Next year will see the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s apparitions at Fatima, which took place between May and October 1917, and which culminated in the famous miracle of the sun on October 13, which was witnessed by at least 70,000 people.
At the same time, the atheistic communist revolution was unfolding in Russia, an upheaval which would lead to persecution and immense suffering for millions of believers, as depicted in the third part of the Fatima secret, which was publicly revealed in May 2000.
The events at Fatima also took place as World War I was entering its final phases, after the slaughter of millions, as the Blessed Virgin appeared for the first time on May 13, 1917 at the Cova da Iria, not far from the village of Fatima, to three young shepherd children, Francisco and Jacinta Marto and Lucia dos Santos.
Fatima is important for all sorts of reasons, not least because of the strong link between the papacy and the apparitions, particularly in the case of Pius XII and St John Paul II, but also for Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
Fatima is important, too, because of the request by Our Lady for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart, which was accomplished by Pope John Paul II in 1984. This was followed by the politically unexpected collapse of Soviet communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. That the outcome could have been very different is shown by the way protesters were treated at Tiananmen Square that same year, when hundreds lost their lives.
Our Lady came on the 13th of each month, with a message of peace, prayer and reparation, and the revelation that God wanted to establish devotion to her Immaculate Heart throughout the world in order to save souls at risk of being eternally lost.
She particularly asked for the prayer of the rosary, indicating that it was the way to bring peace to the world, and called herself the “Lady of the Rosary”.
She showed the children a momentary vision of hell, but only after promising them they would go to heaven. She also promised to come back to ask for the consecration of Russia, and for the devotion of the Five First Saturdays. She likewise spoke of the errors of Russia and how these would spread around the world if her requests were not heeded. At the time Portugal was ruled by an atheistic government, but as the message of the Lady gradually reinvigorated the religious life of the people, the country was transformed.
The power of the rosary was shown in 1955, when the occupying Soviet army voluntarily left Austria. Fr Petrus Pavlicek, a Franciscan, had organised a rosary crusade in the country from 1946 onwards, which eventually had 10 per cent of the population praying five decades of the rosary daily for peace.
On May 13, 1955 (note the date) the Soviets announced that they were willing to withdraw from Austria and sign a peace treaty. This was the only time in the history of the Soviet Union that the Red Army voluntarily withdrew from an European country it had occupied. In contrast, the attempted uprisings in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) were brutally put down by Soviet tanks.
In our own time, although the threat of communism has receded, the “errors of Russia” – materialism, secularism and atheism – have largely conquered the West, and we are living in an increasingly anti-religious society, in which the very existence of God is denied.
That is why the miracle of the sun – predicted three months in advance by three simple children – is so important. In its significance and impact, it was the greatest miracle since the Resurrection. Writers such as Richard Dawkins have tried to explain it away as a hallucination. But their arguments don’t work.
Eyewitnesses to the miracle reported that the sun danced in the sky, that the colour of the whole landscape changed successively, and that the sun seemed to come down towards them, so that many in the crowd thought it was the end of the world. It was also seen at a distance by various other people, thus effectively ruling out any notion of hallucination.
In fact, the miracle was also seen by sailors on a British ship off the coast of Portugal. I gave a presentation on Fatima at an English college and was told by one of the lecturers that her grandfather saw the miracle from his ship and wrote about it to his wife – without, obviously, understanding what it meant or its significance. This letter has been preserved in the lecturer’s family.
There were even reports of the miracle in the Portuguese secular press of the day. It had been seen by so many people that it just couldn’t be ignored. And finally, what seems convincingly to show that the miracle wasn’t an hallucination is that the people at the Cova felt the heat of the sun as it approached them, and their clothes and the ground – which had been soaked by torrential rain – were dry at the end of the miracle.
How, then, do we fight back against secularism and atheism? It seems that what is really needed for this country is a national rosary pledge campaign, like the one organised by Fr Pavlicek in Austria.
Catholics nominally make up 10 per cent of the population of this country, but only about 10 per cent of those go to Mass regularly. But if that 10 per cent started to pray the rosary regularly for the moral regeneration of our country, then we would start to see changes, since such prayer would call down graces of conversion that would lead to lapsed Catholics returning to the practice of their faith, and, in time, to the revitalisation of the Church in this country.
Next year’s centenary is important since it offers the Church a chance to look again at the message of Fatima – which is really a compendium of the Gospel for our times – and realise that the Fatima message and the rosary are powerful weapons against modern secularism.
The best way to commemorate the centenary is to make an effort to understand and live out the Fatima message. This is particularly the case with saying the rosary daily, and participating in the Five First Saturdays devotion asked for by Our Lady. Another good way to mark the centenary would be to go on pilgrimage to Fatima. The most important thing is not to let the centenary go by without doing something to deepen one’s knowledge of the Fatima message.
Donal Anthony Foley is secretary of the World Apostolate of Fatima in England and Wales (WAF), and the author of a number of books on Marian apparitions. WAF is organising a series of visitations of the National Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima, and relics of Blessed Jacinta and Francisco, around most of the cathedrals of the country for 2017. For more details, visit worldfatima-englandand wales.org.uk