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Photo: Marie Romagnano, RN
Fatima: Still Mary's SOS for Sinners
It is quite the morning and afternoon on God's good earth.
The Titanic rests in its ocean grave 12,536 feet in the North Atlantic depths, as it has now for the past five years, one month, and one day. In the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Rome, an obscure monsignor, Eugenio Pacelli, kneels before Pope Benedict XV, who consecrates the prelate as a bishop. Off the coast of Jutland, Denmark, the British and German navies clash in a sea battle that leaves thousands dead. It's merely a "small" skirmish in a war that will claim 37.5 million casualties, a staggering 57.6 percent of all soldiers mobilized.
And in Fatima, an obscure Portugal town 70 miles north of Lisbon, near midday in a hollow called Cova da Iria, three children pasture their little flock of sheep. The day is May 13, 1917. The heavens are about to rock the world.
The shepherd children report that a luminous being appears, "shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal glass filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun." The being, in the form of a woman, says, "I am from heaven."
Today, 97 years later, the Titanic still rests in the black waters, having passed into lore. The world remembers Pacelli as Pope Pius XII. A Pope named Francis occupies the seat of Peter. And virtually all survivors of the hellish battlefields of Europe are dead to this world, except in memory.
Fatima, too, lives on, but in ways more tangible than memory. The appearances of the Blessed Mother are as fresh and relevant today as they were those 97 years ago. This relevance shouldn't be ignored since it carries profound importance for every person living today.
Fatima still resounds with its urgent message from heaven, after "a lady more brilliant than the sun" appeared to Lucia dos Santos, 10, and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, 9 and 7 respectively.
The Message: Prayer and Reparation
What happened on May 13, and for the next five months leading to a spectacular culmination on Oct. 13, 1917, most of us know. The events, however, never tire from the retelling.
During those months, the three shepherd children experienced "the Lady from Heaven" on the 13th at around the same time. The Lady revealed herself to be the Mother of God.
The May 13 apparition came barely a week after Pope Benedict XV begged Our Lady for help as Europe stood paralyzed by a trench war, with anarchy and atheism looming on the horizon. This was true especially in Russia, where the Bolsheviks were about to seize control of the government.
As Mary revealed herself to the children as the Mediatrix of Grace, she opened her hands, bathing them in a powerful light that bore into their hearts. Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta reported the same effect of the luminous phenomenon: The light, according to Fr. Robert J. Fox, an expert on the Fatima apparitions, allowed them to "see themselves in God, who was that light." By an "interior impulse," Fr. Fox said, "the children fell on their knees, repeating in their hearts: 'O, most Holy Trinity, I adore You! My God, my God, I love You in the most Blessed Sacrament!' "
Our Lady replied, "Say the Rosary every day in order to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war."
At the July 13 apparition, Mary brought a message of repentance, reparation, and the conversion of Russia. She also predicted the end of World War I, but told the children if the world did not stop offending God, another war, even worse, would break out.
"To prevent this," the Blessed Mother told the children, "I come to ask the Consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart and the Communion of reparation on the first Saturdays." Mary promised a great miracle on Oct. 13, so all would believe her words.
Miracle of the Sun — a Sign Ignored
On Oct. 13, 1917, alerted to the prophesied miracle, 70,000 people gathered at Fatima.
At noon, exactly as foretold by Our Lady months earlier, and despite a drenching rain, those gathered saw the sun "dance" and "spin" in the sky. The opaque disc began rapidly spinning, radiating scarlet, yellow, and deep purple hues. It did this three times, faster each time, before appearing to break loose from the sky. It zigzagged toward earth then returned to its normal position and appearance.
Despite this dazzling display, the world ignored Mary's warnings.
Twenty-two years later, World War II began. By war's end in 1945, 60 million people had been killed, more than half of them civilians. Our Lady's prediction had come true with deadly accuracy. Her predictions of hunger, persecution of the Church, destruction of nations, and great suffering of the Pope were also fulfilled.
Consider, for example, that the assassination attempt that nearly killed St. Pope John Paul II in 1981 occurred on May 13, the 64th anniversary of Mary's first appearance at Fatima! John Paul was revealed as the Pope who would "have to suffer much." Also, consider that Our Lady's words regarding Russia and its conversion were fulfilled when, in 1989, the Soviet Union began to collapse.
Sister Lucia: Fatima's Witness
Lucia dos Santos lived to be 97, dying on Feb. 13, (same day of the month as the apparitions) 2005, less than two months before St. Pope John Paul II's death. Her cousins died young, victims of the Great Flu Epidemic of 1919. John Paul declared Francisco and Jacinta blessed on May 13, 2000, making the girl the youngest non-martyred child ever to be beatified.
It was left to Lucia to live for another 87 years after Fatima to bring her witness into the 21st century. She became a nun, first a Dorothean Sister and later, in 1947, a Carmelite.
Who was Lucia dos Santos? She was a bright, determined, funny, and practical person. Practical? She had such a good head for business that she kept the convent's books. Funny? She loved jokes, puns, and practical jokes.
"We were very close," says Dr. Branca Paul, MD, Sr. Lucia's personal physician for the last 15 years of her life. "It was amazing that she was so normal, simple, and humble. Full of joy and laughter, always joking and smiling a lot. When I came in to see her in a new hairstyle or new clothes, Sister would joke about it."
Doctor Paul said Lucia talked to her on several occasions about Our Lady's apparitions. What did Mary look like? "Beautiful, very bright," Dr. Paul quoted Lucia as saying. "The only way to explain the brightness is like a mirror reflecting sunshine." What did Mary's voice sound like? "She told me it wasn't the same kind of voice we can hear with our ears," Dr. Paul said. "She said, 'It came directly into our minds, crystal clear, a human voice penetrating our souls.' "
A Mother to the Younger Nuns
Lucia fit in beautifully with the other nuns.
"She was a hard worker and a perfectionist, doing all the work like the other nuns," Dr. Paul says. "They rise early, pray, go to Mass, then do their chores. It might be cooking, cleaning, gardening, washing clothes, or making scapulars. Twice a day, they have one-hour breaks, where they can talk, relax, and play. All other waking moments are spent in prayerful silence. Sister Lucia loved her time alone."
Sister Lucia became like a mother to the younger nuns. "She was always quick to help and teach them," Dr. Paul says. "They loved to be around her, especially in the last years of her life, when she became more ill and fragile. They covered her with love."
During her later years, Lucia began getting pain in her heart, in her back and legs, and developed severe arthritis.
"With medicine, she became better," Dr. Paul says, "but 97 is 97. She accepted her age very well. Once, when I came to give her a check up, I asked her if there was anything she wanted. 'Oh, Dr. Branca, make me 30 again!' She then burst out laughing. That was Sr. Lucia. She never complained. She accepted everything."
Fatima Today: Mary's SOS for Sinners
Does Fatima, 97 years later, have relevance today? Yes, but we must focus on the right things.
As late as 2005, Sr. Lucia would express frustration that people still wanted to dwell on the miracles and secrets.
Lucia told Dr. Paul, "I am not focusing on the miracles. I am more focused on the 10 Commandments. We are going to be judged on the 10 Commandments when we die. We must stop offending God. We must know God."
She summed this up in what she called her 11th Commandment: "Do whatever God tells you. That is what Our Lady wants."
When St. Pope John Paul II journeyed to Fatima one year after the assassination attempt to thank Mary for sparing his life, he called the "message of Fatima ... more relevant than it was 65 years ago. It is more urgent."
The message comes with a warning of dire consequences if the world continues to shun God.
Something does seem amiss, from climate change to the hedonistic excesses of pop culture, from abortion to the myriad of wars and conflicts. One wonders: How long will God keep His patience?
Our Lady urges us to pray the Rosary daily, and also to offer sacrifices as acts of reparation for the conversion of sinners and for sins against her Immaculate Heart.
Mary's message is this: There is still time.
It is never too late.
Until it becomes too late.
Either way, at some point, history will not have a future, nor will the future have need of the past. We will be on God's time, as Our Lady has been intimating all along.