THE CENTENARY OF FATIMA APPARITIONS (1917 – 2017)
Prof. Michael Ogunu
In his introduction to “The Message of Fatima” published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, former Prefect of the Congregation, (now Pope Benedict XVI Emeritus) remarks as follows:
Throughout history, there have been supernatural apparitions and signs which go to the heart of human events and which, to the surprise of believers and non-believers alike, play their part in the unfolding of history. These manifestations can never contradict the content of faith, and must therefore have their focus in the core of Christ’s proclamation: the Father's love which leads men and women to conversion and bestows the grace required to abandon oneself to him with filial devotion. This too is the message of Fatima which, with its urgent call to conversion and penance, draws us to the heart of the Gospel.
According to the Cardinal, “Fatima is undoubtedly the most prophetic of modern apparitions”
What were these apparitions at Fatima and what messages did Our Lady convey to the world through the seers?
The Apparitions of the Angel of Peace at Fatima in 1916
In the Spring of 1916, three shepherd children at Fatima in Portugal, Jacinta, aged 6, her brother Francisco, 8, and their cousin Lucia, 9, encountered an Angel who identified himself as “the Angel of Peace”. He taught them to pray thus: “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You. I ask pardon of you for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love You”. He told them that the Hearts of Jesus and Mary were attentive to their prayers.
The Angel appeared to them again in Summer and told them to pray very much, saying, “the Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High. Make of everything you can a sacrifice and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners. You will thus draw down peace on your country”.
In the Autumn the Angel appeared again holding a Chalice in his hands, with a host above it from which some drops of blood were falling into the sacred vessel. Leaving the chalice and the host suspended in the air, the Angel prostrated on the ground and repeated three times the prayer to the Most Holy Trinity:
“Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore you profoundly. I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference with which He Himself is offended. Through the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of you the conversion of poor sinners”.
Then, rising, he took the Chalice and the Host in his hands. He gave the Sacred Host to Lucia and shared the Blood from the Chalice between Jacinta and Francisco, saying as he did so:
“Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men! Make reparation for their crimes and console your God”.
Once again, he prostrated on the ground and repeated with the children three times more, the same prayer: “Most Holy Trinity …”, and then disappeared.
Such was the prelude to the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima.
The Apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima
A year later, in 1917, Our Lady appeared to the three shepherd children at Fatima, on the 13th of each month, except for August, from May to October. On 13th May, Jacinta, now aged 7, her brother Francisco, 9, and their cousin Lucia, 10, were looking after their sheep in the place where there now stands the Chapel of the Apparitions, and the Basilica above it. Suddenly a beautiful Lady from heaven appeared on top of a small tree, radiating light. She asked if they would offer themselves to God and bear the sufferings He would send them, in reparation for the conversion of sinners. When the children accepted, she said they would have much to suffer, “but the grace of God will be your comfort”.
From her hands Our Lady then communicated an intense light, whose rays, the children said, “penetrated our hearts and the innermost depths of our souls, making us see ourselves in God, Who was that light”. They fell on their knees in adoration of the Holy Trinity and said, “My God, I love you in the most Blessed Sacrament.” Before she returned to heaven Our Lady asked them to pray the Rosary every day, as she did in each apparition, for peace and an end to the First World War.
At the second apparition on 13th June, Our Lady said she would soon take Jacinta and Francisco to heaven, but not Lucia because Jesus wished to use her “to make me (Our Lady) known and loved. He wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart”. They then saw Our Lady's Immaculate Heart encircled by thorns which symbolised the sins of humanity, for which she was seeking reparation.
On 13th July, Lucia asked Our Lady to work a miracle so that people would believe she was appearing to them. She promised to do this in October, and asked them to make sacrifices for sinners, and when they did so to pray: “O my Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
The children were then shown a vision of the souls of sinners suffering in the fires of hell, when Our Lady said, “To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace”. She warned there would be a second world war, if people did not comply with her requests, and that the Church and the Holy Father would be persecuted and have much to suffer from those who denied and rejected God. She asked the Holy Father to consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart and for the Five First Saturdays devotion.
Pope St. John Paul II fulfilled her request for the consecration of Russia by the act he carried out at St Peter's on 25th March 1984, and this is why the Communist Soviet Union collapsed and was dissolved on 25th December 1991, and the persecution of the Church in Russia and Eastern Europe ceased.
At the end of the July apparition, Our Lady asked them to say the following prayer at the end of each decade of the Rosary: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy”.
Our Lady was unable to appear on 13th August because the children were kidnapped by the mayor of Ourem, who imprisoned them when they refused to reveal the third part of the secret they had been given by Our Lady in July. He threatened to kill them by plunging them into a vat of boiling oil, but this was only a trick, and when it failed, he took them back to Fatima. Our Lady then appeared on August 19 at Valinhos, a place near their village of Aljustrel, and told them sadly, “Pray, pray very much and make sacrifices for sinner; for many souls go to hell because there are none to sacrifice themselves and to pray for them”.
A very large crowd came for the 13th September Apparition, around 30,000 people. Our Lady told the children to continue praying the Rosary to obtain the end of the war. She also said that in October Our Lord would come, as well as Our Lady of Sorrows and Our Lady of Carmel, and that St. Joseph would come with the Child Jesus to bless the world. She said that God was pleased with their sacrifices, and that they did not need to wear the rope as a penance at night, but only during the day. Finally she said: “In October I will perform a miracle so that all may believe”.
The last and the most dramatic of the 1917 apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima took place on October 13th. It was witnessed by 100,000 people, according to an estimate by a professor from the University of Coimbra, Portugal. Many walked for miles over the rough fields. It rained all night of the 12th and the morning of the 13th. Standing in mud up to their ankles, the people huddled together under umbrellas, seeking protection from the relentless rain as they prayed their Rosaries. Our Lady asked for a chapel to be built in her honour, and said: “I am the Lady of the Rosary. I have come to warn the faithful to amend their lives and to ask pardon for their sins. They must not offend our Lord and God any more, for He is already too grievously offended by the sins of men. People must pray the Rosary. Let them continue praying it everyday.
Thereafter, upon taking leave of her three little friends for the last time, Our Lady stretched out her hands towards the rays of the sun, and as she was lifted upwards, her light was in no way overshadowed by the sun. The vision was indeed brighter than the sun. Along the face of the sun, other visions appeared in succession:
St. Joseph and the Child Jesus appeared to bless the world, for they traced the Sign of the Cross with their hands. When, a little later, this apparition disappeared, Lucia saw Our Lord and Our Lady of Sorrows. Our Lord appeared to bless the world in the same manner as St. Joseph had done. This apparition also vanished, and Lucia saw Our Lady of Carmel.
Some years later, when Lucia was a Religious Sister of St. Dorothy, Our Lady appeared to her again in Spain (10th December, 1925 and 15th February, 1926) in the Convent of Pontevedra, and on the night of 13th / 14th June 1929, in the Convent of Tuy, requesting the devotion of the Five First Saturdays (to, on the First Saturdays of five consecutive months, go to Confession, receive Holy Communion, pray five decades of the Rosary, meditating on the mysteries, and keep Our Lady company for at least fifteen minutes meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary — all with the intention of making reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary), and the Consecration of Russia to the same Immaculate Heart. This request had been announced by the Apparition on 13th July, 1917, in what is called the “Secret of Fatima”.
The Message of Fatima
The Message of Our Lady of Fatima can be summarised as follows: Our Lady's requests for prayer, reparation, penance and sacrifice, and the abandonment of sin. Before Our Lady appeared to the three shepherd children, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, the Angel of Peace visited them. The Angel prepared the children to receive the Blessed Virgin Mary, and his instructions are an important aspect of the Message that is often overlooked.
The Angel demonstrated to the children the fervent, attentive, and composed manner in which we should all pray, and the reverence we should show toward God in prayer. He also explained to them the great importance of praying and making sacrifices in reparation for the offenses committed against God. He told them: “Make everything you can a sacrifice and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners”. In his third and final apparition to the children, the Angel gave them Holy Communion, and demonstrated the proper way to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist: all three children knelt to receive Communion; and Lucia was given the Sacred Host on the tongue and the Angel shared the Blood of the Chalice between Francisco and Jacinta.
Our Lady stressed the importance of praying the Rosary in each of Her apparitions, asking the children to pray the Rosary every day for peace. Another principal part of the Message of Fatima is devotion to Our Lady's Immaculate Heart, which is terribly outraged and offended by the sins of humanity, and we are lovingly urged to console Her by making reparation. She showed Her Heart, surrounded by piercing thorns (which represented the sins against Her Immaculate Heart), to the children, who understood that their sacrifices could help to console Her.
The children also saw that God is terribly offended by the sins of humanity, and that He desires each of us and all mankind to abandon sin and make reparation for their crimes through prayer and sacrifice. Our Lady sadly pleaded: “Do not offend the Lord our God any more, for He is already too much offended!”
The children were also told to pray and sacrifice themselves for sinners, in order to save them from hell. The children were briefly shown a vision of hell, after which Our Lady told them: “You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to My Immaculate Heart in order to move ever closer to Her, and therefore to Her Son. Our Lady stressed the importance of praying at least five decades of the Rosary daily. Lucia later explained that Our Lady appeared in Her final apparition as Our Lady of Mount Carmel because She wants us to wear the Brown Scapular. Our Lady also stressed that we must make sacrifices, especially the sacrifice of doing our daily duty well, in reparation for the sins committed against Our Lord and Our Lady. She also stressed the necessity of prayers to save poor sinners from hell.
“If what I say to you is done”, says Our Lady, “many souls will be saved and there will be peace”. She said that if people did not stop offending God, He would punish the world severely by means of war, famine, persecution of the Church, and persecution of the Holy Father. To prevent these chastisements, Our Lady offered a remedy: She would return to ask for the Consecration of Russia to Her Immaculate Heart and the Communion of Reparation on the Five First Saturdays. If Her requests were heeded, there would be peace. If not, Russia's errors (atheistic communism) would spread throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions against the Church; the Holy Father would suffer much, the good would be martyred and various nations would be annihilated.
Our Lady indicated to us the specific root of all the troubles in the world, the one that causes world wars and such terrible suffering: sin. She then gave a solution, first to individual people, then to the Church's leaders. God asks each one of us to stop offending Him. We must pray, especially the Rosary. By this frequent prayer of the Rosary, we will get the graces we need to overcome sin. God wants us to have devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and to work to spread this devotion throughout the world.
To Sr. Lucia (and to all who are devoted to the Blessed Virgin) Our Lady said, “My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God”. If we wish to go to God, we have a sure way to Him through true devotion to the Immaculate Heart of His Mother. When Sister Lucia questioned Our Lord as to why He would not convert Russia without the solemn public consecration of that nation specifically, Jesus answered: Because I want My whole Church to acknowledge that consecration as a triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so that it may extend its homage later on, and put the devotion to the Immaculate Heart beside the devotion to My Sacred Heart.
Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is central to the Fatima Message. God determined that the Consecration of Russia and the Communion of Reparation on First Saturdays of the month be the means of implementing this devotion throughout the world, and gave this task to His Pope and Bishops and to individual souls to practice and promote the devotion.
Centenary of 1917 Apparitions
May 13th to October 13th 2017 will mark the 100 years (centenary) of the six apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima in 1917. Throughout the Catholic world, the centenary will be celebrated from May 13 to October 13 just as the centenary of the Lourdes apparitions which occurred in 1858 was celebrated world-wide hundred years later in 1958. The objectives of the centenary celebrations include the following:
· To stress the importance of the apparitions of Fatima for the Church and for the world.
· To spread the message of Fatima nation-wide and world-wide.
· To deepen the theology of the message of Fatima.
· To develop pastoral proposals in the life of the message of Fatima.
· To promote the living out of the spirituality of Fatima.
· To develop the Marian dimension in the Christian expression of the faith.
How the Centenary can be celebrated at national, diocesan and parish levels will be the subject of Part 2 of this article.
Professor Michael Ogunu is the President of the World Apostolate of Fatima Executive Board for English-speaking Africa & Coordinator of the Fatima Apostolate in English-speaking Africa.
Copyright © Professor Michael Ogunu 2016
Version: 12th April 2016