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March 2000



The Holy Catholic Church, as the minister of Redemption, has opened wide the treasury of satisfaction won by Christ and the Saints by making many extra indulgences available throughout the Holy Year [Papal Bull Incarnationis mysterium, 1998]. Only an ignoramus, a fool or a champion Catholic sluggard would pass up the opportunity of gaining these special remissions of temporal punishment due for sins. At the same time, however, since properly disposing oneself through the cleansing grace of the confessional is a pre-condition for gaining indulgences, one wonders how many Catholics will be unwittingly deprived of their due? For despite John Paul's regular exhortations to return to the Sacrament of Penance as prescribed by Church law - "to recover the sense of what sin is in relation to God" through "personal confession of sins and individual absolution" [to the Irish Bishops, June 1999] - his contentious call for communal/historical repentance on the part of the Church Herself has dominated the headlines, thereby clouding both the personal dimension he so often stresses and the ongoing scandal of rebellious hierarchies looking to legitimise illicit communal absolutions (a la Communion in the Hand and altar girls).

Thus assailed by the postconciliar curse of mixed-messages, the docile sheep obligingly acquiesce in the systemic disobedience of the Shepherds. For it is too easy (if not too bright) for the dumbed-down laity to rationalise that the Holy Father is calling for both personal and communal contrition on the one hand, while oddly resisting the Third Rite of confession on the other, but not deeming it sufficiently important to get seriously tough with offending Third Rite hierarchies who continue to disobey his most emphatic prohibitions.

In this confused and rebellious climate, is it so astonishing that Our Lady of Fatima's message is also clouded and ignored despite its pride of place in John Paul's heart and its rightful position at the very centre of that soul-searching and conversion associated with the Holy Year indulgences? Not a bit. In such a Church it is wholly unsurprising that the most important supernatural event of the last century, if not the Millennium - a Divine call for repentance and penance stressing the individual's choice for Heaven or Hell - should now be considered as passe as black and white TV by the greater majority of the faithful. Millions, of course, are still devoted to the Fatima message at home and abroad. But it is just a drop in a vast Catholic ocean. Modernism and the latter-day rise of 'apparitionitis', led by the Medjugorje fraud [CO's passim], have undermined Fatima to devastating effect. Nor has the regular sight of an elderly pontiff physically suffering one of Our Lady's Fatima prophecies managed to re-ignite the interest and adherence the heavenly message demands.

And yet even the Pope's would-be assassin, the enigmatic Moslem Ali Agca, recognises the overriding importance of Fatima. Even he believes that it is no coincidence that the shooting in St. Peter's Square on 13 May 1981 took place on the anniversary of the first apparition in 1917. In January this year - notwithstanding the conclusion of the Italian judge who determined that from all the evidence "it's obvious he [Agca] had Soviet bloc support" - Agca recounted that from his earliest days: "I had a terrible intuition that I was predestined to carry out some task somewhere. It meant I could not get married and start a family." This pressing, irreversible presentiment resurfaced on the fateful day. "I watched the Pope go round the obelisk in the centre of the square. He had his back to me. I let him go because there was no way I was going to shoot a man in the back. I said to myself: 'My friend, give up. Don't do this'." He had turned and walked about 20 yards towards the Tiber, looking to throw his 9mm Browning automatic pistol into the River and catch the night train to Zurich, when he heard the crowd clap and cheer as the Pope circled the obelisk a second time. He retraced his steps. "I waited. I took aim. I pulled the trigger. I fired two shots. I remember thinking: 'I have no choice. I must do this'... I am not Satan," he protested, "I was used by Satan." Quite.

In June 1997, I was present as John Paul consecrated a huge Tyrolean-style church in Zakopane, southern Poland. It had been built and dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima by the local populace in fulfilment of a pledge made to the Mother of God in 1981 as the Holy Father fought to survive the shooting. With an ancient tradition of special loyalty to the papacy, the distinctive people of this beautiful alpine region in the Tatra Mountains had not only promised to build the church if Our Lady deigned to intercede and save the Pope's life, but had sent a contingent to Rome to pray and to sing their unique, haunting folk songs, so familiar to their beloved compatriot, outside his hospital window. During his homily, John Paul choked back tears as he recalled this extraordinary devotion and the music he had heard from his hospital bed as he struggled against the loss of 60% of his blood to internal haemorrhaging. His first thoughts after regaining consciousness were about Fatima. He had one of Agca's bullets set in the crown of Our Lady's statue at the shrine.

However you look at it, every miraculous, prophetic, spiritual, doctrinal, moral and socio-historical aspect of Fatima testifies to its importance for the Church and the world. Yet time and time again churchmen have contrived to bury its importance and frustrate God's heavenly designs, so clearly and dreadfully spelt out to the little shepherd children between May and October 1917. In the face of such perversity, the impending elevation of Venerable Jacinta and Venerable Francisco to the ranks of the Blessed should be viewed as a special wake-up call for sinful mankind in general, and rebellious Catholics in particular. Since without the providential timing of their beatifications, the Jubilee Year would pass with barely a mention of Fatima at all.

So let us take heed of this latest reminder from above. With child-like simplicity, let those of us with eyes and ears alert to the signs of the times once more attune our lives to the message of Fatima, as revealed and lived out by Jacinta and Francisco. Thus, re-awakening our individual "sense of what sin is in relation to God" and properly disposed, the Jubilee graces, merits and remissions offered us by Holy Mother Church will be rightfully earned and fully won.

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