On May 13 of this year, the Church will mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima to the three shepherd children in that rural part of Portugal. The six apparitions continued until Oct. 13, 1917. The children, Lucia and her two cousins, Jacinta and Francisco, received special instructions from Our Lady in those visions — especially regarding the recitation of the holy rosary. Lucia, who became a Carmelite religious sister at the convent in Coimbra and was the last of the visionaries to die (in 2005 at age 97), once said “There is no problem … no matter how difficult it is, that we cannot solve by the prayer of the holy rosary. With the holy rosary, we will save ourselves … sanctify ourselves … and obtain the salvation of many souls.”
The story of Our Lady of Fatima has always been an inspiration for me. It is so connected to the history of the world, especially concerning the sadness of the rise of atheistic communism and the secular revolutions that have demeaned Christianity in Europe and all around the world. Several of the most notable popes in recent history have been specifically touched by the influence of Our Lady of Fatima. On May 13, 1917, while the Mother of God was appearing in Fatima, announcing to the world her message of peace and conversion and warning humanity about the terrible crises of the 20th century, in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, from which he would emerge years later as the successor of Peter, the Nuncio Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII, was being consecrated archbishop by Pope Benedict XV. The attempted assassination of Pope St. John Paul II took place on May 13, 1981, in St. Peter’s Square at Vatican City. The saint survived the attempt and made a pilgrimage to Fatima to place the bullet fired at him (and later found in his jeep) into the crown of the Blessed Mother.
One of the most compelling stories that I have read concerns Pope Leo XII, who, it is said, had a tremendous and powerful vision on Oct. 13, 1884 — 33 years prior to the last vision at Fatima on Oct. 13, 1917, the Day the Sun Danced. On that day, in 1884, the pope composed one of my most favorite prayers: the prayer to St. Michael the archangel. (I instruct every student I confirm who invokes the patronage of St. Michael to pray that prayer every day!) The pope had a vision concerning a dialogue he saw in his chapel between Jesus and Satan. Satan claimed that he could destroy the Church. Jesus told him that if he could, he should go ahead and do it. Satan told Jesus he needed more time and more power. He told Jesus he needed 75 to 100 years and greater power over those who would give themselves over to his service. Jesus granted the request.
Pope Leo wrote the prayer to St. Michael and gave instructions that it was to be prayed after all Low Masses everywhere thereafter.
Prayers of reparation have been part of the life of grace in the Church for years. The call to repent and to change one’s life is part of the recognition of our need for Jesus, and that sacrifice and personal holiness are part of the way in which we experience his love and mercy. Through the sacraments, especially penance and holy Eucharist, we are personally touched by Divine Love. Prayers of reparation focus our lives more deeply and intently on that Divine Love most visibly represented in the image of the Most Sacred Heart.
While we contemplate the 100th anniversary of the miracle at Fatima, let us seriously take to heart the prayer of Mother Mary as she leads us to make reparations for the world of sin, the smoke of Satan, his lies and distortions and the rejection of so many souls from the Heart of her Son.
Most Reverend William Patrick Callahan is the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse