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T. Tindal-Robertson

Fr Aidan Nichols

Fatima, Russia & Pope John Paul II


by Fr. Aidan Nichols, OP

SOVIETOLOGISTSówho, with the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, have ceased to be political analysts and become contemporary historians insteadódisagree deeply about why the Bolshevik State fell.

For whatever reason, "reconstruction" (perestroika) and "openness" (glasnost) introduced unbearable contradictions into a system of government already weakened by economic maladministration and the collapse of real conviction about the goals of the ruling Party on the part of many of its members.

It was the speed of the unravelling of the Soviet Union which took commentators' breath away and left them gasping for explanation. François Mitterand, during his 1988 visit as French President to General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, raised in the most cautious terms the question of German reunification. Gorbachev replied that he should ask him again in a century's time.

The following year the Berlin Wall came down. By the end of 1989 the Communist Party had lost both political authority and its ability to control the media; in the 1990 "War of Laws" central authority of any kind in the Soviet Union dissolved in favour of its component Republics; in 1991 the break-up of the property of State and party alike began; and after the failure of the army in August of that year to support the attempted coup by the Politburo's remaining hardliners, the way was open for the official liquidation of Soviet institutions, including the presidency, in December.

The atheist super power, whose ruling Party as the vanguard of class-war driven social revolution on a global scale had used the State apparatus as its instrument in a drive to ideological and political world hegemony, was no more.

Since the first crack in the Communist structure appeared in Poland, it can hardly be denied that Pope John Paul II played some part in this process, for without the Polish Pope the Polish church and the mass movement of workers and others, Solidarnosc, would have lacked the focus, confidence and international leverage necessary for the sustaining of their role.

To the Pope himself, however, the factors involved were not merely political and propagandistic. The struggle was for the truth of man, the rightful conditions of his flourishing, and therefore for the cause of God. To leave Providence out of the reckoning was, accordingly, impossible.

Among the weightiest of the Church's doctors (witness, for example, Thomas Aquinas), the view has prevailed that the activity of Providence cannot be demonstrated. It is the fact that the world depends on God, not the mechanics of that dependence, that reason defends.

The question which Timothy Tindal-Robertson sets his readers is whether, nonetheless, there cannot be symptomatic signs of the self-engagement of the provident God in history, signs which, while they may not be coercive, incline towards some definite conclusion a rationality tutored by biblical revelation.

Specifically: the drama played out between Rome and the Europe of the East in this pontificate belongs with that great "theo-drama" whose opening is the Genesis prediction of struggle between the "Serpent" and the "Woman," and whose ending is the Apocalypse vision of the Woman clothed with the sun, caught up with her child to God as the great dragon of angelic evil falls defeated to the nether world.

The skein of coincidences which links papa Wojtyla, the still unexplained attempt on his life by Ali Agca and the crucial dates in the Soviet Communist Party's collapse to those Marian feasts most closely associated with the Virgin of Fatima: are these a jumble only, or do they constitute a pattern?

And is the key to that pattern events on a Portuguese hillside between the two Revolutions of 1917 where a Russia which, it was foretold, would spread many errors through the world could be, it was promised, re-converted if only there were prayer, penance and the consecration of the world to that heart of Mary which had formed the heart of Christ.

The Christian imagination of the Pope would have it so. and Timothy Tindal-Robertson's book lays out the evidence that his conviction is widely shared by other leaders of the former "Church of Silence" in the East. For the "cultural" interpretation of the collapse of Communism in Russia, Russian society, peasant-based, Church-rooted, was never a propitious environment for Marxism-Leninism.

The believing interpreter can take a further step. If Russia was traditionally called the "House of Mary," and the crowned lady of the Apocalypse really has been given potent glory, how could the Saviour fail to use his auxiliatrix for spiritual warfare which, more clearly than any other in modern history, embodies the conflict between God and anti-God in which a Woman plays so pivotal a part?

On reading this book, I am left with two enduring mental images: the statue of the Madonna at Fatima to whose shrine the Pope sent the bullet which entered his entrails for its setting into her crown; and the modest replica of this "icon" which, a year before the death of Brezhnev, John Paul II ordered to be housed in a wooden shelter in a forest on the Soviet-Polish border, facing Russia.

Pius XII, speaking of Russia in 1942, had remarked that no Orthodox home there had been without its Marian icon "though now it may be hidden and put away for better days." At the intercession of the Mother of God of Fatima, may the Russian people who have carried so great a burden of suffering this century rise to the historic opportunity offered them, remembering that even (or especially) the victories of grace bring new challenges, new dangers.

Aidan Nichols, OP

Version: 6th February 2008