Browsing From the Pastor's Desk

The Secret of Fatima

Jul 14, 2017

So there is a piece of news I might have said something about, but I didn’t. At the time I couldn’t work it in. So better late than never.

Fatima is an unusual name in the Christian west. It is the name of Muhammad’s youngest daughter who became the wife of Ali. But the name is known to us because of a town in Portugal, named after a Muslim beauty taken captive and married to a Christian knight. There on May 13, 1917, while guarding their families’ sheep, three children (Lúcia dos Santos and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto) saw visions of the Virgin Mary now known to us as Our Lady of Fátima.

The children saw her on six occasions. They announced that the last appearance would be on October 13, 1917. An estimated 70,000 pilgrims went to the site for that last apparition. Many reported what has been called the Miracle of the Sun. The sun trembled, made sudden unexplained movements - the sun “danced” according to the words used by the witnesses.

Back when I was a child, in the days when we could easily foresee the Cold War giving birth to a nuclear war, there was for a while a lot of speculation about the “Secret of Fatima.” The girl, Lúcia, who had become Sister Lúcia, had written down this secret entrusted to her by Our Lady. She had written on the envelope that it was not to be opened until 1960 or after. As 1960 approached and passed, people wondered if the secret told about a nuclear war, or even worse, the end of the world. Nobody believed it was a GOOD secret. But the secret was kept.

The envelope went to the Archives of the Holy Office in 1957 and to Pope John XXIII in 1959. He decided to wait and then returned the unopened envelope to the Holy Office. It was left to Pope Paul VI to open the envelope and read the secret in 1965. He returned the envelope to the archives and decided not to reveal it. After the assassination attempt in 1981, Pope John Paul II requested the envelope. It was not good news.

Sister Lúcia’s description said that the children were given a vision of hell. She told them that God wishes to spare people this destiny through devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart. And then she gave the children a frightening vision of a suffering Pope walking through a ruined city and then being killed, along with bishops. Pope John Paul II had had a close call.

Over the years many Catholics have responded to the call of Mary. For many years we ended every Mass with prayers for the conversion of Russia. Something happened there. The world hasn’t ended yet.

Of the three children who saw the visions, two died within three years. Lúcia went on to become a nun at Our Lady’s request.

On May 13, 2017, on the 100th anniversary of the first apparition, Pope Francis canonized the two children who had died. They are now Saints Francisco and Jacinta. Sister Lúcia, who lived for 57 years as a Carmelite and who died in 2005, was not canonized. Yet. She lived a long life, wrote lots of letters and things, spoke to and met many people. The process for canonization requires a meticulous examination of a life’s work, and a long life with a lot of work takes a long time to examine. But she is on her way.

Francisco and Jacinta made it easy; they died very young without writing anything. Maybe there’s a lesson there. When they were beatified by St. John Paul II on the Fatima anniversary of May 13, 2000, Sister Lúcia was present for that happy occasion. In February this year, her cause finally made it to Rome.

So the secret is out, but no one pays much attention to it. It says the Church, if it does its job, will be persecuted severely. When it is and where it is persecuted, perhaps we should not complain so much but just work harder at being better Christians following Jesus Christ, who did not vilify or raise his voice against his executioners but who prayed for them and forgave them. It’s not easy being a Christian in this world.

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