The author of an exhaustive study on the Virgin Mary's 1917 appearances in Portugal says her words are being fulfilled by the rise of aggressive secularism and loss of religious freedom in the West.
“Mary, as I see it, pointed out at Fatima that these things were going to happen,” said Fr. Andrew Apostoli, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal and the author of “Fatima For Today” (Ignatius Press, $19.95), in an interview one day before the 94th anniversary of the last apparition in the Portuguese city.
“She said that an evil will begin in Russia, and will spread its errors around the world,” Fr. Apostoli noted, recalling Mary's words in 1917.
“Those errors – an atheistic form of government, life, and society – have come upon us now, in the form of secularism, and the attack on life, the family, and religious freedom.”
Mary's appearance on October 13, 1917, included one of the most dramatic public miracles of modern times, a well-documented event known today as the “Miracle of the Sun.” On that day, 70,000 people watched as the sun appeared to make three circles and “dance” in the sky in a zig-zag pattern.
Five months before, the mother of Christ had first appeared to three children to make a series of requests and predictions about prayer, penance, war and peace. The solar miracle accompanied her last appearance, for the benefit of those in doubt.
The Virgin also spoke of suffering for the Church and an assault on the Pope. Blessed John Paul II, who was wounded by an assassin in 1981, later performed a public consecration of the world that many people, including Fr. Apostoli, say fulfilled Mary's request for the Pope to consecrate Russia to her.
Fr. Apostoli told EWTN News that Bl. John Paul II repeatedly stressed the importance of the message of Fatima – a call to conversion, prayer, and penance – during his pontificate, as he saw the Church entering a “life-and-death struggle” involving billions of souls.
“In 1976, even before he became the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II stated that the Catholic Church is involved in the greatest spiritual struggle of her 2,000 year history,” Fr. Apostoli recalled.
“And he said that what's at stake is not one nation, or one facet of life, but the entire Christian culture is at stake in this struggle. It's a struggle between the Gospel and the anti-Gospel, between the Church and the anti-Church.”
The Franciscan priest noted that the recently-beatified Pope continued to speak of this struggle between “truth and anti-truth” after his election – particularly after the attempt on his life, which came on the May 13 anniversary of Mary's first appearance in Fatima.
“Before he made the consecration in 1984,” Fr. Apostoli recalled, “he made the statement that Fatima is more important today, than it was in 1917.”
In the time since that papal pronouncement, virtually every historically Catholic country in Western Europe has embraced an attitude of indifference or hostility to religion. Today, several of those traditional Catholic homelands, including Portugal, appear headed for financial and demographic ruin.
“I was talking about somebody who's into finances, when I was over in Europe,” Fr. Apostoli recalled. “He told me it's unavoidable – there's going to be a great crisis, financially.”
Fr. Apostoli recently returned from Ireland, where a million people waited to see Bl. John Paul II during his visit in 1979. The author of “Fatima for Today” said that during his own recent trip, “one lady there even told me that Ireland's probably the most anti-Catholic country in the world now.”
In Europe, and increasingly the U.S., the Fatima expert sees a spread of the “errors” that seized Russia in 1917, especially atheism.
Even the anti-Christian French Revolution had publicly acknowledged a “Supreme Being,” whereas Russian Communism went further by making atheism state policy.
The United States, Fr. Apostoli said, “would never have accepted communism if it had that label on it, directly. America would have opposed that.”
“But that's being broken down, and we're gradually getting many things that were a part of communism.”
“Pope Benedict has said that a wind has come over Western Europe, over North America, and has brought a darkness which prevents people from being able to tell right from wrong, truth from distortions,” Fr. Apostoli observed.
“We don't have the secret police, coming into our houses and arresting us for saying the Rosary – we don't have that. But gradually, all of our religious rights are being taken away. Things that we support as part of the moral teaching of Christ are being suppressed, and things are being forced upon us.”
“They'll say, 'Oh, you can worship any way you want, but don't bring it into the public square. Leave it in church on Sunday, and don't bring it to work on Monday. Don't bring it into society.'”
“That, to me, is a sign of communism.”
U.S. bishops' conference president Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, the local bishop of Fr. Apostoli's own community, agrees with the friar about the spread of aggressive secularism.
The archbishop and the rest of the bishops’ conference recently established a national committee to monitor threats to religious freedom, saying it was “increasingly and in unprecedented ways under assault in America.”
Archbishop Dolan cited several alarming cases in his letter establishing the committee – including the proposed federal contraception mandate, the Obama administration's moves toward redefining marriage, and a Justice Department attack on churches' self government in the Supreme Court.
“In some countries, even to speak against homosexuality will become a 'hate crime,'” Fr. Apostoli predicted. “It's not a hate crime, it's speaking about what we believe is right and wrong. But we're going to be muzzled by that.”
Fr. Apostoli noted that as official atheism grows, so does the importance of Our Lady of Fatima's message – which involves daily prayer of the Rosary, personal sanctification, reparation for offenses against God, and the practice of attending Mass on the first Saturday of five consecutive months.
“This message is not over,” Fr. Apostoli stated. “Our Lady said that the Rosary can stop wars, and can bring world peace. We have to do what she said, and live good lives.”
“There's no other plan from Heaven that's so specific, for what we're going through now. She spelled it out. Prayer, penance, the 'First Five Saturdays' devotion – and live a good, holy life. That's the answer.”