Pope Francis joins his predecessors in acknowledging the importance of Fatima. When the Blessed Mother appeared to three shepherd children almost 100 years ago, it was shortly after an urgent prayer to the Blessed Virgin as the Queen of Peace by Pope Benedict XV for the end of World War I.
Blessed John Paul II credited Our Lady of Fatima with saving his life after an assassination attempt on May 13, 1981. In a 2010 visit to Fatima, Benedict XVI expressed his hope that the (then) seven years until the 100th anniversary of the apparitions would “hasten the fulfillment of the prophecy of the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity.”
There is also precedent in the Old Testament for what Pope Francis and previous pontiffs ask of us in calling for repentance and for intercession: the Book of Esther. Indeed, many scholars over the years have portrayed Queen Esther as a prefigurement of Mary, and the Book of Esther as a prefigurement of the Book of Revelation.
You will recall that the king of Persia was asked by a scheming administrator to destroy the Jewish people since the administrator had been personally offended by Mordecai, Esther’s uncle who was also a servant of the king. The king, unaware that his young and exceptionally beautiful wife Esther was Jewish, consented to the attack. Before she dared to approach the king to ask that her people be spared, Queen Esther clothed herself in sackcloth and ashes, and asked her people to join her in fasting from food and water for three days.
When Esther entered into the king’s presence, something she was forbidden to do without invitation, he extended his scepter, thus sparing her life. Esther also rather audaciously invited the King and Haman to a banquet, where she revealed that she was a Jew and begged the King to spare the life of her people.
The King was angered by his administrator’s schemes against Mordecai and the Jewish people, and dealt with the administrator accordingly. But since royal orders could not be annulled, the attack was allowed to continue, though the Jewish people were allowed to defend themselves and defeated their enemies in battle. The Jews celebrate this triumph each year as their Feast of Purim.
The date set for destruction of the Jews had been the 13th of the month of Adar, a month that corresponds more or less to February, which is when Purim is now remembered. This date is also significant in Jewish history for another reason: It is the day that the Maccabees liberated Israel after a four-year battle with the Seleucid Empire.
The significance of this for faithful and pro-life Catholics who seek greater understanding in what Scott Hahn calls Catholics’ “away game” of the Old Testament, is this: Just as the Jewish people were saved through the intercession of Queen Esther, so Mary intercedes for the Church throughout history, and now.
The Book of Revelation foretells a great persecution of Christians at the end of time, but it also speaks about the Ark of the Covenant (an image scholars have long used to portray Mary, who bore the Word in her womb) appearing in the sky and the Woman crushing the head of the dragon (cf. Revelation 12).
When the Blessed Mother appeared at Fatima, she wore around her neck the Star of Esther. And like Esther, Our Lady of Fatima came as a queen to spare her people from war and persecution. Through the child seers, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, she asked the faithful to repent of sin, pray the Rosary, go to confession, and receive the Eucharist worthily.
On July 13, 1917, Our Lady said to Lucia:
I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to My Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted and there will be peace; if not, she 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, and various nations will be annihilated. … In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she will be converted, and an era of peace will be granted to the world.
As if to put an exclamation mark on the Fatima prophecies, Sister Lucia died on February 13, 2005, the feast of Purim. Our Lady of Fatima’s first appearance to the three shepherd children was May 13, 1917. Her last appearance was October 13 of the same year.
With all of the talk about prophecies lately, especially those centering around the papacy and the persecution of the Church, sometimes it helps to step back and look at the long view of history. Surely Pope Francis is not counseling panic over interpretations of impending doom. This message should not be reduced to a fearful apocalyptic foreboding any more than we can take Pope Francis’ decision to consecrate his papacy as a validation of any particular scenario. That being said, however, the attention that the popes have given to the message of Fatima deserves our notice.
Our Lord certainly speaks to us through Holy Scripture, as well as through history and sometimes through private revelation. It is certainly wise to heed a message so many popes have taught is worthy of our belief and soberly embark on a more urgent effort to grow in faith. Countless saints from St. Thomas More to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta counseled the wisdom of keeping “the last things” in mind, to be mindful of our mortality, the consequences of sin and the great mercy of God the Father.
These gifts of revelation, and our own responses in faith, can have dire real world consequences. Had the requests of Our Lady of Fatima been heeded, the world would have been spared the horrors of World War II, in which over 50 million people were killed, as well as countless other wars and persecutions provoked by Communists throughout the world.
In 1920, Russia was also the first country to legalize abortion, following Lenin’s 1913 demand for “the unconditional annulment of all laws against abortions or against the distribution of medical literature on contraceptive measures.” There can be little doubt that these and other “errors” of Russia have spread and continue to spread, destroying countless lives and even our ability to live together in society.
Great evils threaten our world. Sin increases. So many hearts are hardened.
Queen Esther asked her people to pray and do penance with her, and the Mother of Mercy continues this call today, with her call echoed by popes, bishops, priests, religious, and the lay faithful. With the Holy Father, we need to call on the Queen of Heaven for her intercession.
Pray and do penance, and ask her to intercede with her Son Jesus Christ that He might spare us, our nation, and our world.