By FR. SEAN CONNOLLY
(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of monthly articles on the one hundredth anniversary of our Lady’s apparitions at Fatima. Fr. Connolly is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York.)
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There is no better time to more deeply learn, live, and spread the message of Fatima than in this centenary year. One hundred years ago in 1917, through our Lady’s apparitions to the three shepherd children Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta, Heaven provided Earth the antidote to the moral and social evils which could lead to the destruction of the world and the ruin of countless souls. It was not without reason, that our Lady imparted this message in 1917 which would prove to be a defining year for the future of Western civilization.
To better understand the significance of our Lady’s message given at Fatima, it is important to know the historical context in which these apparitions took place.
Historical events that relate to the Fatima event can be traced back to the two phases that smashed the unity of Catholic Europe — the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment era of revolution. The first phase began four hundred years prior to our Lady’s apparitions at Fatima when, according to popular legend, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther defiantly nailed a copy of his ninety-five theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church.
As the Catholic historian Christopher Dawson comments, the intellectual movement of the Protestant Reformation, “like most movements that have changed the world was religious in origin, although it was anti-religious in its results.”
It is impossible to write the history of modern Western culture without focusing in a significant way on Martin Luther. Many rank him among the great emancipators of human history through his freeing individual conscience from practices imposed by the Catholic Church. He fought for what he saw as the autonomy for one to be able to enter into a relationship with God without any interference of a communal earthly institution like the Church.
This individualist principle can sound pleasing to the modern ear, yet it is a dangerous idea that usurps the final authority of the Church Christ established to interpret the Word of God. Christendom became divided as a result.
Years later the most prominent Catholic monarchy was dethroned in France. The government dethroned by the French Revolution was Catholic and thus became a model for revolutionaries in other lands with Catholic governments. The Revolution that began to unfold in France in 1789 did not really end when the monarchy was abolished in August 1792. Revolutionary fervor continued and came to a height in 1848 which saw uprisings against still-existing Catholic governments in Vienna, Paris, various German states, and even in Rome where the Pope was forced to flee.
This same revolutionary fervor swept through Europe into the 19th century where secret societies allied to Freemasonry were dedicated to the pursuit of political liberty and filled with a virulent strain of anti-clericalism. The alliance of altar and throne came to be viewed as a formula for tyranny and finally in 1870 the Papal States fell to the Kingdom of Italy and its unification movement.
Many saw Blessed Pius IX’s resistance to the papacy’s loss of temporal power as political obscurantism, but it can be rightly viewed as the last heroic stand of Christian civilization against the forces of the anti-Christian spirit of the Enlightenment and revolutionary fervor.
In analyzing the process of the two phases that smashed the unity of Europe (the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment era of revolution), it can be seen how such trends of thought reach their logical conclusion: from “every man his own pope” during the Reformation, to “every man his own king” in the revolutionary period that followed, to what is now under the contemporary age of what Pope Benedict XVI called the dictatorship of relativism, “every man his own god.”
Revolution came to the nation of Portugal where the village of Fatima is located in 1910. The anticlerical government that replaced the ancient Catholic monarchy was made up of prominent Freemasons and sought the complete secularization of society. The cardinal patriarch of Lisbon and many other bishops were exiled, Church property was seized, seminaries were closed, priests and religious were forbidden from wearing their cassock or habit in public and divorce and family laws were approved which considered marriage as a purely civil contract.
The chief of one of the lodges of the Grand Orient Masons predicted that within a few years there would be no more priests left in Portugal.
Warren Carroll comments: “The revolutionaries considered themselves makers of history, yet were often swept along by its currents. Almost all of them succumbed to the tremendous outburst of nationalistic emotion with which the First World War began.”
Again, according to Carroll, “The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a collection of some twenty nationalities and tongues, with a great and ancient heritage of unity through the persons of the Habsburg rulers, but increasingly divided as modern nationalistic agitation worked on its diverse peoples.”
On June 28, 1914 Archduke Francis Ferdinand, the heir presumptive to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was shot to death with his wife in a car at Sarajevo by a Serbian terrorist. His uncle, Francis Joseph, the emperor, went to war as a result to crush Serbia as a nest of assassins — and pulled all of Europe with him into a war that undermined the foundations of civilization itself.
The First World War has been called the “suicide of Christendom.” Christian nations waged war upon one another that would cost Europe an entire generation — seventeen million killed and twenty million wounded. The violence destroyed much of what remained of a fractured Christendom.
In the midst of this carnage, Vladimir Lenin prepared the revolution that would overturn the Russian social order. In March of 1917, Czar Nicholas of Russia (who along with his family would eventually be exiled and executed) was forced to abdicate and later that same year in November, the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, took control and established the Communist state. Until the Communist downfall over sixty years later, Russia would be in the control of sworn enemies of God and dehumanizers of men who would cause untold damage to humanity.
In the midst of the tumultuous year of 1917 that would forever change the face of the world, Pope Benedict XV pleaded unceasingly for peace. As the suicide of civilized Europe was taking place through the First World War and Communist errors began to spread, Christ’s Vicar on Earth issued a letter directing the invocation “Queen of Peace, pray for us” be added permanently to the Litany of Loreto. His letter concluded with this petition to the Blessed Virgin Mary:
“To Mary, then, who is the Mother of Mercy and omnipotent by grace, let loving and devout appeal go up from every corner of the earth — from noble temples and tiniest chapels, from royal palaces and mansions of the rich as from the poorest hut — from every place wherein a faithful soul finds shelter — from blood-drenched plains and seas. Let it bear to her the anguished cry of mothers and wives, the wailing of innocent little ones, the sighs of every generous heart: that her most tender and benign solicitude may be moved and the peace we ask for be obtained for our agitated world. And, afterwards, remind future centuries of the efficacy of Her intercession and the greatness of the good She has given us.”
To the tiny and unknown Fatima came Heaven’s reply to this petition for peace made by Christ’s Vicar. Just eight days later the Queen of Peace came herself, and appeared for the first time to the three shepherd children.
Christopher Dawson, The Gods of Revolution (London: Sidgwick and Jackson Ltd., 1972).
Eamon Duffy, Saint and Sinners: A History of the Popes (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006).
Diane Moczar, Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know: The Divine Surprises That Shaped the Church and Changed the World (Manchester, N.H.: Sophia Institute Press, 2005).
Warren H. Carroll, 1917: Red Banners, White Mantle (Front Royal, Va.: Christendom Publications, 1981).