One hundred years ago, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three young shepherd children in Portugal. And she showed them a vision of Hell.
It’s natural for us to gravitate toward the happy parts of stories, and so it can be easy to forget the drama of Fatima. There, the Lord, through His mother, showed three kids aged ten and under the terrors of eternal torment. Think of the worst scenes of Dante or Bosch, but real, and even more horrible than we can imagine. Once, as some 70,000 gathered to see the visions, Mary and Jesus sent the sun plunging toward the crowd, threatening a fiery apocalypse.
Why would our loving mother terrify us? “Fatima is, first of all, a dreadful warning to the world to stop sinning,” observed Fr. Thomas McGlynn, O.P., the priest who sculpted an image of Our Lady of Fatima under the direction of Sr. Lucia, who had been one of those three children. The terror of the visions of Fatima helps us to remember the enormity of our sin. We like to remember the good parts of life, so it’s easy to forget that each and every sin of ours is an offense against the God Who loves us.
Even if the horror of sin had been the only content of the visions, we could not have complained of injustice. But God is infinitely gracious to His people, and He continues to offer us hope. Fr. McGlynn continues,
The enormity of mankind’s rebellion against God and God’s infinite aversion for sin form the foundation of the Fatima message. Then He gives the sinner hope in the revelation that He will accept repentance made through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Fatima manifests the most misunderstood of the divine attributes—justice and mercy.
Our Lady does not ask us to accept this promise of hope simply on her word, but she also grants singular gifts as evidence of God’s continuing love for us. And, as we might expect from the woman who crushes the serpent underfoot, she outdoes the drama of evil in her working of good. Take as an example her intervention in the attempted assassination of St. John Paul II. The Pope was violently shot in full public view and rushed to the hospital, covered in blood. But in God’s providence, the attacker had chosen a poor date: May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. As St. John Paul later expressed it, “one hand pulled the trigger, but another guided the bullet.” He survived to visit and forgive his would-be assassin, and he continued to serve the Church as Supreme Pontiff for another quarter century.
Our Dominican church of St. Vincent Ferrer in New York City has taken up these themes in establishing the St. John Paul II Society and Shrine for devotion to the sainted Pope under the protection of Our Lady of Fatima. The shrine itself, located in the church, includes a model that Fr. McGlynn carved in preparation for sculpting the image of Our Lady that is now at the basilica in Fatima. At the foot of the statue in New York, visitors can pray before a relic of St. John Paul: a blood-soaked piece of the clothing that he was wearing during the May 13, 1981 assassination attempt.
If you’re near Manhattan, we encourage you to visit and offer your petitions to Our Lady of Fatima and to St. John Paul II. We also invite you to join in the prayers of the St. John Paul II Society by getting in touch with the Society online. In particular, the chaplain of the Society will be offering a special Mass this Thursday evening, the vigil of the 100th anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun. You are welcome to join your own petitions to this Mass by submitting them online.
We pray that Our Lady of Fatima will continue to intercede for us that we might repent of our sins and so be saved.