One hundred years have passed since the Virgin Mary appeared on six occasions to three shepherd children in a small village called Fatima in Portugal. The world was at war and the Portuguese government had declared that God was dead. Churches were closed and priests and religious were imprisoned or expelled from the country. These little children, Lucia dos Santos aged ten, her cousin Francisco Marto aged nine and his younger sister Jacinta aged seven were to become messengers of peace in a country where God was not allowed to be called upon or mentioned by name.
The Blessed Virgin asked these little children to pray the Rosary for peace, and to offer sacrifices for sinners to atone for their failures and sins which offended God so much. The Blessed Virgin spoke not of an angry God but a compassionate lover who cared for his children like any parent. God wished to save his children from their sins and so the Virgin came as a messenger of peace to call these little ones to a close discipleship with Jesus.
After the first apparition, little Jacinta kept proclaiming enthusiastically, “O what a beautiful Lady,” and on returning to her home broke her promise to keep the vision a secret. She told her family, “There was something within me that would not keep me quiet.” The same effect has been produced throughout salvation history, whenever someone has experienced a true, interior and personal encounter with God. This very experience caused the hearts of Jesus’s disciples and countless others in history to “burn within them.” The encounter with the living God fills the soul with an unquenchable joy and light and transforms the witness to bear all sufferings for the proclamation of the gospel of peace. Our Lady told the children that they would suffer much and asked if there were willing to be her witnesses, they agreed.
The Catechism teaches us that “taking up one’s cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance.” We do not have to take on extra penances but to carry the crosses that may come our way each day as witnesses and believers in our families and society. We too live in similar times to these three children where it has become more and more difficult to witness to our Christian faith in our modern society. We find it difficult to communicate the faith to our children and grandchildren and at times we may even receive closed doors at the mention of faith and moral living. Lucia’s mother refused to believe her daughter even up to the very end of her life and much suffering was caused to the two families as their humble farms and crops were trod upon by thousands of spectators.
Our Lady came repeating the gospel command, “repent and believe in the Gospel.” (Mk.1:15) These very words were the first words spoken to us by the Lord. The Fatima message speaks to us of God’s mercy for sinners if they only turn to their loving God. We cannot force anyone to believe but we can as Our Lady asked that we pray for them and offer sacrifices for their conversion. We are not asked to condemn the sinner, but love them into new life. Our simple tools are prayer and sacrifice. God wishes to save all his children and promises us that they will have a home in heaven if they only listen to the voice of his Son who does not come to control their lives but set them free.
Our Lady asked the children to pray the rosary daily for peace in the world and in our hearts. The Blessed Virgin herself gave us this prayer through St. Dominic, the founder of the Dominicans. The Rosary is the Gospel on a string, where we sit with Mary and contemplate the life of her Son through her very eyes. These mysteries which Our Lady asked us to keep her company while praying, open for us the mysteries of salvation. They make Christ present here and now wherever we pray this great prayer. The Dominicans commonly called the Rosary the “mass of the evening.” For the Mass of the morning makes present on our altars the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection. At the altar, we can be present to that one saving sacrifice of Christ and to participate in that mystery where the graces of Calvary are poured forth into our world. The “mass” of the evening, the holy rosary, makes present in our homes, workplaces and even our cars the other mysteries from the life of Jesus from which we can draw strength, grace and hope for the situations in which we find ourselves. The Rosary makes present the Lord Jesus in the here and now of daily life. In moments of joy, sorrow and glory, we find a safe harbour in Our Lady’s rosary.
The Virgin Mary at Fatima who called herself “Our Lady of the Rosary,” asks us to pray the Rosary for peace. If we are at peace, those around us will be at peace, our homes will be centres of peace and from there our world will be transformed.
The Fatima message is as relevant today as it was in 1917. The Blessed Virgin came as a messenger of peace, her presence transforming the lives of these children. They in their turn have become beacons of light and love from the turbulent secular society in which they lived. Our Lady’s message of peace issued from her Immaculate Heart, a heart untouched by corruption and sin. It is in this heart we can trust and have recourse to when we feel we have nowhere else to turn. Fatima calls us to conversion, to love and trust our faith, to repent of our sins, to adore God in the Blessed Eucharist, to pray daily for conversion. The message also reminds us of the reality of heaven and the need to pray for the holy souls who rely on our prayers and sacrifices. In many ways, the six apparitions are like a catechism of our Catholic faith. In this Centenary year, may we rediscover the beauty and truth of our faith, and know the God who loves us and forgives us daily. Our Lady of Fatima, Queen of the Rosary pray for us sinners, and enfold us in your mantle of mercy.