By DONAL FOLEY
This May 13 is the 97th anniversary of the first apparition of our Lady to the shepherd children at Fatima in May 1917, an event which took place at the height of World War I. The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, is due to preside over the May 12-13 celebrations in Fatima this year, but in three years’ time, in May 2017, it will be the centennial of the 1917 apparition, and there are expectations that Pope Francis will go to Fatima for this.
It is thought that he could possibly canonize the two youngest seers, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, who were beatified by Pope John Paul II in Fatima in May 2000. As part of the centennial preparations, the Fatima Sanctuary has had a seven-year ongoing program since 2010.
If the shepherd children are canonized in 2017, they will become the youngest non-martyr child saints in the history of the Church. And if such a papal pilgrimage turns out to be the case, then it will be a continuation of Pope Francis’s ongoing association with Fatima, which began soon after he was elected Pope last year.
His pontificate was consecrated to Our Lady of Fatima on May 13, 2013, by the cardinal of Lisbon, acting on his behalf at the 96th anniversary celebration. During the ceremony the cardinal prayed that Pope Francis be granted “the gift of discernment to know how to identify the paths of renewal for the Church.” He went on to ask that he be protected “in the difficult hours of suffering, so that he may overcome, in charity, the trials that the renewal of the Church will bring him.”
That the new Pope should have gone out of his way to identify himself in this way with Fatima was deeply significant and showed that Pope Francis intends to maintain the close links between recent Pontiffs and Fatima which have been characteristic of the papacy in our times. And as his pontificate has developed, the Pope’s obvious devotion to Our Lady of Fatima has become more and more apparent, as has the fact that he is walking in the footsteps of his Predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
John Paul II visited Fatima three times, performed the collegial consecration requested by our Lady, in 1984, beatified Jacinta and Francisco in 2000, and was also responsible for entrusting the Third Millennium to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in front of our Lady’s statue, on Sunday, October 8, 2000, when over 1,400 bishops were present for the Jubilee Mass.
Benedict XVI also strongly supported Fatima and visited the shrine in May 2010, when, among other things he said: “We would be mistaken to think that the prophetic mission of Fatima is complete.”
Pope Francis also chose to emphasize Fatima at the “Marian Day” which took place at the Vatican last October 12-13, when he presided over some truly impressive ceremonies, as part of the ongoing Year of Faith celebrations.
Representatives from a large number of Marian organizations were in Rome for the occasion, including a number of World Apostolate of Fatima groups from around the world, along with an American contingent led by Dave Carollo, the executive director of WAF-USA. The WAF is the only Fatima organization to have been approved as a Public Association of the Faithful by the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
There was a real Fatima connection for this Marian Day in that not only was the event scheduled to coincide with October 13, the anniversary date of the final apparition at Fatima, on October 13, 1917, when our Lady performed the incredible miracle of the sun before 70,000 amazed spectators, but also due to the fact that Pope Francis specially requested that the statue of our Lady from the Capelinha at Fatima be brought to Rome for the occasion.
The Fatima miracle of the sun, which was predicted three months in advance, can certainly be regarded as the greatest miracle in 2,000 years of Church history. The crowd saw the sun — looking like a dull gray disc that could be gazed at directly quite easily — become visible, as the black storm clouds parted, and it began to whirl and gyrate like a gigantic Catherine wheel, throwing out shafts of multicolored light, before plunging toward the earth, until, after about ten minutes, it resumed its normal appearance and place in the heavens.
Other people witnessed the solar miracle from a distance, thus ruling out the possibility of any type of collective hallucination. Prior to this stupendous solar miracle, the people had been completely drenched with the continuous heavy rain that had turned the Cova da Iria into a sea of mud. When the sun resumed its normal place in the sky, everyone’s clothes, and the ground, were dry due to the great heat of the sun as it approached.
And it’s worth noting that Pope Pius XII saw a repetition of the miracle of the sun in the Vatican gardens, on a number of occasions in late October and early November 1950, around the time that he promulgated the dogma of the Assumption.
Pope Francis gave a Marian catechesis on the day before the papal Mass, on the afternoon of October 12, and the WAF England and Wales committee were very privileged as a group in that Timothy Tindal-Robertson, the national president, was chosen to meet the Pope afterward, as the representative of all the WAF groups present. He was warmly received by the Holy Father, and this gesture signified the Pope’s approval of the work of the apostolate in promoting our Lady’s message in the Church.
As part of his catechesis, Pope Francis said: “We are all gathered for this event of the Year of Faith devoted to Mary, Mother of Christ and of the Church, our Mother. The statue of our Lady, which has come from Fatima, helps us to feel her presence in our midst. Mary always brings us to Jesus. She is a woman of faith, a true believer.”
He then spoke of Mary’s obedience in untying the knot of sin, before going on to say that no matter how complicated a person’s life may have become, “nothing is impossible for God’s mercy! Even the most tangled knots are loosened by His grace. And Mary, whose ‘yes’ opened the door for God to undo the knot of the ancient disobedience, is the Mother who patiently and lovingly brings us to God, so that He can untangle the knots of our soul by His fatherly mercy.”
On Sunday, October 13, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Square, under beautiful blue skies, in the presence of a congregation of about 150,000 people. After Mass he recited an act of consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, before the statue of Our Lady of Fatima. In this he was following the example of Pope John Paul II’s collegial consecration in 1984, and thus further emphasizing his profound commitment to Fatima and our Lady.
So we can say that Pope Francis has shown himself to be very enthusiastic in his support for our Lady and the message of Fatima, and that in this he is pointing out the way for the Church as a whole.
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(Donal Anthony Foley is the secretary of WAF England and Wales, and a Marian author. The organization’s web site can be seen at: www.worldfatima-englandwales.org.uk. The WAF-USA website is at: wafusa.org.)