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She still warns us
With motherly love, Our Lady gives us prophecies and remedies.

by Joseph Pronechen

October 13, 1917, was a day that an estimated crowd of 70,000 people would never forget. They had walked miles over muddy roads and fields to gather at the Cova da Iria in Fatima. Soaked to the skin by torrential rain, they came to see the great miracle that Mary had promised to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco -- the shepherd children of Fatima. She had promised it to confirm the important messages she had been giving the children since May 13, 1917.

The crowds weren't disappointed. Not even unbelievers who came only to scoff. Just after noon, God sent the miracle Mary had promised. Suddenly, the rain stopped and the sun appeared like a giant silver disk. As the people stared in amazement, the sun whirled like a giant pinwheel flaring off huge multicolored rays. The display started and stopped three times in all, picking up speed each time.

Next, the sun did the unthinkable. It tore loose and raced toward the earth like a gigantic ball of fire about to crash upon the crowds. Terrified and screaming, people fell to their knees and begged God's forgiveness and mercy and the Blessed Virgin's protection. All at once, the sun reversed course and returned peacefully to its normal place. The ground, which had been drenched by rain, was completely dry after the miracle. Journalists who came as skeptics wrote long descriptions for Portugal's secular papers.

Fatima defines an era

This miracle of the sun was like no other in recorded history. For the first time, God performed a miracle, and its exact time and location was announced beforehand by Our Lady.

But Mary didn't appear at Fatima just to predict miracles. She came as our spiritual mother to guide, warn, and protect all her children. And she meant her message for us today as well.

Pope John Paul II made this quite clear when he traveled to Fatima on May 13, 2000, to beatify Jacinta and Francisco Marto, two of the young visionaries, as well as to announce the release of the Third Secret of Fatima. It was the 83rd anniversary of the first apparition, and the occasion marked the first time the Church ever beatified children who were not martyrs.

The Holy Father again made the point on Oct. 8, 2000. Kneeling in Rome before the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima brought from Portugal to the Vatican, he entrusted the Third Millennium to the Blessed Virgin.

In fact, in 1982, one year after the attempt on his life, Pope John Paul II traveled to Fatima to thank Mary for having saved his life from the assassin's bullet. There, he reminded us that the "message of Fatima is [even] more relevant than it was 65 years ago. It is [even] more urgent."

And today we know that Pope John Paul II is widely believed to be the bishop "clothed in white" described in the Third Secret as falling "to the ground, apparently dead under a burst of gunfire." In fact, Sr. Lucia -- the remaining Fatima visionary -- agrees with the often quoted statement of the Holy Father, "It was a mother's hand that guided the bullet's path and, in his throes, the pope halted at the threshold of death."

It's small wonder, then, that when we consider the hundreds of alleged Marian apparitions over the last 170 years, "the defining apparitions that bring light to all the others are those of Fatima," says Dr. Mark Miravalle, professor of Theology and Mariology at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.

What's the message?

Mary began giving relevant messages to us from the start of the Marian era in 1830 when she appeared in France and gave us the devotion to the Miraculous Medal. In the last century alone, in apparitions approved by the Church and in some under investigation, she has appeared hundreds of times repeating the same Gospel message of repentance, conversion, prayer, and return to the Sacraments.

"It must mean we as a human family aren't doing a good job of living the Gospel," says Dr. Miravalle. He explains that the fundamental Marian message in apparitions is "a call of prayer and penance in reparation to God for many offenses and for the conversion and salvation of souls." He believes Heaven is sending the Blessed Virgin Mary as our spiritual mother to return us to the Gospel of her Son, Jesus.

When Pope John Paul II beatified Francisco and Jacinta, he explained that the message of Fatima is a call to conversion and a warning to mankind.

What is Our Blessed Mother's overall warning? "Do not offend the Lord our God any more, because He is already so much offended!" she said at Fatima before the great miracle of the sun. She repeats this in other apparitions and warns that if people keep offending God by not living according to His commandments, there will be dire consequences.

But, along with the warnings, Mary always gives us loving encouragement with clear, specific spiritual remedies for our conversion -- the Eucharist, prayer, daily rosary, sacrifices in a spirit of penance, and confession.

First, Mary always directs us to the Eucharist. Her purpose always is to draw us back to her Son, Our Lord Jesus, and His Gospel. We're called to go to Mass as frequently as possible and to spend time in Eucharistic adoration, Dr. Miravalle says.

Pray the rosary

Next, Our Blessed Mother calls us to pray constantly. The daily rosary is a must. "Pray the rosary every day in order to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war [then World War I]," Mary said at Fatima, where she identified herself as Our Lady of the Rosary.

In every major apparition since, Mary also stresses the importance of the daily rosary and urges her children to pray it -- all 15 decades in these critical times. At Akita, Japan, in 1972 -- officially approved by the local bishop and by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- Mary called for the daily rosary to prevent disasters in the world.

"The rosary," Dr. Miravalle reminds us, "is a powerful spiritual weapon against Satan and a great spiritual protection for the Church, for the family, and for the world."

Then, Mary firmly invites us to offer daily sacrifices as acts of reparation: for love of Jesus, for conversion of sinners, and for sins committed against her Immaculate Heart. "Make of everything a sacrifice offered to God," she says. This daily offering means our duties, crosses that come to us, even our simplest acts, following the example of St. Therese, the Little Flower. Mary calls us to fast, too.

Mary also asks us to consecrate ourselves to her. To save sinners, "God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart," she told Lucia in 1917. We're to wear a scapular as a sign of our consecration. Lucia calls the rosary and scapular inseparable.

Mary also appeared in 1925 to then Sr. Lucia to ask us to practice the Five First Saturdays devotion. On the First Saturday of five consecutive months, with the intention of making reparation to Mary for the sins committed against her Immaculate Heart, we're to receive Holy Communion, recite the rosary, keep Mary company for 15 minutes while meditating on the mysteries of the rosary, and go to confession (which can be done on another day, as long as one is in the state of grace when one receives Holy Communion). The requests, notes Dr. Miravalle, "are Eucharistic, sacramental, at their heart."

Recent Marian apparitions like Akita, called the "Fatima of the East," continue the urgent call for prayer, penance, and sacrifices for reparation for sinners.

Mary's promises and warnings

Mary also gives prophecies, some depending on our response to her remedies. At Fatima, she foretold that Russia would spread its errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecution of the Church. Then, we saw the rise of communism. She also foretold another great war (World War II) after World War I if people didn't respond.

At Akita, Mary said if people didn't repent and better themselves, "fire would fall from the sky and wipe out a great part of humanity." Part of her remedy? "Pray very much the prayers of the (daily) rosary. I alone am still able to save you from the calamities that approach. Those who place their confidence in me will be saved."

Likewise, in major alleged apparitions under investigation in Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mary has warned of dangers to peace. She has supposedly been appearing in Medjugorje since 1981 as Queen of Peace. There, she reportedly foretold the war in the former Yugoslavia and has given us her remedies for peace. (Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary to Cardinal Ratzinger, allows private pilgrimages to Medjugorje and encourages priests to go to pastor the pilgrims who come.)

So, too, at Fatima, Mary promised an era of peace that will come through the Triumph of her Immaculate Heart. She said as well that God wants to establish devotion to her Immaculate Heart in the world.

"You can't speak of the Triumph and the era of peace without speaking of spiritual purification as a process that I believe Our Lady is called to guide us through," explains Dr. Miravalle. The majority of apparitions, he says, do speak of a conditional purification that God would allow as a threshold into this era of peace.

"The call to prayer and penance is to assist this purification," he says. "The more we can do on our own, the less has to come from the Father. That's why Our Blessed Mother is calling us to live the Gospel generously in our own critical historical time."

Through all of it, Mary and her Son say to us: "Be not afraid!" -- as long as we're consecrated to Our Blessed Mother and following her remedies.

Are apparitions OK?

We're not forced, though, to accept private revelations like apparitions, even though they have been "a tremendous source of grace and spiritual revitalization for the Church," writes Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, in his book, "A Still, Small Voice, a Practical Guide on Reported Revelations." (See ordering information at the end of this article.)

"It is important to keep clearly in mind," he says, "that private revelations have no significance apart from the public revelation of Sacred Scripture, interpreted by the traditional teaching of the Church."

Public revelation ended with the Apostles and the New Testament. Pope John Paul II clearly states, "God's revelation was brought to completion in Jesus Christ, who is the fullness of that revelation."

At the same time, Fr. Groeschel writes, "Private revelations may be said to encourage or even to guide individuals or the whole Church at a particular time," such as the "somber message of the Virgin of Fatima" with its remedies for our secular and godless age.

That's why the Church's position about apparitions, which are private revelations, is always "cautious but open," says Miravalle. As guardian of the faith, the Church can't rush to an approval. At the same time, "private revelations have been a great grace to the Church by returning people to the Gospel, to the Sacraments, and to a more dynamic living of the Christian life."

Mary promised at Fatima, "In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph." This triumph, according to Dr. Miravalle, is "a period of grace brought to the Church and the world through graces coming through Mary."

We can hasten the Triumph and receive the graces Our Blessed Mother wants to give to us if only we use her remedies. The remedies will bring the peace of Jesus into our hearts as we move into the era of peace, as Mary promised at Fatima.

To order the book "A Still, Small Voice" by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, call toll free 1-800-462-7426. The price is $11.95 plus p/h. Please refer to code ESSV. Or you can order online at our catalogue. Click here for online catalogue.

The personal story: Kibeho apparitions and approval

Visionaries in Africa told of the genocide that would come unless people heeded Our Lady's call for prayer, penance, and fasting. At right is a 1988 photo of Alphonsine -- an approved visionary of Kibeho, Rwanda, where the Marians maintained a mission until they were forcibly evacuated during civil war in the region.

"Yes, the Virgin Mary did appear in Kibeho on Nov. 28, 1981," and then over "the course of the following six months," proclaimed Bishop Augustine Misago of Gikongoro, Rwanda, Africa, when he announced his official approval of the apparitions in July. "There are more reasons to believe this than to deny it."

The visions in Kibeho, Rwanda, are the latest Marian apparitions to receive official recognition by the Church, which normally involves an investigation by the bishop of the diocese. As early as 1982, an earlier bishop of the diocese already authorized public devotion.

The apparitions began in November 1981 when six young girls and one boy claimed to see the Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus. But only the visions of the first three -- 17-year-old Alphonsine, 20-year-old Nathalie, and 21-year-old Marie Claire -- have received Bishop Misago's solemn approval. Because there were reservations about the other four visionaries, and the supposed visions of Jesus, Bishop Misago didn't confirm the authenticity of either those visions or visionaries.

Mary first appeared on Nov. 28 to Alphonsine at a boarding school run by nuns, which the girl and the other two approved visionaries were attending. The teen saw a woman wearing a seamless white dress and a white veil on her head. Her hands were clasped together and she pointed her fingers toward heaven. "I could not determine the color of her skin," said Alphonsine, "but she was of incomparable beauty."

Mary identified herself as the "Mother of the Word." Mary said she had heard the teen's prayers and had come to calm her. Then Mary asked for the girl's friends to have increased faith.

Early in 1982, Our Lady began appearing to Nathalie for nearly two years and to Marie Claire for six months. Alphonsine's visions lasted until Nov. 28, 1989 -- exactly eight years.

In the visions, Mary emphasized the call to pray the rosary. She also asked for penance and fasting. A dreadful vision all three girls received became a key apparition leading to the official acceptance and approval of Kibeho.

These girls reported seeing a gruesome picture: a river of blood, people who killed one another, abandoned bodies with no one to bury them, a tree on fire, an open chasm, a monster, and severed heads. The vision is now considered a prophecy of the ethnic genocide that would take place in the country 13 years later. Tragically, in 1994, visionary Marie Claire became one of its victims.

Pilgrimages, conversions, healings, and an increase in prayer were noted in the area after the apparitions. Also, the sun appeared to pulsate, spin, or split in two -- a miracle reminiscent of Fatima. Now the faithful in Rwanda pray to Our Lady for a lasting peace in their troubled land.

Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, CT. His features appear regularly in the National Catholic Register, Columbia, The New York Times, and other magazines and newspapers. He is a retired high school English teacher.

©2001 Marians of the Immaculate Conception. All rights reserved.