Posted on: 2017-02-08

Celebrating Fatima

The event of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to three little shepherd children Francisco, Lucia and Jacinta Fatima in Portugal in 1917 has finally come full circle. Its centenary will be celebrated in the Universal Church with a Marian Year. In Nigeria the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria has released guidelines for the celebration, which will stretch from March to October 2017. The guidelines propose parish, deanery, Diocesan provincial and national seminars, congresses, devotions and campaigns as means of enhancing the faith of the people of God. The Catholic Bishops of Ibadan Ecclesiastical Province, after their first meeting of the year held on 6th and 7th February 2017, have approved that all diocesan congresses be held simultaneously between August 17 and 19, 2017, given that the third apparition of Fatima occurred on August 19, 1917. The national Grand Finale and National Congress of the Marian Year will be held from October 12-14 2017 with the Re-consecration of Nigeria to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. That special event will occur in the Archdiocese of Benin City.   For those who can afford it a Pilgrimage to Fatima is being planned. Intending pilgrims must register with the Secretariat by March 16, 2017 as well.

Defining Objectives

The Bishops agreed that the objectives of the coming Marian Year need to be clearly defined during preparations for the various stages of the celebrations of the Marian Year. They however still wrote in their communique after the meeting: “The main objective of the Marian Year is to commemorate the centenary of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima in Portugal in 1917. We urge that the opportunity be used to reiterate the messages of Fatima relating to the universal call to repentance and evangelization. It is necessary as well to reconfirm through catechesis, seminars, workshops, Bible study and similar activities, the presence and role of Mary as Mother of Jesus Christ, Mother of the Church and of all Christians”. The purpose of thus confirming the objectives is to ensure that the Marian Year animates the faithful down to the very grassroots in the Church. It is just as well because after all, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared a hundred years ago, not to the high and mighty but to three poor little shepherd children, Francisco Jacinta and Lucia.  Did the Bible not say that out of the mouth of children and babes God has found praise? (Ps. 8:3) “Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I praise you, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to simple people. Yes, Father this is what pleased you” (Mat. 11:25-26). Those are God’s objectives.  For the Marian apparitions, our own cannot be too different.

Mother, behold your son

At his final hour on the cross, Jesus handed his beloved disciple, John over to the care of his beloved mother, Mary. He said: “Son, behold your mother… mother behold your Son”. In this special moment, theologians and scholars reasonably believe that Jesus entrusted humanity to the care of his mother. The apparitions of Fatima can well be seen as one occasion of Mary fulfilling the task given to her by her son. Her messages convey the feelings of a caring mother’s heart. Mary asked the three children "Do you wish to offer yourselves to God, to endure all the suffering that He may please to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and to ask for the conversion of sinners?" They responded positively and she told them to pray the rosary every day. To console Lucia who wondered why she would stay on earth alone while the other two children would be taken to God much sooner, the Virgin Mary gave this consolation: "Don't be discouraged, I will not abandon you ever. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and through it will conduct you to God." It was she, the Lady of Fatima who put in our mouths through the three children, the wonderful prayer we say at the end of each decade of the rosary: “Oh My Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Your Mercy."

Mary’s indispensable motherhood

Today the aggressive effort of many forces in our world today to downgrade or deny the role and position of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Church has only helped to fuel devotion to her and increase recourse to her motherly intercession. It is correct to say that devotion to Mary is the most widespread devotion in and beyond the Church worldwide. Everyone understands the role of mothers. Could the Maccabees brothers have ever managed their heroic faith had their mother not encouraged them to be strong? (2Macc.7) Could Samuel have become a great prophet without the sacrifice and prayers of Hanna? How about the indispensable role which Saint Monica played in turning the young wayward Augustine to a saint and one of the most influential fathers of Christendom? Why then would anyone deny honour to Mary of whom, right out of the mouth of the Angel Gabriel, it was said: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the holy child to be born shall be called Son of God” (Lk. 1: 35). Celebrating the Marian Year and centenary of the apparitions of Fatima is not at all a misplaced gesture in honoring that humble woman whom the angel called “full of grace” and who called herself “blessed among all women”. Hail, Mary!