The Catholic Church regards the three parts of the Fatima Secret and the total Fatima message to be important and of great value to the spiritual lives of its people. This is seen in the manner in which His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, chose to have the contents of the third part of the Secret introduced to the world. It was on the occasion of the beatification of the two little shepherds of Fatima, Blessed Jacinta and Blessed Francisco, May 13, 2000.
Prior to the public release of the Secret, the Pope sent a hand-delivered letter to the 93-year-old Sister Lucia, sole survivor of the 1917 Fatima apparitions. It was through the person of the Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, accompanied by Bishop Serafim de Sousa Ferreira e Silva of Leiria-Fatima diocese. The Pope explained to Sister Lucia in his letter: “This is the Congregation which works most closely with the Pope in defending the true Catholic faith, and which since 1957, as you know, has kept your hand-written letter containing the third part of the ‘secret’ revealed on 13 July 1917 at Cova da Iria, Fatima.”
The Pope also writes: “Sister Lucia, you may speak openly and candidly to Archbishop Bertone, who will report your answers directly to me.”
This letter to Sister Lucia from the Pope through the Congregation which defends “the true Catholic faith” is significant. More than a quarter of a century ago I was well acquainted with the late Father Joachim Maria Alonso, C.M.F., the official historian of Fatima, and interviewed him extensively. He had taught philosophy and theology in Rome, Madrid and Lisbon. He had studied every document on Fatima. He was a member of several international Marian societies. He said: “Fatima is in accord with the mind of the Church.” My interviews with him help me now to appreciate and understand better the long Commentary on Fatima and its Secret which the Pope recently charged the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to issue.
Of the third part of the Secret of Fatima, Father Alonso said to me over 25 years ago that he knew it’s contents implicitly in general, not its specifics. He got his conclusions from the many documents and first two parts already then revealed.. “It consists only of prophecies about the new condition of the Church in the world.... All who know how to read can see for themselves that the Fatima Secret has something to do with the crisis of faith in the Church today. There are two parts of the Secret already known. The third part forms a unity with the other two parts. To understand it, it must be understood in relation to the first two parts; and therefore I make an interpretation that scholars today call ‘structural.’ In a very specialized sense it signifies that everything must be understood in conjunction with all that surrounds it. It is the same, in a biblical context, as exegesis.’”
In his book The Secret of Fatima; Fact and Legend Alonso analyzed the third part of the Secret now revealed. In 1976 Father Alonso wrote: “Although in no way meant to fill us with fear and dread, Fatima and its Secret do present us with something deeply serious, for they bring us face to face with the mysteries of eternal life.”
Father Alonso noted that “the fourth Memoir. written in December 1941, repeats the same text about the July Secret as the third Memoir , except that it adds this phrase: “In Portugal, the dogma of the faith will always be preserved: etc....’ Within this section marked by dots was the third part of the Secret.” Lucia had written down the first two parts in 1941 concerning the terrible vision of hell beheld by the children. In order to save souls from hell the second part of the Secret revealed that God wishes to establish in the world devotion to the Immaculate Heart of His Mother.
In the June 26, 2000, release of the official Commentary on “The Message of Fatima” by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as a result of a direct order of His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, we see these same words: “(7) In the ‘Fourth Memoir’ Sister Lucia adds: ‘In Portugal, the dogma of the faith will always be preserved, etc....’”.
The June 26, 2000, commentary also spoke of the need to interpret the third part of the Secret, not in isolation of the other parts, but, within the total message of Fatima as Fr. Alonso told me over 25 years ago. Cardinal Sodano on May 13, 2000, in the presence of the Holy Father and Sister Lucia, said “the vision of Fatima concerns above all the war waged by atheist systems against the Church and Christians,” and it describes the immense suffering endured by the witnesses to the faith in the last cenüury. “Atheist systems” refers to lack of faith in God and His Church and consequent persecutions waged against believers. Communism emanating out of Russia was certainly designed to bring a crisis to the faith of peoples, in fact, to destroy it all together. Communism held: “Religion is the opium of the people.”
The document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was titled: “The Message of Fatima.”
Pope John Paul II in the past has said, “Fatima has imposed itself on the Church. ... It is now more relevant than ever.” The Pope has traveled to Fatima three times, each time thanking our Lady for sparing his life in 1981. He said: “It was a mother’s hand that guided the bullet’s path and in his throes the Pope halted at the threshold of death.”
On May 13, 2000, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State, standing beside the Pope at Fatima, gave a general commentary on the secret as directed by His Holiness and announced: “The Pope has charged the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with making public the third part of the secret, after the preparation of an appropriate Commentary.
The Commentary which was also placed on the Vatican internet says: “Fatima is undoubtedly the most prophetic of modern apparitions.” It repeats in entirety the 1984 Collegial Consecration of all peoples to the Immaculate Heart by the Pope and world’s Bishops that was required for the conversion of Russia. This contributed to the end of the Communist Empire or Soviet Union and the spread of Russia’s atheistic errors. It ends “a period of history marked by tragic human lust for power and evil, yet pervaded by the merciful love of God and the watchful care of the Mother of Jesus and of the Church.”
Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation, said the third part of the Secret “concerns above all the war waged by atheistic systems against the Church and Christians.” It describes the many martyrs and suffering endured by witnesses of the faith and especially by the popes of the 20th Century. He said it helped “us to understand the signs of the times and to respond to them rightly in faith. ... ‘To save souls’ has emerged as the key word of the the first and second parts of the ‘Secret’ and the key word of this third part is the threefold cry: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!’” We are told it reaffirms Scripture and the call to prayer and penance still applies.
Cardinal Ratzinger insisted the Fatima Message must be understood as a whole, not in a sensational way. Considered as a whole it concerns the crisis of faith and “the exhortation to prayer as the path of ‘salvation for souls’ and, likewise, the summons to penance and conversion.” He in no way dismissed the message as unimportant as seemed to be indicated even within a CNS release in late June, based on the secular La Republica, a major secular newspaper of Italy and titled “Vatican official says third Fatima secret ‘not essential.’”
In the official Commentary Cardinal Ratzinger made all the necessary distinctions, covering all the bases, seemingly anticipating potential objections. Private revelation may be accepted on human faith and does not fall under divine faith as does public revelation which ended with the death of the last Apostle. His Secretary, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, made a personal visit with Sister Lucia who reassured him, on behalf of the Holy Father, in the presence of the Bishop of Leiria-Fatima, that indeed the third part of the Secret he presented her in writing in an envelope was her own letter and handwriting of that Secret back in 1943, delivered January 3, 1944. “Sister Lucia was lucid and at ease” - something this writer has often heard repeatedly from those he knows in Portugal and Carmel there and who have had personal contacts with Sister Lucia until the present. She is gifted with intelligence and wit, excellent memory and clarity of thought. “Lucid” would anticipate those who might say Sister Lucia was very old, lapse of memory, or now mentally handicapped. In all this we are reminded that Our Lady promised Sister Lucia she would remain long on this earth to spread devotion to her Immaculate Heart.
The Commentary continues: “At this point, Archbishop Bertone presented two envelopes to her: the first containing the second, which held the third part of the ‘secret’ of Fatima.” This agreed with the information I had from authorities many years ago in Fatima when I wrote the book, Rediscovering Fatima (OSV book).
But was “the Bishop clothed in white” who prays for all the faithful and makes his way towards the Cross amid corpses of the martyred bishops, priests, men and women Religious and many lay people, really the Pope? Could it not have been Archbishop Oscar y´omero gunned down in El Salvador in 1980? Such objections voiced in Europe and America were seemingly anticipated. Sister Lucia was asked by Archbishop Bertone: “Is the principal figure in the vision the Pope?” At once she replied that it was and recalled that the three children were very sad about the suffering of the Pope, and that Jacinta kept saying “Poor Holy Father, I am very sad for sinners!” Sister Lucia said they did not know which Pope it was but that “it was the Pope who was suffering and that made us suffer too.” There was good reason why Sister Lucia asked years ago that the letter be given to the Pope.
Is the world destined to destroy itself by atomic or nuclear power? Did Agca act under divine impulse and really wasn’t responsible for his act in the assassination attempt against the Pope May 13, 1981? The official Commentary answers these questions. With reference to “the angel with the flaming sword’ that seemed about to set the world on fire [but] is stopped as light from that fire “died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand; pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!’”
The Commentary also says: “In this way, the importance of human freedom is underlined: the future is not in fact unchangeably set, and the image which the children saw is in no way a film preview of a future in which nothing can be changed. Indeed, the whole point of the vision is to bring freedom onto the scene and to steer freedom in a positive direction. The purpose of the vision is not to show a film of an irrevocably fixed future. Its meaning is exactly the opposite: it is meant to mobilize the foy´ce of change in the right direction. Therefore we must totally discount fatalistic explanations of the ‘secret,’ such as, for example, the claim that the would-be assassin of 13 May 1981 was merely an instrument of the divine plan guided by Providence and could not therefore have acted freely, or similar ideas in circulation. Rather, the vision speaks of dangers and how we might be saved from them.”
The Commentary reminds us that the call for prayer and penance still exists in the third millennium. It should be remembered that the four acts of penance associated with First Saturdays was the special Penance called for by Our Lady of Fatima and was already in 1917 associated with the Collegial Consecration of the world and Russia. “In order to prevent this, [persecutions] I shall come to ask for the Consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays.”
I received word from Sister at the time she went public in 1989 that the Consecration of Russia by the Pope and bishops of the world was accomplished March 25, 1984, and “the Lord will keep His word.” She also said that First Saturdays continue to be important “so that the conversion may be more perfect.”
Collegial Consecration of Russia Accomplished
The official Commentary reminds us that the Collegial Consecration is accomplished. Immediately after republishing the exact words of the 1984 Consecration, the Commentary adds: “Sister Lucia personally confirmed that this solemn and universal act of consecration corresponded to what Our Lady wished. ‘Yes, it has been done just as Our Lady asked, on 25 March 1984’: Letter of 8 November 1989. Hence any further discussion or request is without basis.” - Such are the words of the Commentary charged to be made by Pope John Paul II.
The fact that the many sufferings and persecutions foretold in the first two parts of the secret have come to pass in the 20th Century is dealt with by Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, SDB in the Commentary quoting Sister Lucia in her letter to the Holy Father, dated 12 May 1982:
“The third part of the secret refers to Our Lady’s words: ‘If not [Russia] will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated’ (13-VII-1917).
“The third part of the secret is a symbolic revelation, referring to this part of the Message, conditioned by whether we accept or not what the Message itself asks of us: ‘If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, etc.’ Since we did not heed this appeal of the Message, we see that it has been fulfilled. Russia has invaded the world with her errors. And if we have not yet seen the complete fulfillment of the final part of this prophecy, we are going towards it little by little with great strides. If we do not reject the path of sin, hatred, revenge, injustice, violations of the rights of the human person, immorality and violence, etc. ... It is people themselves who are preparing their own punishment.”
What was it that brought down the Iron Curtain and dissolved the Soviet Union which for decades had the goal of world domination and to destroy the faith of peoples? It was not politics. The answer is seen in the interpretation given June 26, 2000, on the third part of the Secret given by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “... Faith and prayer are forces which can influence history and that in the end prayer is more powerful than bullets and faith more powerful than armies.”
Years ago already a symposium was held at Fatima featuring theologians studying the Fatima message. They concluded that central to the message was the call for devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Cardinal Ratzinger dealt also with the meaning of God’s desire expressed at Fatima that devotion be established to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
After recalling the terrible moment when the children were given a vision of hell and the fall of “the souls of poor sinners,” Cardinal Ratzinger said, “And now they are told why they have been exposed to this moment: ‘in order to save souls’ - to show the way to salvation. The words of the First Letter of Peter come to mind: ‘As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls’ (1:9). To reach this goal, the way indicated ... is devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
Meaning of Devotion to the Immaculate Heart
Cardinal Ratzinger then explained briefly the meaning of this devotion. “In biblical language, the ‘heart’ indicates the center of human life, the point where reason, will, temperament and sensitivity converge, where the person finds his unity and his interior orientation. According to Matthew 5:8, the ‘immaculate heart’ is a heart which, with God’s grace, has come to perfect interior unity and therefore ‘sees God.’ To be ‘devoted’ to the Immaculate Heart of Mary means therefore to embrace this attitude of heart, which makes the fiat - ‘your will be done’ - the defining center of one’s whole life. It might be objected that we should not place a human being between ourselves and Christ. But then we remember that Paul did not hesitate to say to his communities: ‘imitate me’ (1 Cor 4:16; Phil 3:17; 1 Th 1:6; 2 Th 3:7,9). In the Apostle they could see concretely what it meant to follow Christ. But from whom might we better learn in every age than from the Mother of the Lord?”
Did Sister Lucia agree with the interpretation given by Cardinal Sodano on May 13, 2000, in the presence of the Pope and herself? [See last issue of the Messenger for this account by Cardinal Sodano]. Yes, Sister Lucia did indeed agree. Cardinal Ratzinger said that when the statement of interpretation of Cardinal Sodano, on behalf of the Pope, was presented to Sister Lucia she “responded by pointing out that she had received the vision but not its interpretation. The interpretation, she said, belonged not to the visionary but to the Church. After reading the text, however, she said that this interpretation corresponded to what she had experienced and that on her part she thought the interpretation correct.”
Millions living the spirituality of Fatima message which “reaffirms the Gospel” can bring the “new springtime for the Church” in the third Millennium which our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, foresees. For this continued prayer and penance, and in a special way, First Saturdays are important.