Everyone who is interested in the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima knows that this year is their centenary. In celebration of this, Barry R Pearlman, a Catholic apologist, has written Fatima: The First Hundred Years. Described in the subtitle as “The Complete Story from Visionaries to Saints”, the book, although it relates a story I am very familiar with, gave me much pause for reflection.
I thought of the world the three shepherd children grew up in, “a world that had not learned to separate religion from everyday life”; a world where “Jesus, Mary and the saints, Masses, festivals and devotions” were second nature to them. Of course, this was rural Portugal a hundred years ago, yet it seems like a different universe from the one we inhabit today. The little seers were chosen by God and Our Lady because of their simplicity and humility, their natural acceptance of the supernatural. Smartphones and selfies are a vast distraction from this kind of openness to God.
Pearlman also writes of the “intense” supernatural atmosphere that remained with the children after the first apparition, in 1916, of the Angel of Portugal. It made me realise how hard it must have been for Lucia, who went on to lead an enclosed life as a nun until her death aged 97, to lose in early death the only two people in the world, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, who could have shared with her the extraordinary privilege of the apparitions. Her long life must have been, in some respects, a martyrdom of loneliness, cut off from her closest companions.
Although I do not understand the nature of intercessory prayer remotely as deeply or in the direct way that the three seers grasped it, I still feel a shiver of apprehension and fear at Our Lady’s words to them: “Many souls go to hell because no one makes sacrifices for them.” Sophistry or re-interpretation cannot change this stark statement or the related question: what am I going to do about this?
The so-called “miracle of the sun” on 13 October has been dismissed as mass hysteria (much as one might describe – not unkindly – the public reaction to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.) Yet, as it was pointed out at the time by objective witnesses, the phenomenon “was observable over an area of 600 square miles by people who were completely indifferent to the events of Fatima.”
Finally, I was relieved to note that Pearlman does not subscribe to view of some Catholics that the Third Secret of Fatima has not been fully revealed. He makes it clear that this was done by Cardinal Sodano, the Vatican Secretary of State, during the beatification of Francisco and Jacinta by Pope St John Paul II on 13 May 2000, in the form officially transmitted to Bishop Correia da Silva by Sister Lucia on 3 January 1944. Those who reject this lay themselves open to wild conspiracy theories – and there are enough of these floating around the internet already.
I am also aware that there are many faithful Catholics who believe that the consecration of Russia, asked for by Our Lady of Fatima, has never been properly carried out. Pearlman also refutes this, pointing to the occasion when Pope St John Paul II renewed the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on 25 March 1984 in Rome. Sister Lucia, Pearlman comments, “repeatedly testified that the consecration of Russia had been fulfilled” and “there can be no doubt that the witness of Sr Lucia, whose life and testimony is above reproach, is unimpeachable.”
One might observe that, following this consecration, it was uncanny how swiftly the Soviet empire and Communism did collapse. For all the peculiarly Russian features of that country’s Orthodoxy, the resurrection of Christianity, which had been deliberately and savagely persecuted for 70 years in the former Soviet Union, is extraordinary to behold.
Indeed, is it Russia which, in Our Lady’s words, is “spreading her errors throughout the world” today – or is it the de-Christianised West?