Friday, May 13, 2005

Notes on the Memorial of Our Lady of Fatima.

Just as I remain relatively unaffected by St. Francis of Assisi, I've never had much of a devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. Over the last few years, however, I’ve developed an intellectual interest in particular aspects of what might be called the ‘Fatima phenomenon.’ If I had to guess, the seeds of this interest took root while I was an undergraduate at Georgetown University. On Copley Lawn on the Georgetown campus, there is a white stone statue of Our Lady of Fatima, identified by an inscription on its base as the gift of the Class of 1950. The first time I saw this statue I gave little thought to its provenance, but over time I’ve become very curious about it. I’ve often wondered why the Class of ’50 chose such a statue as their physical legacy to the campus. What kind of cultural, social and religious influences motivated that choice?

Earlier this year I reported on the death of Sister Lucia dos Santos, a Portuguese Carmelite nun who gained notoriety as a ten year-old girl in 1917 when she and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto claimed to have experienced a series of Marian apparitions. The first of these apparitions reputedly occurred on May 13th – hence the date of the memorial – with five subsequent appearances on the same day of the month until October. The authenticity and meaning of the Fatima events are still being debated, but the influence upon the Church of the Fatima phenomenon is indisputable. Our Lady of Fatima was an important symbol of Catholic anti-Communism during the early years of the Cold War, largely on account of the Three Secrets of Fatima, a series of prophecies that the Virgin Mary reportedly dictated to Sister Lucia and her cohorts. The Second Secret seemed to foretell the major conflicts of the 20th century – including the advent of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race – and focused in a special way on Russia’s position in world affairs. The contents of the Third Secret remained, well, secret throughout the 1950’s, and rumors swirled that this final prophecy of Our Lady of Fatima would forecast an apocalyptic conclusion to the brewing conflict between the West and Soviet Bloc; the rumors grew in intensity after Pope John XXIII chose not to reveal the contents of the Secret in 1960 as had been expected. Over time popular interest in the Fatima Secrets declined to the point that the Vatican’s 2000 release of the Third Secret attracted relatively little attention or comment. Though I’ve never felt any spiritual devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, I admit that I am intrigued by the links between Fatima and the Cold War. Someday I hope someone will write a book on that precise subject – heck, that someone might even be me. If I ever do write such a book, I suspect I’ll have little choice but to dedicate it to the Georgetown Class of 1950. AMDG.


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