The 2017 centenary of the apparitions at Fatima will surely be a significant focus for the devotional life of the Catholic Church.
The story of the three Portuguese child visionaries is a poignant and compelling one. Lucia Santos – one of seven children – was just seven years old when her mother gave her the job of pasturing the sheep at Serra da Aire, in central Portugal, in 1914. Today, we see child labour as cruel, but William Thomas Walsh, who interviewed her for his book Our Lady of Fatima (first published in 1947), reported that Lucia was “enchanted” to become a shepherdess, delighted to take up her staff to herd the flock.
Her little cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto begged to be allowed to join her, but initially, they were much too young at only 5 and 3
But they did subsequently join Lucia on those pasture lands in 1917 when in May, they first saw the apparition of “a Lady all of white, more brilliant than the sun dispensing light, clearer and more intense than a crystal cup full of crystalline water”…according to Lucia. The Lady’s face was “indescribably beautiful – not sad, not happy, but serious”.
The children were to return to the spot on the 13th of each month thereafter: and to say the Rosary for the cause of peace and the conversion of sinners.
The First World War was raging at this time, and the Pope, Benedict XV, made repeated pleas – all unheeded – for an end to the carnage. These young children from simple peasant backgrounds would have known almost nothing about the world of politics beyond their pastures, but they related the messages faithfully (not without opposition from the civil authorities, who locked them up at one stage), and particularly the message about the conversion of Russia.
The Bolshevik revolution of November 1917 had not yet taken place until after the last apparition, although it was known that Russia was troubled, and the Czar had been forced to abdicate. And as prophesised at Fatima, for much of the century that followed the Russia that was the Soviet Union became a mighty power, and influence, globally.
Two of the Fatima children died soon afterwards, in the flu epidemic that followed the 1914-18 war – Francisco in 1919 aged 10 and Jacinta in 1920 aged 9. Both children were serenely accepting of their deaths – their mother, Olimpia lived into the latter years of the 20th Century and spoke to Dr Walsh for his Fatima investigation.
Some commentators saw a political agenda in Fatima, but the children themselves were innocent of any political ideas. The Catholic Church declared the apparitions “worthy of belief” in 1946. Pope John Paul II was especially devoted to Fatima.
The focus on Russia was particularly significant and 100 years on, remains so. Bolshevism has indeed fallen, and the Orthodox faith restored to Russia: it is even suggested that when Vladimir Putin eventually retires, there will be a restoration of the Czar.
And yet the state of Russia – like the state of the world - remains troubled, and troubling as a global presence. Perhaps an appropriate way to mark the centenary of Fatima is to continue to pray for peace, and indeed for Russia.
Ring in love and truth: On New Year’s Eve, I like to read Tennyson’s uplifting poem of hope ‘Ring Out Wild Bells’. “Ring out false pride in place and blood/The civic slander and the spite;/Ring in the love of truth and right,/Ring in the common love of good.” Written in 1850, applicable to 2017.
Cures for cash
Majella O’Donnell, wife of the great Daniel, has been protesting vehemently against the fees that psychiatrists may charge, when ministering to person with mental health problems – €300 was the tariff suggested. “How dare anyone charge that kind of money to help another human being who is in a desperate situation. That sort of fee cannot be justified!” she expostulated.
Actually, shrinks have a bit of a reputation for charging fancy fees. Sometimes they even say that paying the money is part of the ‘cure’ – remitting the cash motivates the patient to co-operate in addressing his or her problems. I don’t know whether this theory works, but some psychologists will claim that fees translate into commitment.
There are evidently perfectly decent and honest psychiatrists, but there have always been some whose fees were excessive, and motives dubious. Here’s a true story: a friend of my mother-in-law, suffering from nervous anxiety, asked her GP to refer her to a private psychiatrist. The GP duly gave her a letter of recommendation to a top shrink.
Curious to know what her doctor had written in the letter, the woman secretly steamed it open before bringing it along. The message simply said: “Here’s another rich bird for you to pluck!”