" the Pope said. "Our culture of the ephemeral, the relative, also takes its toll on the way we live our faith. God asks us to be faithful to him, daily, in our everyday life."
But he stressed that the Christian knows God cannot be unfaithful even if the believer is himself, and he "never tires of stretching out his hand" to help and encourage us. "This is the real journey: to walk with the Lord always, even at moments of weakness, even in our sins," he said.
Many attending the consecration and weekend of events dedicated to Mary warmly welcomed the Holy Father’s initiative and said it was much needed.
David Carollo, executive director of the World Apostolate of Fatima in the United States, told the Register that, unlike in the struggle against Soviet communism, "the whole world is in trouble today."
Russia spread its errors, he said, and that has been particularly clear in the U.S. and the West. "We’re rotting, culturally," he said, and exporting a culture that is "disgusting."
Secularism, he added, has evolved from the "mandated atheism" of communism, but is more subtle. The consecration, he said, is a way of combating this and helping the world convert to Christ. "The Pope is saying to the faithful: ‘Be simple like Mary, because the whole pontificate has that theme.’"
Timothy Tindal-Robertson, president of the World Apostolate of Fatima in England and Wales, stressed that the Sunday ceremony was "a giving of the world into the Immaculate Heart of Mary to save it."
"That is her whole mission," he said. "Mary is again at the foot of the cross to bring salvation, and this is what the world needs." He was especially struck by Pope Francis kissing the feet of the statue of Mary. "It is the Holy Father saying [to Mary] that, ‘We, the Church, welcome you; we embrace you; we love you,’" he said. "That’s the message that needs to get right out into the Church."
Consecration Must Continue
But those present were eager to stress that the consecration doesn’t end there if the world is to be converted.
"We’ve all got to play our part," said Donal Foley, also a member of the World Apostolate of Fatima of England and Wales. "We must pray the Rosary on the first five Saturdays to make it happen in the West. It’s not meant to be a magic thing that happens and then we relax."
Mike Daley, a founding member of the England and Wales branch of the apostolate, stressed that the consecration is meant for all people. "We mustn’t lose sight that Our Lady is our universal Mother, and that means everyone," he said. "It’s very important just to consider it’s not an exclusive consecration."
They also underlined the power of prayer and recalled the effectiveness of Pope Francis’ vigil for peace in Syria and the world — a vigil at which the Salus Populi Romani, the most important Marian icon in Rome, was processed up to the altar.
"What does that tell you? Prayer moves mountains, and I think no one knows this more than Pope Francis," said Carollo.
Carollo, Daley, Foley and Tindal-Robertson all uphold Sister Lúcia’s testimony that John Paul II consecrated Soviet Russia to the Immaculate Heart — an explicit instruction of Our Lady of Fatima — in 1984, along with all nations of the world. As opposed to some who still contend the pope must explicitly consecrate Russia, they believe it has been done, as proven by Soviet communism’s fall.
The real crisis, Tindal-Robertson believes, is and always has been the abandonment of belief in God. "That’s what Our Lady said; because if you address that, you’re on the path to salvation again," he said. He also sees the consecration as a means to heal the Church and the continuing crisis that followed the Second Vatican Council.
"It’s very important to show the whole Church and the people of God Mary’s position in the Church in this Year of Faith," said Tindal-Robertson. "We need the presence of Our Lady in the Church, and this is what Francis is proclaiming."