40 Years After Fatima’s Third Secret: God Is Still Working Within Us

COMMENTARY: The 40th anniversary is a fitting time to dwell on God’s providence throughout the 20th century, which was the most violent, chaotic, and murderous 100-year period in human history.

Pope John Paul II celebrates a mass May 12, 1991 in the Chapel of the Apparition in front of the statue of Virgin of Fatima in Fatima where about a million believers attended the Procession of Candles. In 1997, the pope dedicated a shrine in a Polish church to the Virgin of Fatima, thanking her for intervening to save him from an assassination attempt in 1981.
Pope John Paul II celebrates a mass May 12, 1991 in the Chapel of the Apparition in front of the statue of Virgin of Fatima in Fatima where about a million believers attended the Procession of Candles. In 1997, the pope dedicated a shrine in a Polish church to the Virgin of Fatima, thanking her for intervening to save him from an assassination attempt in 1981. (photo: Derrick Ceyrac / AFP/Getty)

Forty years ago, on May 13, 1981, at 5:17pm, the third secret of Fatima came to pass — on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, and allegedly at the same time she appeared to children of Fatima in 1917, no less. 

On that day, a bishop, dressed in white, was brutally shot. Yet Pope St. John Paul II did not die in St. Peter’s Square. As the Holy Father would later say, “one hand pulled the trigger, another guided the bullet.” Three years later, on the Feast of the Annunciation, the Pope fulfilled the second secret of Fatima, when he consecrated Russia and the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Together with Ronald Reagan, who also survived an assassination attempt in 1981, Pope John Paul II helped topple communism and usher in “a period of peace,” as promised by Our Lady of Fatima.

The 40th anniversary is a fitting time to dwell on God’s providence throughout the 20th century, which was the most violent, chaotic, and murderous 100-year period in human history.  Through it all, our Father in heaven worked within us and through us to make his glory and goodness known — and even prevail. 

That hasn’t changed. In this still-young 21st century, despite the vast challenges, God is still present. He wants to use us to reconcile our society and culture to truth. He’s waiting on us to hear his call, and answer it in every aspect of our lives as Pope St. John Paul II did.

The darkness of our time bears some similarities with that of the last century. Now, as then, evil ideologies are laying claim to hearts and minds. Communism has made a comeback, and so has socialism, especially among younger generations. Fascism and authoritarianism are gaining ground, too. These “isms” are supposedly on the political right, but in the end, they don’t really differ from the “isms” of the left. They all demand a bigger government and a smaller God. They all deny the dignity of the human person and the individual freedom that springs from that dignity. While they all promise to deliver humanity to an earthly heaven, in reality, these dangerous ideologies can only bring about hell on earth. The 20th century proved it. Will the 21st century prove it again?

Either way, God can help us reconcile the challenges of our times to his purposes. 

I admit: That can be hard to believe, given everything that’s happening in our culture right now. The nuclear family is under attack. Gender is under siege. Racism is rising under the cover of so-called “anti-racism,” while discrimination is now applauded instead of condemned. Businesses are using their power to bully people who don’t share certain political views, while government is demanding more control over daily life — whether in the economy, health care, family life, or anywhere else. And everywhere you look, people are being pitted against each other — right vs. left, black vs. white, rural vs. urban, rich vs. poor, immigrants vs. citizens, and on and on. 

There’s no shortage of evil things happening around us. Yet God wants to use us to overcome them. Will we let him? Our Lady of Fatima made clear that if we open ourselves to God’s love, and make His mercy our own, the world itself will be transformed. Nothing we face can change that fact. 

After the attempt on his life, Pope John Paul II traveled to Fatima to give thanks to Our Lady. He brought one of the bullets that had pierced him in the attack, placing it in the crown of Our Lady at the pilgrimage site. So too did he visit his would-be assassin and forgave him. His acts demonstrated that an evil act can ultimately be used for the glory of God. Forty years after the third secret was fulfilled, we should all ask: How is God working through the terrible things of our time? And how can we be instruments of his will and co-creators who bring forth God’s goodness when it’s needed most?

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