Thursday, February 17, 2005

Sister Lucia dos Santos, O.C.D., 1907-2005.

In conversation at table during breakfast this morning I belatedly learned of the death this past Sunday of Sister Lucia, a Portuguese Carmelite nun who earned a unique place in history as a ten year-old shepherd girl in 1917. That year, Lucia and two other children reported a series of Marian apparitions that became the basis of the popular (and highly controversial) devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. Though the Church regards the Fatima events as authentic, Catholics are not required to accept their veracity as a matter of faith. Personally, I do not have a devotion to Fatima and I could probably best be described as indifferent on the question of the apparition's authenticity - I don't know if the events Sister Lucia claimed to have experienced really took place or not, and whether or not they did has no impact on my faith. Why, then, am I blogging about the death of this purported visionary? Because Sister Lucia was the last living link to a fascinating and influential phenomenon. Most American Catholics today have probably forgotten (or never knew about) the "Three Secrets of Fatima" reported by Sister Lucia and her companions. In the cultural milieu of mid-20th century American Catholicism, however, the Fatima Secrets were a big deal. In the fevered years of the early Cold War, anti-Communism and devotion to Our Lady of Fatima often went hand in hand, often under the aegis of militant lay groups like the Blue Army. The Second Fatima Secret explicitly called for the Marian consecration of Russia and included apparently accurate predictions of the end of World War I, the reign of Pope Pius XI, the start of World War II and widespread persecution of the Church. The release of the Third Fatima Secret - expected to occur by 1960 - was hotly anticipated by many Catholics who speculated that the Secret would reveal calamitous events like the triumph of Communism or a nuclear war. Ultimately, Pope John XXIII opted not to reveal the Third Secret, a decision that shook the faith of many Fatima devotees and spawned numerous conspiracy theories; reports that the Pontiff wept when reading the text of the Secret for the first time led many to fear the worst. Interest in the Fatima Secrets waned over the following four decades, and Pope John Paul II's decision to finally reveal the contents of the Third Secret in 2000 seemed almost anticlimactic. In the grand scheme of things, Fatima is a small footnote in the history of the Church. With its Cold War connections, however, it's a very interesting footnote - deserving at the very least of a high quality academic monograph. Thus the death of Sister Lucia also marks the death of a unique and intriguing era. AMDG.


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