Many people in this country don’t know about the significance of the apparitions at Fatima that took place in 1916 and 1917. Thus Fatima: 100 Questions and Answers about the Marian Apparitions by Paul Senz (Ignatius Press) is to be welcomed. It is aimed at the general reader, for whom the name Fatima (unlike Lourdes) is not part of a pilgrimage itinerary, rather than at theologians; the answers are generally short, clear and succinct. Although I have read and reviewed several books on Fatima I still learnt things I did not know, as well as reliving memorable facts that I did.
In answer to the question “When did Christianity come to Portugal” we learn that this is traditionally thought to have been in the 1st century AD, brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the apostle, St James. I was glad to read this, having recently glanced at a travel book on Spain by the writer Jan Morris, who assures readers that the story of St James coming to Compostela is just a pious fancy.
There is also the intriguing story behind the name “Fatima”. In the mid-12th century, a Christian knight fell in love with Fatima, a Muslim princess, who converted before they married. This is a very good reason, as a friend once pointed out to me, for us to pray to Our Lady of Fatima for the conversion of those of the Muslim faith. Impossible? Nothing is impossible to the mother who told the steward at the wedding feast of Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.”
“Do the Portuguese have a particular devotion to Mary” receives the response “Yes. Traditionally Portuguese kings did not wear crowns, as this was the exclusive right of Mary – Queen of heaven.” I love this reply, combining as it does Catholic homage to the Mother of God and noblesse oblige on the part of earthly royalty. Our own Queen has a sincere Christian faith; yet the anecdote reminds me of what we lost at the Reformation: before it, a very able but volatile King, Henry II, did public penance in sackcloth and ashes after the murder of St Thomas Becket in his Catholic cathedral.
The vision of Hell shown to the little seers of Fatima during the apparition of July 13 1917 elicited the prophetic words of Our Lady, “You have seen hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.” Too little importance has been given in this country to promoting this important devotion, first popularised by St John Eudes in the 17th century and closely linked to devotion to the Sacred Heart.
This book also answers two continuing controversies concerning the Fatima apparitions: “Has the Third Secret been fully revealed” and “Was Russia properly consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as Our Lady requested?” The answers are “Yes” to both and they are explained in detail on pages 64 and 95. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves, surrounded as we are by conspiracy theories of all kinds, that the Faith is marvellously simple to understand and to practise. If Sister Lucia, the seer who died in 2005, whose cause for beatification is going forward, was content with Pope Benedict’s detailed revelation of the Third Secret and who also agreed with Pope John Paul II’s consecration of Russia, who are we to fuss and fret, or fixate on alleged anomalies?