This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Fatima apparitions. In spring 1916, the Angel of Peace appeared to three small children—Lucia Dos Santos, nine, and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, ages eight and six—for first of three times that year in preparation for six apparitions of the Blessed Mother in 1917, beginning on May 13 of that year. Francisco and Jacinta died shortly after and have since been declared Blessed; Sr. Lucia died at age 97 in 2005.
Fr. Andrew Apostoli, C.F.R., is one of the world’s leading experts on Fatima. He has spoken and written extensively, and in 2010 his book Fatima for Today: The Urgent Marian Message of Hope was published by Ignatius Press.
Father was ordained a priest by Bishop Fulton Sheen in 1967. In 1987, he joined with Fr. Benedict Groeschel and six other Capuchin friars to found the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. The two great focuses of his life, he said, are to see Bishop Sheen canonized (he serves as vice postulator for the cause) and to promote the message of Fatima. He recently spoke with CWR.
CWR: Why are the Fatima apparitions of such great interest to you personally?
Fr. Apostoli: When I was young, I heard a lot of talk about the requests Our Lady made at Fatima. I remember the release of the 1952 movie The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, which made a great impression on me. I grew up praying the family rosary, as Fr. Patrick Peyton advised. He was the one who said “The family that prays together stays together.” And, I think it was while saying those rosaries that there was a stirring in my heart to become a priest.
So, as I looked into the message of Our Lady of Fatima, I began to think it must be important if Our Lady wanted it. Over the years my interest has grown immensely, especially considering the sad state of our world today. It was Pope St. John Paul who said that the Church was facing her greatest spiritual struggle in her history, and most Catholics are not even aware that there is a struggle going on. There is an evil out there that desires the total destruction of Christian civilization; that’s why the message of Fatima is so important.
Also, I’m very devoted to Bishop Fulton Sheen. He was a great opponent of communism, and took great note of what Our Lady of Fatima said about the spread of communism. [“Russia will spread its errors throughout the world, raising up wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer and various nations will be annihilated.”]
CWR: What are your thoughts as we approach the 100th anniversary of Fatima?
Fr. Apostoli: I do quite a bit of preaching on Fatima. I want people to know about it, and to understand the urgency of it. The Judeo-Christian beliefs on which our country was founded are being undermined. Doing what Mary has asked of us is the only thing that can reverse the decline in our civilization. She’s saying, “I’m the only one who can help you.”
While we may not be threatened by Soviet communism as we once were, we’re threatened by a new kind of communism, atheistic secularism.
CWR: Do you believe that the message of Fatima is widely known today?
Fr. Apostoli: Since the time I was a boy, there has been a breakdown in handing down the message. I believe there’s been some renewed interest in recent years, however. People have written me about my book, Fatima for Today, saying it made a big impact on them. When I go out and speak on Fatima, people are grateful to hear the message.
CWR: There have been many Church-approved apparitions. Why do you think Fatima has the prominence it does?
Fr. Apostoli: I think because of two reasons. Many apparitions are centered on a particular place. The 18 apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes in France in 1858, for example, were very powerful. However, the focus was on Lourdes, where people can go and experience her intercession and healing.
With Fatima, while you can certainly go on pilgrimage there, the focus is on the message and not the place. It is a message of worldwide importance. Our Lady is telling us all to turn around, as we’re heading to disaster.
And secondly, the message of Fatima is directly opposed to the spirit of society today. We’ve seen a whole secularization of North America and Western Europe. Our culture is breaking down; we’ve become a post-Christian society. We have little time left to save what remains of our Faith and our freedoms.
Our government, for example, is mandating that Catholic employers go against their consciences and provide abortion coverage in their health insurance they offer to their employees. This is against our Constitution’s First Amendment and beliefs on which our nation was founded. Yet I could give you many examples to demonstrate that this is going on constantly today.
There are no human means that are going to save us. We need Mary’s help, which we will certainly receive if we respond to her requests at Fatima. It is my personal belief that our situation is coming to a head. I think something bad is going to happen in the next few years if we don’t give up our sins. Regardless, however, as Our Lady said, in the end her Immaculate Heart will triumph.
CWR: What is the importance of the apparitions by the Angel of Peace?
Fr. Apostoli: His purpose was to prepare the three children for the mission they would receive from Our Lady. He taught them the Fatima prayer [“O my God, I believe, I adore, I trust and I love Thee. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not trust and do not love Thee.”]
He told them to pray a great deal, as the Hearts of Jesus and Mary had designs of mercy on them. He told them to pray and offer sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. In his third apparition, he brought them the Eucharist, dripping with Blood, and left it suspended in air as he bowed down before it with the children. He then taught them the reparation prayer [“Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore thee profoundly. I offer thee the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles in the world, in reparation for all the outrages, sacrileges and indifferences whereby He is offended. And through the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of Thee the conversion of poor sinners.”].
He played an important role introducing to the children the idea that it was important to make reparation for sin and to pray and make sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. He was preparing them for Mary. So when Mary came in 1917 and asked them if they were willing to make reparation for sin and ask for the conversion of sinners, they said “yes” without hesitation.
CWR: Did you ever meet Sister Lucia?
Fr. Apostoli: No, but I did concelebrate Mass for her in her convent. When I looked over at all the nuns there, they looked alike to me. So, I don’t know if I saw her, but I hope she saw me.
I have had the opportunity to meet the relatives of the three children, however. I’ve also visited Fatima and learned many things. I recall one hotel there, for example, which had an enlarged photo of the crowd during the miracle of the sun [seen by 70,000 on October 13, 1917, the last apparition]. The sun was said to have pulsated and given off different colors before it seemed to drop from the sky. Someone who worked at the hotel pointed out to me that everyone in the photo was looking to the left. He said, “Father, the sun is never on that side. It should be on the right.” It shows that from the crowd’s perspective, the sun was not where it was supposed to be.
Many people came that day who were not believers. They were skeptics coming to mock the apparitions. They said nothing would happen. By the time they went home, however, many had had a change of heart.
CWR: Why do you believe the 3rd Secret of Fatima’s release was delayed until 2000?
Fr. Apostoli: The content of the 3rd Secret was given on July 13, 1917. It was very long, and broken into three parts. The first was the vision of hell. Our Lady told the children, “You’ve seen hell, where the souls of poor sinners go,” and she gave us the Fatima prayer, to be recited at the end of each decade of the rosary [“O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of Your mercy.”].
Part two was that she said World War I would end, but a more terrible war, World War II, would come if enough people were not devoted to her Immaculate Heart. She said that an unknown light would indicate the beginning of the war; the sky was lit up all over Europe and North America by an Aurora Borealis on January 25, 1938. Soon after, Hitler began his invasions of various countries.
Part three, or the 3rd Secret, involves an angel touching the earth with a flaming sword, but is stopped by Our Lady’s hand. There’s a bishop dressed in white, and a procession up a mountain to pray. The pope gets shot and dies, as do many bishops, priests, religious and lay people with him. To many, this symbolizes the martyrs for Christ over the world during the 20th century.
At the request of her bishop, Sr. Lucy wrote down the 3rd Secret. She was sick at the time, and he told her if she died, the world would be left without part of the message. In 1960, Pope John XXIII opened it and read it with his secretary. It startled him to see that the pope gets shot; I can imagine it would be just the thing for some loose cannon or kook with a gun to hear and then go out and try to shoot the pope. So, John XXIII said, “Now is not the time to reveal this.” Pope Paul VI did the same thing.
When Pope John Paul II was shot on May 13, 1981, he realized the connection; May 13 was the date of the first Marian apparition at Fatima. He thought, “I should have died. Our Lady gave me back my life.” He thought he was the bishop in white who was shot, but he did not die due to the intervention of Our Lady.
So, the 3rd Secret came out. Some people were looking for more. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before he became Pope Benedict XVI, read the secret. He assured the world that the whole 3rd Secret was out, and that some would be disappointed after all the speculation before 2000 as to what it might say. So, everything about Fatima is now out in the open; nothing is hidden.
CWR: Pope John Paul II also consecrated Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in union with the world’s bishops.
Fr. Apostoli: Yes, he made that consecration on March 25, 1984. I believe heaven accepted it, as we’ve really seen its effects, with a resurgence of religion in Russia. The Berlin wall came down in 1989, and Gorbachev declared the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. This was done without anyone firing a shot.
In the research I’ve done, the revival started in 1985, the year after the consecration. Churches and monasteries began opening, more deacons and priests began to be ordained and people went back to church. Although the Western media hasn’t given it any attention, the revival has been very dramatic.
CWR: How do you personally live the message of Fatima?
Fr. Apostoli: I pray the rosary every day and I say the Fatima prayers. I’m very conscious of Our Lady’s requests, and I pray to her Immaculate Heart.
CWR: How should families live the message of Fatima?
Fr. Apostoli: Do what Mary said. Pray the family rosary. Do the first Saturday devotion (which I believe is the most neglected part of the requests of Our Lady of Fatima). Ask Our Lady to stop the spread of atheistic secularism. Lead a good life. Make sacrifices for sinners. Read my book Fatima for Today [laughing]. You won’t be able to respond to Our Lady’s challenge if you don’t know what she’s asking. Follow a good Fatima apostolate, like the World Apostolate of Fatima (www.wafusa.org).
The peace of the world of which Our Lady spoke is linked to the salvation of souls. As she said, many souls are lost from God because there is no one to pray and offer sacrifices for them. She told us that God is establishing devotion to her Immaculate Heart as a means of bringing peace to the world. If we do as she says, we can reverse society’s downward spiral and see the triumph of her Immaculate Heart.