The succession of times brings us closer to the centenary of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima. Preparing the celebration of a centenary is not an easy task, but it is more difficult to know, understand, accredit and live the determining events that make Fatima the altar of the world, as St. John Paul II said. The centenary takes on a deeper meaning, because it is not a matter of celebrating the past or the history, but of rediscovering the designs that the eternity of God desires for the temporality of man.
We are accustomed to look at Fatima starting from fractioned, partial or watertight realities. For some, the historical and sociological dimensions will be emphasized, recognizing the plurality and the numerous origin of thousands of people who, in the last century, have frequently come to Fatima. For others, sociology specializes in data on attendance at Masses, confessions, pilgrimages and other religious activities. In the sphere of faith, there are those who look at this "religious phenomenon" without giving credit to it; others distance themselves by not accepting the multiple forms of manifestations of popular piety or the simplicity with which many pilgrims know how to manifest their most sincere and natural love for the Blessed Virgin. Another group, no less reduced, summarizes the experience of Fatima to the practice of pious acts and of a mass religiosity, but forgetting that Fatima is not outside the theological dynamism and, consequently, of the salvific plan of God for humanity and for the concrete life of every man and woman of all times.
Concretizing what is being said, it becomes clear and evident that the centenary of the apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima has to be analyzed from a wide, total and transversal point of view. Strictly speaking, it must be clarified that the apparitions of Fatima are a true and profound lesson of Theology, where the encounter of God with man continues to be a necessity of manifestation of His Love and Mercy, creating conditions for man to accept the salvation already operated in Christ. Thus, the apparitions of Fatima are a guarantee and an invitation to live more fully the gift of faith in concrete circumstances, in concrete dynamisms and in concrete lives.
The historical context
The so-called "private apparitions" cannot be understood simply as responses to human problems. It is necessary to understand them as an appeal of God in the course of time so that the radical nature of the Gospel and the proclamation of the Good News are not drowned out by the circumstances in which they are inserted. This is how the historical context of the apparitions of Fatima can be understood.
The little shepherds were born at the beginning of the 20th century, during the last years of the Portuguese monarchy. The republic is aggressively implanted in Portugal by a revolutionary, armed and anticlerical elite that intends to change the socio-cultural fabric of the Portuguese nation. The first republican laws disentailed all church property, the clergy were persecuted, the religious orders and brotherhoods that had survived liberalism were extinguished and public religious events were prohibited. On the other hand, Europe had become a battlefield; the world was fighting the First World War and the Russia of the Czars was giving rise to the Bolshevik revolution.
In the face of what Our Lady identifies as "the evils of the world", the message of Fatima comes as God's answer to the risks that threatened to collapse Humanity. At the same time, it is important to dwell on some of the characteristics of the recipients of the message (the three children): they belonged to poor families, and were innocent, truthful and pious. Before the apparitions they will reveal astonishment, trust, curiosity, some cultural ignorance and, at the moment when the republican authorities take them prisoner and threaten them, they remain faithful to the truth of which they were witnesses.
What is Fatima?
It would be easier to say that Fatima is no longer since May 13, 1917. On that date it ceased to be a village isolated from the whole world and inhabited by good and simple people. With the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin everything changed: Fatima remained a reference in the eyes of believers and non-believers.
Fatima is one of the best places for the encounter of people and of people with God. In the past, it was said that the message of Fatima was a lesson of profound theology of the encounter of God with man and, consequently, the Shrine of Fatima manifests this encounter with the plurality of people and sensibilities that come there. Thus, the shrine of Fatima became a Atrium where thousands of people move, driven by the most diverse motivations or intentions.
The sanctuary of Fatima is not only experienced in social, spatial, architectural and cultural variety. It is also a true lung of spirituality. Catholics of all nations, proofs of love of all possible genders, sensitivities of all kinds with the beginning and the end of their gaze on the Virgin Mary mingle there. Even if the message of Fatima is not very well known, which would clarify the reason, it is necessary to understand that the thousands of pilgrims who come to Fatima are carried by the heart, in a heart to heart encounter. The certainty of the presence of the Mother of God in that place is what people seek, with the certainty that there everything is different because everything is a witness of the presence of the Virgin.
Starting from the consideration that Fatima is a place of special encounter with our Mother, it is possible to testify to the plan of God's Love that does not cease to turn our hearts back to His Love in every way. Contacting with the message of Our Lady in Fatima, especially with the Memories Lucia, we dwell on the dialectic of heaven and earth, of the world of God and the world of man, of dialogue and revelation, of certainty and doubt. The remoteness in which Humanity found itself is resolved by the closeness of God who sends the angels to prepare the meetings of the Virgin with the little shepherds, and replaces the hardness of the adults with the docility of the children to the voice of the Virgin.
Starting and finishing point
In our time, in which everything is once again submerged in a distancing of mankind from God, the message of Fatima can fall victim to different interpretations. Therefore, rather than looking at interpretations, we must assume the attitude and dynamism of Love.
To summarize Our Lady's message at Fatima, three words suffice: prayer, penance and conversion. There, Our Lady invites us to a life of intimacy with the Lord and lived totally in Him; she moves us to make acts of penance that manifest our love for Him in reparation for the sins of men; and she invites us to change, to experience a continuous conversion where Love is our only certainty.
For all these reasons, the centenary of Our Lady's apparitions at Fatima leads us to want our lives to be lived in total trust in God and in Our Lady's Immaculate Heart. The Heart of the Mother becomes, then, the point of departure and the point of arrival of our hearts, where the Virgin gives us the assurance that "My Heart will be your refuge" (June apparition) so that we do not lack the certainty revealed in the July apparition: "¡Pt last, My Immaculate Heart will triumph!".
Vila Viçosa (Evora, Portugal)