What Fatima's Third
Secret Taught Us
It came as a bit of a surprise in May when the Holy See announced
the content of the third “secret” of Fatima. Speculation had waxed
and waned since 1917, when the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared six times
between May and October to three shepherd children of Fatima, Portugal.
The children reported that, during the third appearance, they had
received three messages from the Blessed Mother. Church officials
allowed only two of the messages to be made public, and those only
in 1942, when Lucia, the last surviving witness, recorded them in
her memoirs. (Francisco and Jacinta had died of childhood influenza.)
The third secret remained under wraps.
In October 1917, there had been the “miracle of the sun,” where people
among a crowd of 70,000 reported the sun diving and swirling in the
sky at the precise moment the Fatima children had predicted. Thus,
the three Fatima prophecies carried weight for untold thousands. The
first was reported as a vision of hell and a request to repent and
pray for sinners; the second was said to foretell the end of World
War I and the beginning of World War II and the rise and fall of Communism.
These predictions of trouble were open to interpretation, and unfortunately
were used in all manner of ways to garner support for reactionary
causes, including, for some, outright rejection of Vatican Council
What could be so horrible
in the Virgin’s third prediction? Doomsayers had a field day, especially
as nuclear winter seemed to loom during the Cold War decades. Reports
filtered out that each new pope, but practically no one else, had
read the secret. Since the second secret predicted the rise and fall
of Communism, the McCarthy-brand anti-Communists lent their flavor
to the Fatima movement in this country.
Now we can look back
and see that perhaps there was good reason to withhold such a revelation.
Save a Pope
During the ceremony
marking beatification of two of the Fatima children (the third, Lucia,
is 93 years old), Pope John Paul II again publicly thanked the Virgin
of Fatima for saving his life. It had been on her feast day, May 13,
in 1981 that would-be Turkish assassin Mehmet Ali Agca shot the pope
in St. Peter’s Square.
After the May 13, 2000,
beatification, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state,
told a crowd of 600,000 pilgrims the third secret. It had to do with
an attack on a bishop clothed in white, he said. “He makes his way
toward the cross amid the corpses of those who were martyred. He,
too, falls to the ground, apparently under a burst of gunfire.”
John Paul II unambiguously
says that the third prophecy was fulfilled at his shooting. A longtime
friend of Mary, he had prayed for the intercession of Our Lady of
Fatima to save his own life. His prayers were answered. This mystic-pope
returned to his historic papacy carrying a sacred wound.
One can see why no pope
revealed the secret before the 1981 assassination attempt—it would
have been an invitation for some crackpot to attack him. Now we can
only speculate why John Paul waited nearly 20 more years. He had returned
to Fatima a year after the shooting in thanksgiving for his life and
donated a bullet taken from his body to be placed among the diamonds
in the crown of a Fatima statue. That’s clear evidence that he made
the “secret” connection from the beginning.
Vatican sources say
that timing of the announcement during this Jubilee year was an attempt
to quell doomsday predictions (a distraction from the true purpose
of the Jubilee) and was related to Our Lady of Fatima’s call to universal
That might be the most
important thing that we learn from this century-spanning saga: We
are to repent, turn from all personal and social sin, and live according
to the gospel.
This, of course, is
the message of Jesus. It was fully revealed in his life, death and
resurrection. And it’s not surprising that an authentic private revelation
would echo it. Who could argue that the 20th century, filled with
its joys and griefs, didn’t need to hear it?
Let’s keep things in
perspective, though. God is fully revealed to us in Jesus. Devotion
to Mary and all private revelation points to the event of Jesus Christ.
As Cardinal Ratzinger, the pope’s guardian of Roman Catholic doctrine,
reminded us at the time of the Fatima announcement, other people’s
private revelations “are certainly not essential for a Christian....We
are not dealing with dogmas of faith.”
If an authenticated
private revelation nourishes your faith and unites you more closely
to Jesus, all the better. If it is a stumbling block, turn your attention
to the central event: Gather at the feet of the parable-telling master,
go to the foot of the cross, to the empty tomb, to the Upper Room
at Pentecost. That is the long-held teaching of the Church. You’ll
find ample opportunity for this by participating fully in the sacramental
life of the Church and living in the world accordingly.
In any of the places
where you encounter the Lord, though, you’ll see Mary close by—listening
to the parables, weeping at the foot of the cross, waiting in the
Upper Room. When you do, keep in mind two things. Mary always points
to Jesus. And everything mystical we say about Mary, including her
glorious Assumption that we celebrate this month, is a statement about
the divine nature of her son.—J.B.F.