This week, the Church is engaged in the International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. A few months ago I composed an article about Fátima and ecumenism that I would like to share with you.
Fátima and Ecumenism
Between April and May, 2005, I was preparing for my first pilgrimage to Fátima. While preparing, I came across the book Fatima: The Story Behind the Miracles by Renzo and Roberto Allegri.[i] It is a rather endearing narrative of how two Italian journalists went to Fátima and were guided by Fr. José Valinho, the nephew of Sr. Lúcia. There are any number of gems in this book, one in particular strikes me: Fátima and ecumenism. Is there something in the message of Fátima that speaks to the unity of all Christians in the same flock under one shepherd?
After walking through much history with Fr. Valinho, the trio end up going to the Carmel in Coimbra, Portugal.[ii] Family members were allowed to visit Sr. Lúcia and so the Allegris stayed outside while Fr. Valinho went into the convent. Afterwards, the three talked about the visit. At one point of the conversation, the Allegris ask Fr. Valinho, “Do you think your aunt still sees the Blessed Virgin?” Fr. Valinho responded:
Yes, I personally think she continues to receive visits from the Blessed Mother. I sense it from the way she acts at times. Every so often, she begins to talk about a certain topic and she will continue to do so for months, every time I go to visit her. It seems as though she has to carry out a task that has been entrusted to her.
A while back, she talked continually about unity in the Church. She kept saying that the various Christian denominations should be united. “More things unite them than divide them,” she said. “Our Lord and the Blessed Mother want unity.” I know from experience that when she uses such expressions, it means that she has been told that she should take an interest in that topic.[iii]
The year 2017 had three important anniversaries: the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and the 100th of the events in Fátima as well as the Russian Revolution. The Reformation divided Christianity in the West, and led indirectly in its various incarnations to the early-modern phenomena of skepticism and socialism and eventually, closer to our era, Communism. This led to what Pope Leo XIII, somewhat boldly, called in 1878 the “most deadly war” that has been “waged by innovators against the Catholic faith” since the sixteenth century. The goal, he said, was to “subvert all revelation” and to “overthrow the supernatural order” for the sake of “reason alone” (Quod Apostolici Muneris 2).[iv]
Thus, as many errors dealing especially with economics and the human person expanded and accelerated over time, growing out from their original root cause(s), they came into their own in Russia under Communism and were denounced by Our Lady at Fátima in July, 1917.[v] She warned that these errors would be spread over the world if Russia were not consecrated to her Immaculate Heart. Of all these errors, it seems that we can identify atheism as being central.
In order to establish itself as a major power player in the world, atheism has customarily relied upon external force and revolution.[vi] Gradually, faith and good morals experienced a diminution as the rising tide of atheism and revolution spread across the world. The reign of God in human hearts suffered as people were turned against God and the supernatural order. At Fátima, Our Lady alluded to this diminution when she said that Portugal would preserve the dogma of the faith.[vii] Does this mean that elsewhere the faith would not be preserved? History seems to give an affirmative answer.[viii]
A letter that Sr. Lúcia wrote to Pope Pius XII in June, 1958 indicates that atheism continued to entrench itself in the West. She wrote to the Pope and told him that Communism would reach its high point (o ponto maximo) in the decade of the 1960s.[ix] Even the most cursory glance at this decade (and arguably thereafter) demonstrates a revolt against God and a devaluing of the saving doctrines and dogmas of Jesus Christ. For example, Pope Paul VI was faced with many of his own sheep (and shepherds) publicly attacking him over Humanae Vitae. The disobedience and disrespect was so acute that even St. Padre Pio, only days before his death, felt compelled to write a letter and assure the Holy Father of his obedience, fidelity and reverence.[x]
“Divide and conquer.” This famous maxim from the ancient Roman world says a lot for the contemporary situation. The divisions within Christianity provided opportunity for many errors to take root. These divisions have been a scandal unto the world and Christians need to see the situation for what it is: Satan’s attempt to overthrow the reign of God in the human heart and thus the world.
The remarks of Sr. Lúcia to Fr. Valinho regarding unity and division—while not knowing what was actually in the former’s mind at the time—must also be evaluated in light of the contemporary situation, that every Christian is in the midst of a terrible battle right now.[xi] That battle is for their very soul amidst an ever-rising tide of iniquity and decadence. Christ and His Mother need every soldier in the Church Militant to fight this battle. So long, however, as Christians are divided, victory is delayed.
What does Fátima have to do with ecumenism? In a word: everything. Do we have hope to see unity among Christians? There may be a ray of hope. While in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, Sr. Lúcia wrote that she received a private revelation about the return of Germany—the motherland of the Revolution—to the Catholic Church:
As I was spending hours with Our Lord exposed in the Blessed Sacrament, during some moments when a more intimate union made itself felt and understood in my soul, I prayed for various intentions and especially for Germany. “It will come back to my fold, but this moment will be long in coming. It is coming closer, certainly, but slowly, very slowly.”[xii]
Such a prediction appears to have been indirectly confirmed by Sr. Lúcia in an alleged revelation dated January 3, 1944. In it, she saw a destructive war, at the end of which she heard a voice tell her, “In time, one faith, one baptism, one Church, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. In eternity, Heaven!”[xiii] May the day be hastened indeed where we see all Christians united into the one flock established by Jesus Christ, within the communion of the Holy Catholic Church.
Update: 1-26-18 A.D.: I have slightly emended the ending texts about the two alleged revelations to Sr. Lúcia as they have not (yet) been approved by the competent ecclesiastical authority. The new phrasing reflects this fact.
[i] Renzo Allegri and Roberto Allegri, Fatima: The Story Behind the Miracles. (Cincinnati, Ohio: Servant Books, 2001). Hereafter Fatima: The Story Behind the Miracles followed by page number. This book was translated from Italian: Renzo e Roberto Allegri, Reportage da Fatima: La storia e i prodigi nel racconto del nipote di suor Lucia. (Milano, Italia: Ancora, 2000). Hereafter Reportage da Fatima followed by page number.
[ii] Fatima: The Story Behind the Miracles, 254-265; Reportage da Fatima, 197-203.
[iii] Fatima: The Story Behind the Miracles, 265. Reportage da Fatima, 203. The Italian text is:
Sì, penso proprio che continui a ricevere visite della Madonna. Lo deduco da certi suoi comportamenti. Ogni tanto comincia a parlare di un argomento e continua a farlo per mesi, tutte le volte che vado a trovarla, come se dovesse adempiere a un compito che le viene ordinato. Tempo fa continuava a parlarmi dell’unità delle Chiese. Ripeteva che le varie confessioni cristiane dovrebbero unirsi. «Sono molte più le cose che le uniscono di quelle che le dividono – diceva –. Il Signore e la Madonna vogliono l’unità.» Per esperienza io so che quando usa frasi del genere significa che le è stato detto di interessarsi di quell’argomento.
[iv] Claudia Carlen, IHM, The Papal Encyclicals: 1878-1903. (Raleigh, North Carolina, The Pierian Press, 1990), 12.
[v] Cf. Dr. Antonio Maria Martins, S.J., Memórias e Cartas de Irmã Lúcia. (Porto, Portugal: Simão Guimarães, Filhos, LDA, 1973), 341. Hereafter Memórias e Cartas de Irmã Lúcia followed by page number.
[vi] I think back to a line at the end of the movie The Scarlet and the Black with Christopher Plummer and Gregory Peck. Peck is facing off with Plummer at the Coliseum late at night and says, “Well, when it comes down to it, a bullet’s your answer to just about everything, isn’t it? The only argument you’ve got!” The contradiction is not lost here: those who desire the enthronement of human reason over God actually have no argument from reason.
[vii] Memorias e Cartas da Irmã Lúcia, 341.
[viii] Certainly, we see this happen with the outbreak of World War II, as Our Lady said that this war would result if men did not cease offending God (Memorias e Cartas da Irmã Lúcia, 341).
[ix] Carmelo de Santa Teresa – Coimbra, Um caminho sob o olhar de Maria: Biografia da Irmã Lúcia de Jesus e do Coração Imaculado, O.C.D. 1ed. (Coimbra, Portugal: Edições Carmelo, 2013), 275. Hereafter Um caminho sob o olhar de Maria followed by page number.
[xi] There are disagreements within contemporary Protestantism over various social issues, as well as those of a doctrinal nature. The nature of the human person as well as marriage and family appear to be particularly in question. There are a number of Protestants who favor the traditional understanding of these matters (among others) and are, at least in this respect, closer to the Catholic Church. Those who do not favor this understanding are farther away. Such situations present the Catholic Church with an opportunity for evangelization. These communities possess “elements of the Church” that lead to the Catholic Church (Dominus Iesus, 16: footnote 56). We have seen an example of this in recent years within the Anglican/Episcopalian communities. Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus offers a pastoral response for the situation created by Anglicans wishing to return to the Catholic Church.
[xii] Memorias e Cartas da Irmã Lúcia, 465. The Portuguese text is:
Passando algumas horas com Nosso Senhor exposto, em alguns momentos em que uma união mais intima se fez sentir e ouvir na minha alma, pedi por várias intenções e em especial por Alemanha. “Ela voltará ao meu redil, mas esse momento vem longe. Aproxima-se, é certo, mas lentamente, muito devagar.” Em carta para o Snr. Dr. Fischer, – por caridade e para o animar, – indiquei esta promessa de Nosso Senhor.
[xiii] Um caminho sob o olhar de Maria, 267. The Portuguese text is, “No tempo, uma só Fé, um só Batismo, uma só Igreja, Santa, Católica, Apostólica. Na eternidade, o Céu!”