If you search “Fatima” on the Internet, you will get a whole lot of links to websites and blogs with conspiracy theories, chiefly centred on the rumour that Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict have lied to us, that “the true Third Secret has never been revealed”, that it had all sorts of lurid prophesies and so on. Because conspiracy theories and doom-mongers attract followers and funds, they are able to run conferences and newsletters and gain a great deal of attention. The real message of the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima, which is of prayer and penance, seems tame by comparison. Why pray and confess sins and live in charity and service, when you could be writing up another lurid speculation or hurrying to a rally to relish it with others?
Now at last we have a new edition of a book, carrying a Foreword by Cardinal Raymond Burke of the Apostolic Signatura, which sets out the facts about Fatima, with information on the consecration of the world (including Russia!) to Mary’s Immaculate heart by Blessed John Paul and all that has flowed from that.
I was living in Berlin in 1984 and I remember that as 1984 opened we talked about George Orwell’s book that had predicted a worldwide grim police state in that year. I was standing outside the small church in Pruessenallee, dedicated to St George and used by the British military community, in March 1984 when I heard about the Pope having carried out the consecration of the world, and wondered what this could mean. The whole Fatima saga was linked in Catholic minds to Russia and Communism. In Berlin in the early 1980s, the Wall dominated the city, soldiers were still shooting anyone trying to escape from the Communist East, and there was the whole paraphernalia of watchtowers (the East German government had recently built great new ones), howling search-dogs, barbed wire, tank-traps and more.
Five years later, the Berlin Wall had come crashing down, Russia as the headquarters of world Communism was history, and everything had changed. And as the second decade of the 21st century opened, the main story from Russia was of millions of people queuing up to venerate a holy relic of Mary, standing for hours in the bitter cold.
Mary’s promise at Fatima that “Russia will be converted” did not put any timing on the event: it will probably take years. But the extraordinary link between the Marian devotion of Blessed John Paul, his survival of the assassination attempt on May 13th – the Fatima feast-day – and the events following that consecration in 1984, are all worth pondering. Don’t go for conspiracy theories: just concentrate on what the Church teaches, as both Blessed John Paul and our present Holy Father have done.
Pope Benedict went to Fatima in 2010 and there repeated the message: Fatima is about prayer and penance. He emphasised that the message is not complex. The vision seen by the children in 1917 showed a man dressed in white, whom they took to be the Holy Father, being shot and falling to the ground. Pope Benedict noted that this vision “which we can in the first place refer to Pope John Paul” also refers to the passion of the Church of all time, reflected in the person of the Pope. “The Lord told us that the Church would constantly be suffering, in different ways, until the end of time.” As he spoke, he was at the centre of crude media attacks following the continued revelations of appalling sexual abuse by a small minority of priests over previous decades. As he noted “the sufferings of the Church come precisely from within the Church, from the sin existing within the Church. This too is something we have always known…and that the Church thus has a deep need to relearn penance.”
Fr Andrew Apostoli’s book, Fatima For Today: The Urgent Marian Message of Hope, is a great read: well-researched, thoughtful and well documented but also simple and aimed at every ordinary Catholic. It carries a great deal of information from Sister Lucia, the Fatima visionary who lived until 2005. Her cousins, who both died young and have been beatified, were remarkable in their courage and their sincere witness to what they had seen and heard, and in the long years that followed she too remained faithful, never seeking publicity or allowing herself to be involved in any sensationalism but living and working patiently as a nun with confidence in the Church.
It is probably too much to hope that this book, or the continuing patient work of the present Holy Father and others, will stop the conspiracy theorists from their ranting – but it can at least inform Catholics of the truth and inspire us all to the true prayer and penance which, as always, is what the Church and the world needs. You need and deserve this book: it speaks to the committed Catholics of the 21st century with a note of urgency, a voice of hope and truth in a darkening scene as the Church faces the onslaughts of increasingly belligerent secularism and must use the weapons urged on us by the message of Mary.
• The Controversy Over the Third Secret: Objections and Responses | Fr. Andrew Apostoli, C.F.R.