The date was May 13, 1981. It was an otherwise beautiful spring day in Rome as Pope St. John Paul II made his way by “pope mobile” through the enthusiastic crowd of faithful and well-wishers. Suddenly, shots rang out and the Holy Father slumped into the arms of aids, seriously wounded by the would-be assassin’s bullets. I personally remember that day all too well.
The date of this attempted assassination of Pope St. John Paul II is not insignificant. It was the 64th anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady to the children at Fatima. The saint’s life was spared that fateful day, and according to the Pope’s own words, it was Our Lady of Fatima who instrumentally saved his life. He is quoted as saying later, “One hand fired the shot, and another [a mother’s] guided the bullet.” One of the bullets had narrowly missed a vital artery.
Pope St. John Paul II had one of the bullets that was recovered placed in the crown of the statue of Our Lady enshrined at Fatima. He visited the Shrine one year to the day after the assassination attempt to thank God for sparing his life. From his message that day:
“And so I come here today because on this very day last year, in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, the attempt on the Pope’s life was made, in mysterious coincidence with the anniversary of the first apparition at Fatima, which occurred on 13 May 1917. I seemed to recognize in the coincidence of the dates a special call to come to this place. And so, today I am here. I have come to thank Divine Providence in this place which the Mother of God seems to have chosen in a particular way” (emphasis added).
This year, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima. These apparitions are recognized by the Church as genuine. Two of the children, Jacinta and Francisco, have been beatified, and the cause for beatification has begun for Lucia, the last of the three to die.
It is my hope that we in the Archdiocese of Portland will fully embrace the celebration of this 100th anniversary, and take to heart once again the message of Our Lady of Fatima to the children, and through them, to the whole Church. You will recall that on June 28, 2014, I solemnly consecrated our archdiocese to Our Lady under the title of the “Immaculate Heart of Our Lady of Fatima.” The patroness of our local Church was already Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
During this year, we will reflect on various aspects of the message of Our Lady of Fatima, and the celebration will culminate in an archdiocesan pilgrimage to Fatima in September. As Pope St. John Paul II recognized a particular importance to our Lady’s appearance at Fatima, so we should take to heart her message which seems as relevant, or even more so, in our own time.
To help us celebrate this centennial, I am here going to suggest some things to get us started, which flow from our Lady’s requests to us, given through the children of Fatima. The first and very important thing I suggest is that we all acquaint ourselves with the story of Fatima and the message that Our Lady gave us. There are innumerable internet resources to help us in this regard, but not all are trustworthy, and quite honestly, some are a little “wacky.” I suggest the official site of the World Apostolate of Fatima (fatimaonline.org) and the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) (ewtn.com/fatima).
Secondly, I ask that we all dedicate ourselves to the prayer and other spiritual exercises asked for by Our Lady. The essential message of Fatima revolves around a need for repentance and conversion. In particular, Our Lady asked us to pray for the conversion of sinners (starting with us, by the way!). This is no different from the call of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.”
Specifically, there are five ways in which we can spiritually live out this devotion:
Offer up our daily sacrifices to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Remember the “Morning Offering” that many of us were taught?
Pray the rosary daily. I would especially recommend a family rosary, perhaps at least once a week. A very powerful prayer!
Foster a genuine devotion to the Holy Eucharist, especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Entrust yourself personally to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Practice the five first Saturday Devotions (confession, Holy Communion, the rosary, and meditate for 15 minutes on one or more mysteries of the rosary).
As this centenary year unfolds, you will hear more about Our Lady of Fatima. In the meantime, let us join together in a united effort to do what Our Lady has asked. I am convinced it would make a difference in our lives, our families, our Church and our world. May Our Lady of Fatima intercede for all of you, your families and your loved ones!