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What's the Significance of the Fatima Apparitions?

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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 Portugese 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, "brighter than the sun, giving out rays of clear and intense light, just like a crystal goblet full of pure water when the fiery sun passes through it." The being, a woman, says, "I am from Heaven."

Today, 100 years later, the Titanic still rests in the black waters, having passed into lore. All survivors of the hellish battlefields of World War I are dead to this world, except in memory. The world remembers Pacelli as Venerable Pope Pius XII, who, in 1940, gave the Church's stamp of approval to the Fatima apparitions. And our current Holy Father, Pope Francis, like his predecessors, calls upon the world to heed the appeals of Our Lady of Fatima.

"She asks us to never offend God again," he said. "She forewarns all humanity about the necessity of abandoning oneself to God, the Source of love and mercy."

Indeed, 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 10 decades 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 a century after "a lady more brilliant than the sun" appeared to Lucia dos Santos, 10, and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, 8 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 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 Mary, 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, 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 says, "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."

In her 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 that 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 shall come to ask for 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 Holy Father 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 began to be fulfilled when, in 1989, the Soviet Union began to collapse.

Sister Lucia: 'Mary's Witness'
Lucia dos Santos lived to be 97, dying on Feb. 13 (the same day of the month as the apparitions had usually occurred), 2005, less than two months before St. 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 Jacinta the youngest non-martyred child ever to be beatified.

As Our Lady predicted, it was left to Lucia — a Carmelite nun who lived for another 87 years after Fatima — to spread the Fatima message of prayer, penance, and conversion, and to promote devotion to the Immaculate Heart.

Her personal physician, Dr. Branca Paul, MD, felt the last earthly beat of the heart of Sr. Lucia. When it had become clear that Lucia had lost her will to live, Mother Celina, prioress of the convent in Coimbra, Portugal, called him in.

Lucia had slipped into a coma. There was nothing to do but wait for this beautiful life to commend its spirit to God. But then Lucia surprised everyone. She lifted her head and began moving it back and forth, trying to see in front of her.

"For the Holy Father!" Lucia said. "Our Lady, Our Lady, holy angels, Heart of Jesus, Heart of Jesus! We are going, we are going."

"Where?" Mother Celina asked.

"To Heaven," Sr. Lucia replied.

"With whom?" Mother queried.

"With our Lord, Our Lady, and the little shepherds," Sr. Lucia answered. They were her last words. Francisco and Jacinta had come along to take her to Heaven.

As Sr. Lucia's physician, Dr. Paul spent much time alone with Lucia over the final 15 years of her life. She got to know her as well as anyone.

What was she like?

"She was bright, determined, funny, fun-loving, yet practical," Dr. Paul said. "She loved jokes and puns. She also, of course, had a profoundly humble spirituality.

"We were very close," Dr. Paul continued. "It was amazing that she was so normal, simple, and humble. Full of joy and laughter, always joking and smiling a lot. For example, when I came in to see her in a new hairstyle or new clothes, Sister would kid me about it. Sister Lucia was great to be around. Her infectious joy made everyone more happy."

Such joy is the result of consecration to Our Lady's Immaculate Heart, to a complete entrustment of a person to Jesus through Mary, serving her mission faithfully and well. As it was for Sr. Lucia, may it be for all of us through the intercession of the Fatima visionaries and Our Lady of the Rosary.

Fatima after 100 years
Does Fatima 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. She 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."

In 1982, one year after the assassination attempt, Pope John Paul II journeyed to Fatima to thank Mary for sparing his life. There, he called the "message of Fatima ... more relevant than it was 65 years ago. It is more urgent." Substitute 100 for 65, and the quote catches up to us in 2017.

The message comes with a warning of dire consequences if the world continues to shun God, and make no mistake: The world continues to shun God, as evidenced in our never-ending wars and acts of terrorism, our killing of innocents in the womb, our hedonistic excesses ... the list goes on.

Something does seem amiss, from global warming to the culture of death, from our neglect of the very young and old to the myriad persecutions of the Church and conflicts across the globe. 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.

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