This week celebrates the 100th anniversary of the final appearance of Mary at Fatima, Portugal. On October 13th, 1917, nearly 70,000 people witnessed the Miracle of the Sun and the final of six apparitions of our Blessed Mother
Eight days after the pope makes his plea for Mary’s intercession to bring peace to the world, Mary appears for the first time in Fatima. Three shepherd children in a remote region of Portugal experience the vision of a magnificently beautiful woman who descends from the sky surrounded by a supernatural light and stands suspended at the top of a small tree. In wonder they ask where she is from. “I am from heaven,” she responds, and then requests that the children return on the 13th of each month for five more months.
During the following months greater crowds assemble. On the third visit, the “beautiful lady,” as they call her, declares that WW I is going to end, but that if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out. “When you see a night illuminated by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign” of the impending future war, she says, as well as persecutions of the Church. In order to prevent the war, she promises the children to return to ask for the consecration — a form of entrustment or dedication — of Russia to her, which she does in a future visit to one of the visionaries in 1929.
Russia, she continues at Fatima, will soon become communist, but can be converted and return from its godless ways if the pope, along with the bishops throughout the world, makes this special consecration. On the 13th of October, the final visit, more than 70,000 people witness the Miracle of the Sun, in which for 12 minutes they see the sun spin and “dance” in the sky, and their eyes are not harmed in the least from staring into it. Everyone, even atheists, witnesses the spectacle, and people in the countryside as far away as 30 miles also see the miracle, thus ruling out some form of mass hysteria. It is exactly 33 years to the day after Pope Leo XIII has seen his vision in the chapel at the Vatican.
At the same hour that the Miracle of the Sun is being seen in Fatima, Vladimir Lenin is entering Russia with plans to establish a Communist state. Also at the same time, Bolshevicks in Moscow seize control of the great cathedral of the city, built by one of the tsars, and destroy it. The miraculous icon of Kazan, a prized possession of the Russians and housed in the cathedral, is swiftly removed and taken to safety outside Russia. Less than one month later Russia falls to Communism.
Lenin, the early leader of communist Russia, declares that religion is the opiate of the masses, and works to stamp out religious belief. In early 1918 he dissolves the national constituent assembly, which finalizes the removal of democracy in the country. He quickly begins modeling the country after Marxist principles by nationalizing industries and confiscating land from the wealthy to distribute to the poor.
In 1922 he founds the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Lenin is succeeded by Joseph Stalin, a brutal autocrat who follows Lenin’s lead and, according to historians, will ultimately be responsible for 20,000,000 deaths. He believes that religion must be removed in order for the ideal communist society to be constructed. As a result, the government promotes atheism as the state belief system, sponsors atheistic education in schools, endorses anti-religious propaganda, founds atheist institutions like the Society of the Godless, and carries out a terror campaign against religious believers. In the 1930s it becomes dangerous to be openly religious in Russia as churches are destroyed or confiscated and religion is violently persecuted. By 1939, the Russian Orthodox Church claims only hundreds of parishes, down from 54,000 in 1917, and tens of thousands of priests, monks and nuns have been persecuted or killed. Approximately 100,000 people are shot during the 1937-1938 purge. In Spain, Catholics fare no better than the Orthodox in Russia: during the Spanish Civil War, 11,000 priests and nuns are killed by the Communist Loyalists and more than 20,000 churches, convents and schools are desecrated and destroyed. Godlessness never breeds harmony, and the celestial portents Our Lady had warned about indicating a future war were about to be seen in the heavens.
On the evening of January 25th, 1938, an enormous light appears in the sky across the globe, attributed later to be the greatest aurora borealis since 1709. The headline the following day in the New York Times states: “Aurora Borealis Startles Europe; People Flee, Call Firemen.” Though it is normally seen in cold northern climates, the lights are seen as far south as southern Australia and knock out radio transmissions in various countries. The lights are the sign predicted by Mary at Fatima that if the world did not cease offending God, it would suffer through another war. Ten days after the heavenly lights are seen, Adolf Hitler takes command of the armed forces of Germany, and the following month he begins his plan of world conquest by marching troops into Austria. The war that follows is devastating and catastrophic for all sides, as disparate countries are pulled into the conflict. Various nations are ravaged by the war, fulfilling the prophecy by the “beautiful woman” at Fatima. By 1945, however, the tide has turned and the war is nearly over, but with a staggering cost: 50 million dead. The most viciously persecuted are the Jews. Catholics fare better: of the roughly 20,000 priests who were in Germany when Hitler came to power, 14,364 are killed, imprisoned or exiled. The final piece of news from the outside world to reach Hitler in his bunker is of the death of his oldest political ally, Benito Mussolini. The dictator of Italy, fleeing the war with his mistress, had been captured by Italians, executed, hung upside down and then thrown into a gutter. The following day, Hitler swallows a cyanide capsule and dies.
Japan, at war in the Pacific with the United States and her allies, is also losing its battle. On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States drops an atomic bomb on Hiroshima that levels every building within one mile of the center of the blast with the exception of one structure: a parish house, only eight blocks from the center of the blast, in which eight Jesuit priests were living and had prayed the rosary every day. Included in their prayers each day is the supplication, given at Fatima, to “save us from the fires of hell.” They are the only people to survive the atomic bomb within four miles of the epicenter, and while other victims are incinerated in heat that reaches 10,000 degrees, these men do not even lose their hearing. Though scientists tell the Jesuits that they should have lived only 2 minutes due to radiation poisoning alone, they live healthy lives into the 1970s and are ultimately studied more than 200 times by medical doctors.
In an ironic twist of fate, Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor on the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the patroness of the United States. The following day, on the feast day itself, the United States declared war on Japan. Now Japan is forced to surrender to the United States and accept the terms of the Potsdam Declaration on the eve of the feast of the Assumption of Mary. The following day, the feast day itself (and also the name of the church in Hiroshima where the Jesuits are miraculously saved), the emperor declares to the Japanese people that they have accepted surrender.