Peace, penance and the fatima message
On Saturday, May 13, 2017, the Catholic World was glued to Fatima, a small town in Portugal, where Pope Francis canonised Francisco and his sister Jacinta Marto, two of the three children whose visions of the Virgin Mary 100 years ago marked one of the most important events of the 20th century Catholic Church.
Tens of thousands of devotees lined the pontiff’s route and tossed petals, as his motorcade drove past. Over one million people witnessed the historic event, which was beamed live across the world. On May 13, 1917, while they were grazing their sheep, the children saw the first of a half-dozen visions of the Virgin Mary. They said she revealed to them three secrets: apocalyptic messages foreshadowing the Second World War, hell, the rise and fall of communism and the death of a pope – and urged them to pray for peace and turn away from sin.
At first doubted by their parents and the local Catholic Church, the children’s story slowly gained believers and was eventually accepted as authentic by the Vatican in 1930. The two children, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, who were nine and seven at the time of the apparitions, died of influenza two years later. Their cousin, Lucia dos Santos, who became the main raconteur of their tale, is on track for beatification, the first step toward becoming a saint. Her case could not begin, until after her death in 2005.
For non-Catholics, the apparitions of Fatima may sound as a fairy tale. But we know otherwise. We believe strongly that God does allow some of His chosen children experience divine visions with specific messages geared toward enhancing the spiritual well-being of the world. There have been several reported cases of apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary seen across the world, but not all are approved by the Church. Indeed, painstaking measures are taken by experts to ascertain the veracity or otherwise of such revelations. One of the few approved by the Church is that of Fatima.
The message re-echoed by the Fatima apparition is the call for peace and penance. In the Gospels, the word penance means a conversion of one’s life, a turning away from sin, and a turning back to God. As Our Lady insisted at Fatima: “Men must amend their lives, and ask pardon for their sins…They must no longer offend Our Lord, Who is already so much offended.” The Fatima message is a call for men to give up sinful practices, which grieve God and draw down His chastisements on the world, and to make reparation for them.
Commenting on Our Lady’s request for penance, Sr. Lucia wrote: “The part of the last apparition, which has remained most deeply imprinted on my heart, is the prayer of our heavenly Mother begging us not to offend any more Almighty God, Who is already so much offended.”
Shortly before her death, Jacinta also remarked: “If men only knew what eternity is, how they would make all possible efforts to amend their lives . . . mortification and sacrifice give great pleasure to Our Divine Lord.” The world is truly in need of peace and true repentance. Notwithstanding your religious inclination, we are all bound by one world and one humanity. We must all strive for peace, which can only be brought about when we know God, Who is love personified. When we know Him, we will learn to love one another and then peace will grow in every heart.
Very Rev. Msgr. Osu, Director, Social Communications, Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos.