If doubts remained in any hearts about how Pope Francis thinks over Our Lady, his words at a candlelit ceremony last weekend in Fatima’s apparition chapel should have banished them.
“I feel that Jesus has entrusted you to me,” he said, thanking the gathered crowds and continuing, “and I embrace all of you and commend you to Jesus, especially those most in need’ – as Our Lady taught us to pray.
“May she, the loving and solicitous Mother of the needy,” he continued, “obtain for them the Lord’s blessing! On each of the destitute and outcast robbed of the present, on each of the excluded and abandoned denied a future, on each of the orphans and victims of injustice refused a past, may there descend the blessing of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ.”
This, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin has observed, is the Mary we see in the Magnificat.
On arriving at the shrine on Saturday evening, the Holy Father headed for the small apparition chapel where he spent several minutes in prayerful silence before the statue of Mary that had been venerated by his predecessors Benedict XVI and Blessed Paul VI, as well as – most famously – St John Paul II, who had a bullet from the unsuccessful 1981 attempt on his life embedded in the statue’s crown.
Before placing a silver vase containing golden roses at the statue’s feet, the Pope recited an expanded version of the traditional Salve Regina (‘Hail Holy Queen’) in which he alternated verses with a choral refrain venerating the ‘Queen of the Rosary of Fatima’.
As he prayed, he consecrated himself to Mary and entrusted to her intercession a suffering humanity where blood “is shed in the wars tearing our world apart”, calling for believers to “tear down all walls and overcome all boundaries, going to all peripheries, there revealing God’s justice and peace”.
Returning to the chapel later that evening, he highlighted Mary’s identity as the “mother of the needy”, someone who had given a human face to the Son of God. Stressing how, as Blessed Paul VI said, “if we want to be Christian, we must be Marian; in a word, we have to acknowledge the essential, vital and providential relationship uniting Our Lady to Jesus, a relationship that opens before us the way leading to him” he said that whenever the Rosary is recited the Gospel enters into our lives.
But, he cautioned, there are different ways to interpret Mary. Celebrating her as “a teacher of the spiritual life, the first to follow Jesus on the ‘narrow way’ of the cross by giving us an example” and a woman “blessed because she believed”, he warned against treating her as a plaster statue from which favours could be begged at little cost, a “Mary of our own making” who “restrains the arm of a vengeful God”.
Instead, he said, we should hold fast to how God’s mercy forgives our sins, urging us to stand with Mary and become “a sign and sacrament of the mercy of God, who pardons always and pardons everything”.
The following day, before a crowd Portuguese authorities have estimated as about 500,000 people, Pope Francis canonised St Jacinta and Francisco Marto, two of the three shepherd children who saw Our Lady at Fatima.
In his homily he reflected on the siblings’ brief lives, commenting on how they tend to be remembered less for their sanctity than for the apparitions.
“The Virgin Mother did not come here so that we could see her – we will have all eternity for that, provided, of course, that we go to Heaven,” the Pope said, pointing out that she came to share a message with us, a warning to all people about leading “a way of life that is godless and indeed profanes God in his creatures”.
“Such a life,” which he described as frequently proposed and imposed, “risks leading to hell. Mary came to remind us that God’s light dwells within us and protects us,” the Pontiff said, adding that her hopeful message reassured us that we all have her as our mother.
“Clinging to her like children, we live in the hope that rests on Jesus,” he said.
Calling on the crowd to follow the example of Ss Jacinta and Francisco, in whose lives, he said, God’s presence became constant, as was shown by their insistent prayers for sinners and their desire to remain ever near “the hidden Jesus” in the tabernacle, he recalled how St Jacinta told her cousin Lucia that from Mary’s embrace comes the hope and peace the whole human family require, “especially the sick and the disabled, prisoners and the unemployed, the poor and the abandoned”.
As Mass ended, the Pope returned to this point when he addressed the sick, reminding them that having taken upon himself all our suffering, “Jesus knows the meaning of sorrow and pain”, and called on those who were suffering to remember what they have to offer.
“Don’t think of yourselves simply as the recipients of charitable solidarity, but feel that you share fully in the Church’s life and mission,” he said, describing their silent presence, their prayers, and their acceptance of their conditions and offering of their suffering as “a spiritual resource, an asset to every Christian community”.
Reminding them that God never forgets them, he said: “Do not be ashamed of being a precious treasure of the Church.”