Lucia dos Santos, Francisco Marto and Jacinta Marto
At Comrade Lenin’s funeral in 1924, the First Commissar of Enlightenment*, Comrade Lunacharsky, gave a speech about the great Bolshevik. One hundred years after the 1917 Revolution, he predicted that:
people, looking back, will not have known an era more exalted, more holy, than the days of that Russian revolution which began the world revolution. And for this reason they will not have known a human figure who inspired more veneration, love and devotion than the figure, not only of a prophet, not only of a sage of the new communist world, but of its creator, its champion, its martyr.
Greater, in other words than Peter the Great; greater than Napoleon; greater than Jesus Christ! But history has played a humiliating joke on Comrade Lunacharsky. As it happens, the biggest centenary celebration in 2017 will take place tomorrow to commemorate the apparition of the Virgin Mary to three shepherd children in an obscure village in Portugal. Pope Francis will preside at a Mass at which more than a million people are expected.
And instead of fondly remembering the manic energy and ruthlessness of Comrade Lenin, the crowd will honour Jacinta and Francisco Marto, a 9-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy, to whom the Virgin revealed a secret. The best part of the joke is that Comrade Lenin was part of the secret.
A bit of background is needed to appreciate the irony. On May 13, 1917, Jacinta, then 7, Francisco, 9, and their cousin, Lúcia dos Santos, 10, were tending sheep in the fields of Fatima when a beautiful woman appeared to them. As Lucia remembered her, she was “brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal goblet filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun”. The Lady urged them to pray and do penance.
The woman spoke to them five more times, on the 13th day of June, July, August, September and October. Larger and larger crowds accompanied them every time and on the last day, there was a peculiar miracle. After a drenching rain, the sun appeared, “danced” and then appeared – to the terror of the 70,000 people present — to plunge toward the earth.
After this enigmatic spectacle, the visions stopped. Francisco and Jacinta died in 1919 and 1920 in the flu epidemic which ravaged Europe after World War I; Lucia became a nun and died in 2005.
On July 13, 1917, the Virgin Mary entrusted the children with three “secrets”. In the second “secret”, Comrade Lenin was not mentioned by name, but his handiwork was.
If my requests are heeded, [she said] Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.
She also added that “The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pope Pius XI.” At the time, the illiterate children had never heard of Russia or possibly even the “Holy Father”, and certainly not Pius XI, who was elected in 1922. Bolshevism was just a twinkle in the eyes of Lenin. So the children were not making this up.
There was a third secret, too. For decades, its existence was the subject of much ill-informed speculation in Catholic circles until it was published by the Vatican in 2000. It was a vision of “a Bishop dressed in White” (presumably a Pope) trudging up a steep mountain, followed by many others. They walked through a devastated city filled with corpses and at the top there was a rough-hewn cross. There the bishop in white was shot by soldiers, along with the others.
What was all that about?
John Paul II found out when he was shot by Ali Ağca in St Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981, the anniversary of the first apparition. He attributed his survival to the “mother’s hand” of the Lady of Fatima deflecting the Turkish assassin’s bullet.
Lucia kept to herself the apocalyptic visions which she and her cousins had witnessed, only writing them down when she was ordered to do so by the local bishop. Although these have intrigued Catholics for years, they have never been the central message of the events of Fatima. Instead, this was prayer, penance and conversion. The two younger ones took the Lady’s words so seriously that they will be canonised tomorrow — the youngest non-martyr saints in the history of the Catholic Church.
In 2000, the Vatican published an official commentary on the phenomenon of Fatima. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, like many others, interpreted the “secrets” as a portrait of the blood-drenched 20th Century.
The vision of Fatima concerns above all the war waged by atheistic systems against the Church and Christians, and it describes the immense suffering endured by the witnesses of the faith in the last century of the second millennium. It is an interminable Way of the Cross led by the Popes of the twentieth century.
And Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Benedict XVI), emphasised that the central point of the apparitions was that “the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word”:
the future is not in fact unchangeably set, and the image which the children saw is in no way a film preview of a future in which nothing can be changed. Indeed, the whole point of the vision is to bring freedom onto the scene and to steer freedom in a positive direction. The purpose of the vision is not to show a film of an irrevocably fixed future. Its meaning is exactly the opposite: it is meant to mobilize the forces of change in the right direction.
Perhaps prayer did have something to do with changing course of history. For decades the victory of Communism seemed all but inevitable. In 1935 Comrade Stalin, General Secretary of the USSR, sneered to a French politician, “The Pope! How many divisions has he got?”
Now we know the answer to this famous question. Eighty years later the Pope still has no divisions, but neither does the USSR. And the Papacy still exists, while the USSR is in the dustbin of history. Could it be that the Lady who appeared to the three children had something to do with that? The million people who will converge on Fatima tomorrow believe so.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.
* This is not a joke. The Commissariate of Enlightenment was the Education Department.