The Political Manipulation of the Fatima Cult

"Santuario de Fatima" by Therese C is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

2017 is the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. The communist Left has organized celebrations, and this is unfortunate. That revolution did not topple the Czar’s autocratic regime, but rather a liberal government that was progressing towards important reforms. Furthermore, the Bolshevik Revolution soon turned extremely violent, and gave rise to a totalitarian regime that brought much misery to the world.

Partly as a reaction against the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, Catholic groups celebrated the anniversary of another event that also took place in 1917: the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima. This is almost as unfortunate as the celebration of the Bolshevik Revolution, for although the Marian apparitions in Portugal did not cause violence or totalitarianism, they became a shameless religious manipulation that was played to the tune of anti-communist obsession.

On May 17, 1917, three peasant children from the village of Fatima, Portugal, claimed to be in communication with the Virgin Mary. Over successive alleged apparitions, they were imprisoned by local authorities, but eventually released. The children then announced that the Virgin Mary would perform a miracle on October 13. Large crowds gathered (around 50,000 people) in expectation of a miracle. Suddenly, it was claimed that something strange was going on in the sky, and people in the crowd began to look at the sun. According to testimonies, the sun displayed multiple colors and began to dance. In the eyes of many, the Virgin Mary had fulfilled her promise about the miracle.

Not everyone agreed. Plenty of people present in the crowd claimed they saw absolutely nothing extraordinary. If the sun really did make such movements, it would have been detected by people in other locations. Yet, observatories all over the world reported no unusual activity. Perhaps dust in the atmosphere caused the sun to appear in many colors, perhaps a sundog formed by ice crystals is the explanation. It could also be that staring at the sun for too long caused perceptual disturbances in many people, aside from the fact that they already had the prior expectation that a miracle would happen.

Be that as it may, Portuguese politicians seized the opportunity to profit from this. The leftist anti-clerical government tried to ridicule the apparitions and the miracle. But, once the Portuguese Republic was toppled by Antonio de Oliveira Salazar’s coup in 1933, the new regime appropriated the Fatima cult and used it to pursue an ultraconservative agenda.

Although the original Marian apparitions took place in 1917, it is extremely unlikely that illiterate peasant children would know anything about the political turmoil in Russia. However, by 1929, Lucia dos Santos (the only survivor of the original three children), now an adult, was living in a convent in Spain. During that time, she began to claim that the Virgin Mary asked for the consecration of Russia. Allegedly, the Virgin said that if this consecration took place, Russia would convert, and world peace would be secure. The implication was that, as long as Russia remained atheist and communist, God would be angry and would not allow for peace on Earth.

In the midst of World War II, in 1941, Lucia wrote two of the alleged secrets that the Virgin revealed to her in 1917. The first one was a description of hell; the second one was a prophecy about the start of a new world war, and the request to consecrate Russia. The faithful believed that the second message was an accurate prophecy, but of course, it was ex post facto, after the fact, and therefore, not a true prophecy.

The revelation of these two secrets launched a renewed interest in the Fatima cult, and this time it took a decisively political twist. The Virgin’s alleged request to consecrate Russia was taken to mean that communism was somehow in league with Satan, and evil would not be defeated in the final apocalyptic battle, until Russia ceased being a communist country. Russia had already been in the watch of apocalyptic enthusiasts, because of its long-time association with the enigmatic Gog and Magog mentioned in the book of Revelation. But, up to that time, the apocalyptic association with Russia remained on the fringes, and only in the Protestant world. The Fatima cult made it much more mainstream, and brought it to the Catholic world.

Pope John Paul II, a leading figure in the anticommunist crusade, made extensive use of the Fatima cult with much more explicit political overtones. He survived an assassination attempt in 1981 (most likely plotted by Bulgarian communists), and he continuously claimed that Our Lady of Fatima saved him. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Fatima cult enthusiasts alleged that it all happened because, in 1984, John Paul II consecrated Russia to the Virgin.

Back in 1943, Lucia had written a third secret that, allegedly, the Virgin communicated to her, but it was not undisclosed. Amongst apocalypticists, there was speculation that it contained about a prophecy about doom. The secret was finally revealed in 2000. It was, again, a vision of hell, and a description of how a bishop dressed in white is killed by the forces of evil. Enthusiasts believe that this was a prediction of John Paull II’s assassination attempt; it would require a big stretch of the imagination to accept this, as this prophecy, very much as in all apocalyptic descriptions, uses strange imagery that can be easily used to match any contemporary event.

Hardcore Fatima enthusiasts, however, believe that the third secret was not fully revealed, and they also believe that John Paul II did not truly consecrate Russia to the Virgin. They thus continue to speculate that the secret makes some apocalyptic prediction about Russia because, after all, the consecration has not yet taken place. In their view, Russia is still a satanic power.

When it comes to Fatima, the Catholic Church allows for individual judgement. Catholics are not required to believe that there were indeed apparitions in Fatima, and in all fairness, there have been a few members of the clergy who poke holes in all of the Fatima cultists’ claims. But, from the very start, Lucia was surrounded by top-ranking clergymen who made sure that her declarations would suit the political interests of the Church. It is likely that Lucia did not know how to read and write sufficiently well, and her writings were actually edited by her Jesuit confessors and other higher ranking officials. This editing probably expanded (or even made up entirely) the political overtones of Lucia’s original revelations.

Make no mistake: the Soviet Union was an oppressive regime, and present-day Russia is a deeply corrupt nation. Neither Lenin nor Putin deserve any praise. But, the way a sector of the Catholic Church has used the Fatima cult to push its political agenda is morally objectionable. If historical and political arguments are enough to condemn the historical legacy of the Bolshevik Revolution, what need is there for apocalyptic mongering? In fact, the Fatima cult plays into the hands of communists, who would like to think that all anti-communists are religious fanatics with the same mentality of the Czarist age, and that is why the Bolshevik Revolution was justified all along.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someone
SHARE

Gabriel is a professor at Universidad del Zulia, Venezuela. He has written books on Darwin, the existence of God, the afterlife, and postmodernism.