“At last someone comes from Russia.” Those were the words of Sr. Lucia, the sole survivor of the three little shepherds to whom Our Lady appeared at Fatima in 1917, to Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz when he came to her from Moscow. Archbishop Kondrusiewicz is the administrator of the vast territory of European Russia. He was able to meet Sr. Lucia at her Carmelite Monastery of St. Thérèse in Coimbra a few years ago.
On September 21, 1998, I brought to the Carmelite Monastery in Coimbra, Portugal, a special 4’2” statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary destined for the first Fatima shrine in Russia. Sr. Lucia and the other contemplative nuns venerated this special image of the Mother of God. The statue stood in their choir area behind the grille. I saw Sr. Lucia near the statue during the Mass I offered in their chapel with pilgrims from the United States.
Before the Immaculate Heart image was taken to Sr. Lucia, it was blessed at the very spot of the apparitions in Fatima. Three bishops blessed it at Fatima, including the current administrator, the Most Reverend Serafim S. Ferreira e Silva, who also sent a message with me to deliver to the people of Russia.
Sr. Lucia assured me that she would be united in prayer with the people of Russia on October 11, 1998, when the first shrine to Our Lady of Fatima in Russia would be dedicated in St. Petersburg. On that day, a message came to Catholics in Russia from His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, sending blessings as they dedicated this shrine. The shrine was a gift to the Holy Father in honor of his 20th anniversary as Pontiff. In conjunction with the shrine’s dedication, on that very day in all the Catholic parishes throughout Russia, the people prayed for and honored Pope John Paul II’s 20th anniversary. A plaque was erected within the shrine designating the shrine as a sign of honor to Pope John Paul II for 20 years as Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.
There were three occasions when I was present to witness Archbishop Kondrusiewicz experience deep, heartfelt emotion concerning Our Lady of Fatima. The first was in 1991, when I was asked to tell the Archbishop about the Fatima area as he led the first pilgrimage ever to come from Russia to Fatima. I led him into the Little Chapel of Apparitions, and stood with him at the very site of the apparitions and the miraculous statue of Our Lady, which stands on the spot where the Mother of God said: “Russia will be converted. . . . In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” I took his hands into mine and said, “Archbishop, you have been destined by heaven to be instrumental in the fulfillment of those words.” Tears welled up in the Archbishop’s eyes and he fell to his knees in prayer just a few feet from the exact spot where Our Lady stood on the little holm-oak in the Cova da Iria.
The second time I detected heartfelt emotion in the Archbishop was when he came to America in June 1993. He then stood before mid- America’s Fatima Family Shrine in Alexandria, South Dakota. He placed a crown on a replica of the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Fatima and said, “I pray we can have such a shrine to Our Lady of Fatima in Russia one day.” A cardinal from the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Bishop of Fatima has previously crowned Our Lady in the same manner at this shrine. But the crown the Archbishop from Russia placed on this image remains undisturbed to the present day.
I offered to have the Fatima Family Apostolate in America raise the funds for such a shrine in Russia, which became a reality just last year. Thus, the third time that I witnessed Archbishop Kondrusiewicz express deep emotions regarding Our Lady of Fatima was October 11, 1998, when he dedicated Russia’s very first shrine to Our Lady of Fatima in St. Petersburg. During the two-hour ceremony, the Archbishop poignantly spoke of this unexpected help for the Church in Russia, this shrine to Our Lady of Fatima, which gives hope to the future of the Church in Russia.
Our Lady spoke of Russia at Fatima during the six apparitions from May 13 through October 13 in 1917. These were the same six months that the Bolshevik regime was taking over the Russian government. It put atheistic Communism in place.This evil force would reign for seven decades and from Russia it would spread its evils throughout the world. The poison of Communism, with its philosophy of dialectic materialism and spirit of atheism, did indeed spread to all nations as Our Lady of Fatima had prophesied. The effects of its poison remain widespread in the world today.
The establishment of this first shrine to Our Lady of Fatima in Russia is a sign of the approaching triumph of the Immaculate Heart, the coming conversion of Russia, and a sign of new hope and new spiritual beginnings for Russia.
When I first agreed, on behalf of the Fatima Family Apostolate, to raise funds for this shrine, I thought Catholics in America would contribute the necessary funding immediately. Instead, it took more than five years of solicitation. What became obvious early on was that Our Lady wanted this shrine to her Immaculate Heart to come from thousands of ordinary Catholics, “little people,” let us say. No one of great wealth made a contribution.
It also became clear as we progressed with the plans for the shrine that many Catholics in America know little about Russia. Some offered to do nothing because they thought Russia was already converted. They had even stopped praying for the conversion of Russia. Others refused to do anything because they claimed the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by the Pope and bishops of the world had never happened.
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz, in his talk at the dedication of Russia’s first Fatima shrine, however, made it very clear that things in Russia began to change almost immediately when on March 25, 1984, Pope John Paul II in union with the bishops of the world, including the Eastern Orthodox, consecrated the world and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Archbishop has met with the Pope to discuss Russia on more than one occasion. When he showed His Holiness a picture of the International Statue of Our Lady of Fatima in Red Square before the Kremlin, the Pope became emotional and said, “It is a miracle.”
Changes in Russia Came Quickly
I interviewed the Archbishop for television. When he quoted Our Lady’s prophecy, “Russia will be converted,” I mentioned that some think the whole process of conversion is taking place all too slowly. He replied that all things considered, including the suppression of religion for seven decades, things have been happening quickly. “One can change the name of a city easily and quickly. [Leningrad once again is called St. Petersburg.] But it’s not so easy to change the hearts of millions of people, and this takes time.”
The signs of the coming conversions are there if one looks more closely. The Archbishop sees the first Fatima shrine in Russia as a sign in itself. The signs are there also in the Roman Catholic Seminary established in St. Petersburg, which has 77 Russian students.
The signs were there when I met Fr. Vadim, a 27-year-old priest, who became the first native Russian ordained for the diocesan priesthood of the Catholic Archdiocese of Russia. He said to me: “I am perhaps one of the first fulfillments of Our Lady’s promise that Russia would be converted.” His parents, brothers, and sisters are still non-believers. He told me that at the age of 12 he was drawn to the Catholic Church. He was baptized at age 15, later went to the university, and finally was sent to the seminary in Poland and returned to be ordained in Russia in 1998.
I saw other signs in the six people to whom Archbishop Kondrusiewicz administered the Sacrament of Confirmation during the Mass of dedication of the Fatima shrine. One was a 23-year-old man whose father was a former KGB agent. Another middle-aged man was originally a Muslim. I saw signs in the hundreds of people who came to the dedication of the Fatima shrine and stood outside the shrine area in the cold. I saw signs in the people surging forth, kneeling with their children, and kissing the feet of the image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary I had brought from Fatima to Russia and placed in this shrine.
Spiritual Revolution Needed
Conditions in Russia are sad. There are millions of baptized Orthodox in Russia, yet only two percent go to Church on Sunday. While I was in Russia, a public demonstration was called among all workers across all of Russia for October 7, because of low wages. They were to walk off their jobs and meet in strategic places to demonstrate, like Palace Square in St. Petersburg and Red Square in Moscow. The people feared violence and the beginning of another revolution. I thought, “Our Lady won’t let that happen. It is the Feast of Our Lady of Victories, Our Lady of the Rosary.” The papers the next day rated the response at a “D.” The people are tired of revolution. A spiritual revolution is what is needed.
A recent survey in Russia showed that one-third of the working people average $32 or less in monthly wages. Older people live on a pension of $30 a month, but sometimes go for months without receiving a check. I talked to a professor at the University in Moscow who gets less than $40 per month. Yet food costs are comparable to those of other countries. There are black markets, many street people, and most live in very poor conditions.
Russia is not yet converted. One can only speak of the beginnings of the conversions. To date, comparatively little help has come to the Church in Russia from the former free world.
Prayer and sacrifice, especially the acts of reparation requested by Our Lady for first Saturdays, ar e still urgently needed for Russia. Sr. Lucia said years ago, after the iron curtain lifted, that it is important to continue with first Saturdays so that the conversion of Russia will be more perfect.
Many months before the fall of the iron curtain and a couple years before the demise of the former Soviet Union, Sr. Lucia told me that God had accepted the collegial consecration of March 25, 1984, and that the Lord would keep His word. I was asked to publicize it in my magazine, the Immaculate Heart Messenger, as director of the Fatima Family Apostolate. I fear that many thought that now our obligations toward Russia were completed and forgot prayer and sacrifice, first Saturdays, and the practical help we need to give for the Church in Russia.
The promises of Our Lady, “Russia will be converted. . . . In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph” are absolute promises. Since the Immaculate Heart— and what it means for faith and love of God and one another—is so prominent in the message of Fatima, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz agreed that the special image in Russia’s first shrine to Our Lady of Fatima should not be the pilgrim Virgin, but the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
The shrine in St. Petersburg is attached to the historic St. Catherine of Alexandria Church, which dates back to the early 1700s (see March ’98 Lay Witness, page 23). St. Catherine’s is largely in ruins. Used for secular purposes and under the government for seven decades, St. Catherine’s was devastated by fire in February 1984 with the interior contents exploding.
After St. Catherine’s was returned to the Roman Catholic Church, it was found that all that remained was a shell of this church. Exteriorly, it looked fine. When its doors were opened, four feet of rubble greeted the onlookers. One of those onlookers was Dr. Romaulda Hankowska, expert conservationist and restorer, who directed the reconstruction of the Marian shrine at St. Catherine’s. Two to three million dollars will be needed to completely restore this historic church once known as “the heart of Catholicism in Russia.”
When I first negotiated with Archbishop Kondrusiewicz about building a shrine in Russia to honor Our Lady of Fatima for liberation from atheistic Communism, our first plan was to build a Fatima shrine that was separated from any other church or chapel in Russia. When I discovered the history of St. Catherine’s Church and realized that the limited number of Catholic people in Russia today had, in most cases, no churches in which to worship, I suggested that the devastated Marian chapel at the west end of St. Catherine’s, between the transept and sanctuary, where once existed the chapel of the Annunciation in the 1800s, be restored and become the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Russia. To my delight, the Archbishop agreed. Today, the people are grateful to worship there, even though they do not yet have the means of heating it during the winter months.
In late 1996, the Archbishop wrote:
For many years, we have prayed for Russia as it suffered under the yoke of a Communist and atheist regime. Since the political changes we have been able to begin rebuilding the Catholic Church in Russia. The Holy Father has given me responsibility for the Church in European Russia. My task is an enormous one. Everywhere our churches lie in ruins.
In the lovely city of St. Petersburg, which was once the capital of Russia, we have what is the biggest and most venerable of our Russian Catholic churches. The church of St. Catherine, built in the reign of Catherine the Great, is a building of outstanding architectural merit reflecting the great importance it has always had for the Church in Russia. You could say that St. Catherine’s was the heart of the Russian Catholic Church until the Communist regime closed it. . . . It was my joy to be able to officially reopen St. Catherine’s in 1994 and now it is my ardent hope that we can repair this great Catholic shrine so that Mass can once more be celebrated in dignified surroundings. What a wonderful sign this would be of the mercy and grace of God who makes all things new. Russia has been liberated from her chains. Now may St. Catherine’s too arise from the ashes!
All of Russia’s Shrine to Reflect Fatima
You can appreciate why Archbishop Kondrusiewicz fought to hold back the tears when he dedicated the glorious Fatima shrine chapel attached to the ruins of St. Catherine’s. Over 100 gold mosaics adorn the ceiling in this chapel of restored marble walls and pillars. As we walked through St. Catherine’s ruins to reach the Fatima shrine chapel, it was like walking through purgatory into heaven.
I noticed that there remained in the shrine five empty niches, waiting for large statues to fill them. I inquired of Fr. Eugene Heinrichs, O.P., the pastor, how these niches might be filled. We agreed that this ought not to be simply a chapel in which there happened to be the beautiful image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Fatima. Since this was the official Fatima shrine for Russia, everything in this chapel should speak of Fatima.
While the restoration of the Marian Chapel during the past two years required some hundreds of thousands of dollars, they had no money for the statues for the other five empty niches. I had not been told previously about this need. I promised Fr. Heinrichs I’d find the money and we determined that St. Joseph, holding the Christ Child— both blessing the world—should be in the niche immediately across from Our Lady with the altar and tabernacle in between. The Bishop of Fatima explains the vision of the Holy Family during the miracle of the spinning of the sun as a call for the sanctification of the family.
Next to the Holy Family would be Jacinta and Francisco of Fatima when they are raised to the altars. At the entrance to the chapel would be St. Dominic, saint of the Rosary, and St. Peter with the keys, as the Pope is prominent in the Fatima message. St. Peter is also patron saint of St. Petersburg. Fr. Heinrichs is contacting Russian artists to make these five statues while I am raising funds to pay for them.
In 1917, at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, there were a record number of 32,000 parishioners. Today, St. Catherine’s has 500 parishioners, with the number gradually growing. It tells of the century’s devastation, not simply to the Church, but to the faith of the people, and that conversion and triumph still await us.
Don’t Send Rosaries— Pray the Rosary!
If the churches can be rebuilt in Russia, if people can have a dignified place to worship, people will be attracted to the Church. The answer is not simply sending more rosaries to Russia. Millions of rosaries have already been sent and now there are many more rosaries than there are Catholics. I heard of one place alone in Russia where they have two million rosaries piled up. Better to keep those rosaries and pray them at home for the conversion of Russia and for the needs of the people in rebuilding their churches and forming the next generation of priests and lay Catholics.