How important were Our Lady’s apparitions at Fatima?

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A statue of Our Lady of Fatima is carried through the crowd at the Marian shrine of Fatima in central Portugal on 12 May. Thousands of pilgrims arrived at the shrine to attend the 99th anniversary of the first apparition of Mary to three shepherd children. Lucia dos Santos and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, received the first of several visions on 13 May, 1917. Photo: CNS/Rafael Marchante, Reuters
A statue of Our Lady of Fatima is carried through the crowd at the Marian shrine of Fatima in central Portugal on 12 May. Thousands of pilgrims attended the 99th anniversary of the first apparition of Mary to three shepherd children. Photo: CNS/Rafael Marchante, Reuters

Dear Father, I like to tell my friends that Our Lady’s apparitions at Fatima have had a great impact on the Church and the world, but they are not easily convinced. Do you agree with me?

I do agree and I think there is abundant evidence for it. One can start with how the three principal messages of Our Lady have been received, and then look at the fulfilment of some of the prophecies.

Perhaps the most important message is to pray for peace, especially through the rosary. In the last apparition Mary introduced herself as “The Lady of the Rosary” and in each of the apparitions she asked that the rosary be said daily, especially for peace and the end of the war. On one occasion when asked about the importance of the rosary, Sr Lucia answered: “My impression is that Our Lady wanted to give ordinary people, who might not know how to pray, this simple method of getting closer to God.”

There is no question but that the popularity of the rosary has grown much since then. It is being said by millions of people around the world, and daily by many of them.

A second message is the call to penance in reparation for the many sins committed against God. In the August apparition Our Lady told the children to “pray much and make sacrifices for sinners, for many souls go to hell because there is no one to make sacrifices for them”. The reminder of hell is important, especially today when some people do not believe it exists or, if it does, no one goes there.

In this regard Our Lady taught the children to say the prayer we now say at the end of each mystery of the rosary: “Oh 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.” As regards what kinds of sacrifices to make, Sr Lucia said that Our Lord asked for the fulfilment of one’s duties in life and the observance of his law, something within the reach of all.

A third message was the promotion of devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In the July apparition, after showing the children a vision of hell, Our Lady said that to save sinners God wished to establish devotion to her Immaculate Heart, and she asked for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart and for Communions of reparation on the first Saturdays of five months. Popes Pius XII and John Paul II consecrated the world to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, and devotion to her Immaculate Heart and the devotion of the five first Saturdays are now very widespread, much to the good of those who practise them (cf. J. Flader, Question Time 1, Connor Court 2012, q. 134).

The fulfilment of the prophecies made at Fatima has helped many people believe in God and change their lives. The miracle of the sun in the October apparition, which had been prophesied in July, was seen by some 70,000 people, with even sceptics coming to believe through it. Also, Our Lady said that Francisco and Jacinta would die soon but that Lucia would live for a long time. In fact, Francisco died two years later at the age of 10 and Jacinta the following year, aged nine. Lucia died in 2005 at the age of 97. Another prophecy was that World War I would end soon. It ended just over a year later in November 1918.

In the July apparition Our Lady warned that if her call to prayer and penance was not heeded another more terrible war would begin and it would be preceded by a strange light. In fact, on the night of 25 January, 1938, an extraordinary red, green and blue shimmering light appeared all over western Europe and North America, leaving people thinking there was a great fire on earth or that the world was coming to an end. It was reported in newspapers all over the world. Sr Lucia knew it was the sign prophesied by Our Lady. A month later Hitler’s troops marched into Austria and in September, with his invasion of Poland, World War II began with its terrible devastation.

Also in the July apparition, Our Lady said that if her requests were not heard, Russia would spread her errors throughout the world, bringing wars and persecution of the Church, the good would suffer martyrdom and the Holy Father would suffer much. All of this came to pass, with the spread of communism and the Soviet Union especially after the World War II.

It is significant that the attempt on Pope John Paul II’s life in St Peter’s Square came on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, 13 May, 1981, and the Pope attributed his survival to Our Lady. In 1989, following all the rosaries and prayers to Our Lady for peace, the communist regimes in Eastern Europe began to collapse almost bloodlessly. In short, the legacy of Fatima has been momentous indeed.