If there were any doubts about the enduring power of Fatima, Pope Francis has put them to bed. Appearing before half a million people on the hundredth anniversary of Mary’s apparitions, Francis canonized two of the young seers who saw her, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, and he spoke movingly of the third—their cousin, Lucia dos Santos, who became a Carmelite nun and may be canonized herself.
But that three Portuguese children, aged seven, nine, and ten at the time, were granted special visions of the Mother of God to convey Heaven’s vital warning to the world—to turn away from sin, lest suffering and evil ensue, particularly because of the errors of Russia—has never sat well with some. For both the miraculous nature of the events, and the content of Our Lady’s messages, pose a direct challenge to certain lifestyles and views. Among them:
Atheism and skepticism
The children were visited by Our Lady six times, between May and October of 1917, with the last culminating in an astonishing “Miracle of the Sun” to confirm Our Lady’s appearance and warnings. Of course, supernatural apparitions, especially epic ones affecting the solar system, are anathema to atheists, and even to “enlightened” Catholics who are embarrassed by any mention of Fatima. Both ridicule the apparitions as scientifically impossible—the product of backward Catholic spirituality and superstition.
But there are major problems with this line of attack. The campaign against Fatima has to establish that the two saints and their cousin not only deluded themselves, but have deceived millions for a century; and that Sr. Lucia, who died at 97, spent her adult life in a religious order living a lie. The opponents also have to prove that tens of thousands of people who witnessed the Miracle of the Sun experienced an optical illusion that day; or that the Miracle can be explained by mere psychology, or the madness of crowds.
The claim that the seers were fantasists or religious con artists conflicts with the testimonials of those who knew them best, not to mention the extensive investigations conducted by the Church and independent observers. Further, the Miracle of the Sun was seen not only by believers, but by atheists and skeptics who expected to see nothing that day. And numerous scientists have decisively rebutted the a priori assumption that the events of Fatima could never have occurred, including Stanley Jaki, who held doctorates in physics and theology and wrote a book defending the Miracle of the Sun. With worldwide attention being given to the Church’s increasing support for Fatima, it’s not hard to see who is winning this debate.
Misunderstandings of Mary
The Blessed Virgin Mary has long been viewed with hesitation, if not suspicion, by many Christians, especially those who fear she takes away from the unique and supreme adoration due to God alone. When such Christians hear about Fatima, their concerns are only heightened. But the message of Fatima, properly understood, is not exclusively or even primarily about Mary—as important as she is in Christian revelation. It’s about Mary’s obedience to God, which she instructs humanity to imitate.
Though this fact is frequently overlooked, the Marian apparitions at Fatima were preceded by an Angel of Peace, who bowed down and asked the young seers to join him in a prayer: “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.” These words, first and foremost, are directed to the “Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and the “Divinity of Jesus Christ,” which the Angel also highlighted, even as he encouraged a special devotion to Mary. Many theologians, and not just Catholics, have written about Mary’s extraordinary role in Christianity, and shown why devotion to her does not in any way detract from the adoration of Jesus Christ; rather, it increases it. It is for this reason that Francis said at Fatima: “If we want to be Christian, we must be Marian.”
Among the secrets revealed at Fatima was a stark and terrifying vision of hell, where, as Mary revealed to the children, “the souls of poor sinners go.” This statement is like a dagger in the heart of dubious theologies promoting universal salvation, which is the reason many universalists stay away from the message of Fatima or, if compelled to comment on it, sanitize or compromise its message. Francis, to his credit, did not downplay this crucial aspect of Fatima, declaring: “Our Lady foretold, and warned us about, a way of life that is godless and indeed profanes God in his creatures. Such a life—frequently proposed and imposed—risks leading to hell.”
The one hundredth anniversary of Fatima coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of San Francisco’s “Summer of Love.” Vanity Fair recalls that the Summer of Love “traded clothes for costumes, turned psychedelic drugs into sacred door keys … and turned sex with strangers into a mode of generosity.” This year, San Francisco will “revel in an exhilarating celebration of the most iconic cultural event in its history.” One advertisement invites tourists to “wear a flower in your hair, embrace the feeling of possibility, and let peace and love lead the way.”
Fatima’s idea of peace and love is far different. St. Jacinta said that many sinners go to hell because of “sins of the flesh,” and that certain fashions would be introduced that would offend Our Lord deeply. More importantly, according to Our Lady, a period of peace would be obtained only if the world were to “cease offending God,” by engaging in prayer, penance, and conversion to a pure way of life, and in coordination with an essential act of consecration and devotions. The latter are described in Sr. Lucia’s memoirs, and in more recent works like Fatima for Today by Fr. Andrew Apostoli, which answers Fatima’s critics while avoiding lurid conspiracies.
Pessimists and defeatists
In the last several decades, many people of faith have expressed near-despair about the radical secularization of society and the widespread abandonment of a Judeo-Christian ethos. They have offered various strategies and “options” on how to respond. But the message of Fatima, if we choose to follow it, offers far more hope to our society than any of these options.
One moving expression of that hope is the life of Lucas Baptista, a five-year-old child who was miraculously healed of a traumatic brain injury after his parents prayed to Sts. Jacinta and Francisco to intercede for him before the Lord. On the day Pope Francis honored the Fatima seers, young Lucas, now ten, was there to witness the canonizations, and to embrace the pontiff, in an image that doubtless brought joy to the seers in heaven, and should inspire us all to follow their lead in promoting the message of Fatima.
William Doino Jr. is a contributor to Inside the Vatican magazine.