Exactly 100 years ago, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children outside of Fatima, Portugal, sharing with them some extraordinary messages and prophecies. But Our Lady of Fatima’s most urgent plea was for repentance — on behalf of ourselves, sinners and entire nations — as well as for people to pray the rosary. In the end, she promised, her Immaculate Heart would triumph.
As Pope Benedict noted in his homily at Fatima in May 2010, “We would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete.”
Although great calamities seem to have been averted during the 20th century due to her intercession — nuclear annihilation, Communist hegemony and the assassination of Pope John Paul II — the world continues to be beset by deep conflicts between man and God, creation, other peoples, and within himself, all of which portend our destruction just as much as the threats of the last century.
None of us alone can thwart these trends or renew society. And no politician or political program will do so either. The first and most urgent thing that is needed to restore all things in Christ and bring peace to the social order is a church full of faithful citizens — faithful citizens who repent for their own sins, make reparation for the offenses to God perpetrated each day, and pray the rosary fervently for renewal.
Mary’s option for the poor
In her various apparitions during the past 500 years, Mary seems to choose to visit the most humble of persons, whether children like St. Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes and Blessed Jacinta and Francisco Marto at Fatima, or the socially downcast, such as St. Juan Diego and his uncle, Juan Bernardino, indigenous converts to the faith whose people had lost much after the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
Indeed, the rosary, the presence of which has figured strongly in the apparitions at Lourdes and Fatima, is an object of popular piety and devotion particularly among the poor and those of simple, yet profound, faith — faith as trusting as that of children.
By contrast, the Blessed Virgin has not appeared in recent times to clergy, social and political elites, or theologians. And justly so, perhaps, as oftentimes Marian piety and devotion to the rosary have been an object of derision from many enlightened proponents of a more “modern” faith.
Yet, modernity continues to run frenetically after various fads, revolutions, products and politicians that provide fleeting hope for change but then inevitably end in disappointment.
The world, and sometimes the church, forgets the basic message of Our Savior: “Repent!” Our Blessed Mother comes to us as our protector and intercessor, reminding us of the need to repent, and she gives us a wonderful gift, the rosary, with which to bind ourselves to her and to meditate as she did on the great mysteries of her son.
The lesson of Fatima is that there is no salvation and no renewal, ecclesial or social, that is not rooted in deeper friendship with Jesus Christ. Mary’s message of repentance and the exhortation to pray the rosary brings us closer to him.
And it is the humble faith of the poor and little children, not sophisticated programs, that is our model.
Rosaries in the rotunda
Try as we might to renew public life as faithful citizens, we will have trouble without the gift of the rosary. All of the policy arguments, all of the meetings, and all of the latest advocacy tools will not change the public discourse without the intercession of Mary to prepare the way, so that the seed can fall on fertile ground in hearts softened by God’s mercy.
That is why, when the bishops of Minnesota host Catholics at the Capitol on March 9, an important component of the day will be the praying of rosaries in the Capitol rotunda.
As attendees make their legislative visits and suggest policies that promote life and human dignity, other participants will pray that our legislators’ hearts and minds are opened to the truth; that they serve the common good and not special interests; and that they protect the life and dignity of every person, from conception to natural death.
And we will pray for our whole state, that amid all of its prosperity, it will always seek first to protect the poor and vulnerable — those little ones closest to Mary’s heart.
We come confidently and joyfully to St. Paul on March 9, knowing that whatever the outcome of our legislative activity, her Immaculate Heart will triumph.
Jason Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.