One of the most widely recognized apparitions of Mary is that of Our Lady of Fatima. What is it about this apparition that makes it so special, even one hundred years after it occurred? Why do we keep reflecting on the message Our Lady gave to all of us through three young shepherd children?
I would like to reflect, together with you, about three details of the apparition that get to the heart of the Fatima message and its meaning for us today.
The Simplicity of Children. Before speaking about Mary’s message, let’s focus on the vessels she chose to deliver it. She did not pick a powerful leader or a visible bishop, but village children who couldn’t even read or write. By choosing them, Mary reminds us of God’s great love for the humble.
Lúcia, Francisco, and Jacinta represent the love and simplicity of all children. Without having studied theology, they had no trouble recognizing Mary’s presence and love. In Fatima we see that God likes to turn ordinary people into his instruments. Regular people—perhaps ones considered of little value—can perform miracles and be God’s messengers. Even the very young can perform a mission for God!
That is because the messenger is nothing more than an instrument of the infinite power of God. In the process of God manifesting himself to the world, even Mary is an intercessor and a vessel, not a provider. The miracle is worked by her Son, Jesus.
This is helpful for all of us. When we find crosses or challenges in our daily walk, it helps to remember how God used the children of Fatima. Their journey was not always easy. In fact, sorrow and anxiety made their appearance early on as they pursued God’s will. Nevertheless, scarcely beginning their spiritual lives, they opened themselves up to the adventure of prayer, prophecy, and fulfilling God’s will. With confidence in the Lord and his Mother, they trusted the divine promptings they had received, and they trusted that Our Lady was helping them. Indeed, we can see that she was—because their message still remains valid today.
Eternity Starts Now. In Mary’s messages, the promise of heaven is always present. This is the most beautiful point of the Fatima message. Certainly the present world is important. It is vital that men and women of goodwill forge a better world. It is also true that God reveals himself in this life, as he did with the children of Fatima in 1917. But none of this weakens the power of the promise of Jesus: heaven is waiting for each of us.
Heaven is waiting—but to reach heaven, we need eternal hope now. In her dialogue with the children, Mary fosters this desire for eternity and the change in behavior that this desire brings about. What an utter joy we feel when we find people like Mary! In their words, smiles, and good disposition, they remind us that there is a heaven awaiting us! The invitation to eternity is an invitation to friendship with God. He is present in our innermost being, so if we allow his Spirit to guide us, he will make us joyful and powerful instruments of God’s love in this world. In turn, this will lead us to the fullness of eternity in the kingdom of God.
Mary’s message at Fatima emphasizes our need to turn to God as our very source. Like Lúcia, who died in 2005, some of us may have many long years to do this. Others, like Francisco and Jacinta—who died a few years after the apparitions—may experience a brief life lived intensely in God’s love.
Either way, we share with all three Fatima children the universal call to friendship with God and his Mother. When a child thinks of God as his best friend, that child does not become selfish. Just the opposite: he wants to share his experience of the Lord with other people. That’s why Lúcia, Francisco, and Jacinta were not afraid of going to jail, nor did they fear the insults or physical and emotional abuse they received.
They had a treasure in their hearts and minds, which they needed to share with everyone who was open to it. They felt compelled to invite other people to participate in the same adventure of an exciting relationship with God.
Through these little shepherds, Our Lady of Fatima offers us the same invitation. She encourages us to love God’s ways and to try our best not to offend him. But most of all, Mary’s message helps us to see her as our advocate and our mother.
Instruments of Peace. In this first part of the third millennium, three popes have returned to Fatima to ask Our Lady for peace around the world. Each of them has done it by reciting the Rosary. They show us that when we pray the Rosary, we hold in our hands a true instrument to help us discern and fulfill God’s will.
For his part, Pope Francis reminds us that in moments of darkness, we always need to choose the way of prayer. That will naturally lead us to patience and to hope in God’s providence. That is why when we pray the Rosary with Mary and ask her to intercede for us, we discover that she is a refuge that leads us to God.
Pope Francis’ canonization of Francisco and Jacinta for the one-hundredth anniversary of the apparitions of Fatima is a hopeful step in our still-unfolding salvation “history.” It is a truthful and forceful affirmation that God’s miracles are still happening. Jesus is still being made present in the sacramental life of the Church. He is also made present through the person of Mary, as well as in the lives of these humble little shepherds. Mary’s messages have caused generation after generation to offer love and fervent prayers to the Lord.
As we conclude the one-hundredth anniversary of the apparitions of Fatima and especially as we pray the Rosary, let’s not forget Mary’s desire that the entire world be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart. By this consecration, we too will become instruments of peace, praying for the world and pointing other people to heaven as Mary did.
Bishop Mario Dorsonville is an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Washington. To read the story of Fatima itself, look for “The Lady Dressed in White,” a digital-only special feature at wau.org.