- WHY FATIMA
- FATIMA CENTER
- PRAYER & DEVOTION
In the long death knell for religion in the West, yet another peal has been rung in the form of a study showing that the gap between those who profess a faith and those who do not is closing. Soon, it is projected, the un-churched and the churched will stare at one another across the great divide in equal numbers, but with the momentum decidedly on the side of the un-churched. And more than a third of those who disclaim allegiance to a particular creed say they were raised Catholic.
There are other polls that are even more disheartening. Many who yet profess to be Catholic are apparently under the misconception that assent to defined dogma is optional. Newspapers and Web reports list the steadily rising number of “Catholics” who no longer believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, unaware that such disbelief puts one outside the Church. It is as though a poll were to report how many members of the National Rifle Association no longer believe in the right to bear arms.
We are obviously far advanced along the path of a cultural disintegration that makes the usual religious designations close to meaningless. What can we safely assume now when someone identifies himself as Catholic? Very little. He may hold to any number of the vague and various sentiments and opinions. He may be a Catholic who thinks abortion is permissible, along with homosexuality, women priests and all manner of heterodoxy.
In what sense is he then Catholic? Only historically, accidentally. He may have been born into a Catholic family in much the same way he was born into a family of Yankee fans, though it is likely his allegiance to the team is a more serious matter than his fidelity to the Church. The object of worship for most men in this country is really the great god Sport.
But many erstwhile Catholics whose souls cannot rest content with the consolations of sport are falling prey to evangelists of one sort or another: Pentecostal, Baptist, etc. The flow of conversions has been reversed in recent decades, and instead of Protestants coming into the Church we see a growing stream of Catholics exiting for other religions. In a feel-good world, people want a feel-good religion: one that brings occasional emotional exhilaration without strenuous demands on conduct. They want to cry a little, laugh a little, sing a little, then go on their way and do as they please. After all, what does it matter what a man does when he’s been redeemed? And many Catholic churchmen, rather than oppose this drift, have tried to move in its direction, with little success.
And toward a Western world that has largely lost its sense of serious purpose in religion, Islam has turned its grim and implacable face. Who are these people who think it blessed to die for their fierce god? To the average Westerner, the Muslim is a mystery, for most of us no longer have a god for whom we are willing to die. Sacrifice makes little sense in a feel-good world and has no place in a feel-good religion, whether it calls itself Catholic or Protestant.
This month, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary to commemorate the victory of Catholic forces over the Muslim invaders at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. It was to stop the Muslims from attacking Rome, which they eyed hungrily and called “the red apple”, that St. Pius V formed the Holy League and gave command of its fleet and army to Don John of Austria. Its mission: sail to Greece and stop Ali Pasha’s invasion.
The story is familiar to some, though it is almost entirely ignored in the teaching of history in the schools, despite its being among the most consequential battles ever fought. Outnumbered, under the command of a 24-year-old admiral who was the illegitimate son of Emperor Charles V, the Christian fleet approached the terrible Muslim force, which filled the miles-long horizon in the Gulf of Lepanto, like the maw of death itself. The wind was against Don John, but he rallied his men, rowing among the ships, crying out that they would be glorious in victory or death, and always, rising from the decks of the war galleys was the cry, “Deus lo vult.” The crusaders cry: God wills it.
Each man had a Rosary. Masses were said in the predawn aboard all the ships, general absolution given, and priests holding crucifixes stood at the head of the soldiery, ready to lead them into battle. Don John, after rallying the men, returned to his flag ship Real and there, he knelt on the quarterdeck, where all could see, and prayed for victory. His men did the same and soon, in the 300 ships of the fleet, everyone was on his knees. Then, it happened, suddenly, miraculously: the wind that had been blowing in their faces suddenly shifted and was now at their backs.
Sails were raised. The papal banner, blessed and bearing an enormous cross, was hoisted atop the masthead. Cheers thundered across the waters. As the Muslims scrambled to man their oars and lower their canvas, the Christian rowers came up from below, and whether convict or free man, all were given weapons. All became soldiers of Christ that day.
The battle raged through all the morning and afternoon. The story is epic, as exciting as Homer’s tales, but true. In the end, the great green banner with the crescent moon and the name of Allah embroidered in gold 28,900 times disappeared from above Ali Pasha’s flagship, the Sultana, and the Muslim forces saw waving in its place the cross of the Holy League. Ali Pasha’s head was put on a pike and stared out insensibly at his great army in disarray and ruin. The West had won. Rome was saved.
And in Rome, that very day, St. Pius V had a Divine presentiment and stopped conducting business with his Cardinals to tell them that this was not a time for business but for rejoicing, for God had given them victory. Deus lo vult!
There would be more battles, but Islam never recovered from Lepanto — until now.
It is said that success has many fathers but failure is an orphan. It must be admitted that the attempt to convert Islam is an orphaned enterprise. Many have tried, but no one can be said to have made any appreciable inroad in that obdurate terrain of the Muslim world. All other heresies have had their day, then faded into the amorphous mass of dissolving creeds. But Islam has never faltered. Its material and military fortunes have varied. The West has been able to win on the battlefield, but Islam as a religion has been invincible. Why this should be so is a matter that lends itself to speculation and argument, but that it is so is undeniable.
One might also point out another missionary failure: the Orthodox. The claim that Russia has been consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and that we are seeing the fruits of that act is too absurd to require much refutation. The Catholic Faith is still anathema in Russia and the Orthodox are still allied to a government that is Marxist in a nation in which immorality and irreligion can be measured by the astronomical abortion rate. Yet, we have the promise of Our Lady of Fatima that Russia will be converted and a period of peace will be given the world.
But how can the world ever be at peace unless Islam also be converted? The devotees of Allah will never surrender so long as they believe in their god and his prophet. And if they must be converted, how could this conceivably come about? All attempts at proselytizing have largely failed. It seems it would require a miracle, the same sort of miracle that will convert the Orthodox and the unbeliever in Russia.
More than a half-century ago, Bishop Fulton Sheen noted that Heaven never acts haphazardly. As he put it, everything is done with “a finesse of all details.” He then asks why Our Lady should have chosen to appear at Fatima Why should She want to be known in our time as Our Lady of Fatima?
Mary is honored by Muslims above all women, which is strange, for according to the Koran, She is only the mother of a prophet, Jesus, who they believe was but the forerunner of Mohamet. Yet, many verses are devoted to Her, and Mohamet says that She is to be honored above all women, even his own beloved daughter, Fatima.
Now, how did a tiny village in the mountains of Portugal come to be named after the daughter of Mohamet?
The last Muslim chief in the place where Mary was to appear in 1917 had a beautiful daughter who was loved by the local leader of the Christians. When the Muslim chief was forced to depart, his daughter asked to stay. She converted to the Catholic Faith and married, and her bridegroom, to honor his beloved, gave the town her name, Fatima.
So when a Muslim hears the phrase, “Our Lady of Fatima”, it has a deep resonance for him. It evokes all the praises to Mary that the prophet pours out in the Koran, and his devotion is compounded by the name of the prophet’s daughter, Fatima. No matter how alien the Muslim may find the Christian religion, no matter how hostile he may be toward the West, the name of Our Lady of Fatima sounds in his heart a deep and familiar strain.
Bishop Sheen, writing in the early 1950s, noted that the Pilgrim Virgin statue, making its way around the world, was received with great honor in Muslim countries. In Mozambique, he says, the presence of the statue resulted in many conversions among the Muslims, a thing almost unheard of. Where the missionaries failed, Mary succeeded.
And it was Bishop Sheen’s conviction that Our Lady of Fatima is destined to bring the Muslims to Her Son. Their conversion, like the conversion of Russia, will be a miracle effected by Her Immaculate Heart. In his book, The World’s First Love, published in 1952, he wrote:
“I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as ‘Our Lady of Fatima’ as a pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people, and as an assurance that they, who show Her so much respect, will one day accept Her Divine Son, too.”
As the troubles of the world become more impossible of resolution with each passing day, and as the Church continues to be unwilling to resume its role as the Church Militant and hold up to the world the banner of Her saving truth, it appears a miracle is needed. Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of the Rosary will be that miracle. Let us strive and pray, but let us have confidence in Her victory. Deus lo vult!