For the Daughters of St. Paul, founded only two years before the Fátima apparitions, the answer to that question is profound. Our Lady of Fátima appeared to three obscure Portuguese children at an important, even crucial, time in world affairs. World War I was going on, of course; but sadly there’s rarely a time when there’s a war not going on somewhere.
Fátima's Distinctive Context: the Media Explosion
No; what’s particularly distinctive to us is that her appearance marked the beginning of the explosion of media used throughout the world.
Marconi had been awarded the patents for transatlantic radio communications just a few years before. In 1909 Charles David Herrold constructed a broadcasting station using spark gap technology; San Jose Calling (there were no call letters) continued broadcasting to eventually become today's KCBS in San Francisco. And in 1916, American Radio and Research Company made the first continuous broadcast in the world; the company later became the first to broadcast on a daily schedule, as well as the first to broadcast radio dance programs, university lectures, the weather, and bedtime stories.
In 1917, scientists were already working on the creation of television sets. Seven new publishing companies were launched in that one year. The Great War was the first to be fought in front of motion picture cameras, and the United States Motion Picture Corporation produced over 20 films in 1917 alone.
In other words, media was fast becoming the most important and timely way to reach people. And even as it did, the Church was ready to meet the challenge. Already in 1915 Father James Alberione had gathered a group of young women in Italy to found a congregation that would eventually be known as “media nuns,” women using the power and reach of the media to bring the Good News of Christ to the world.
This is the context in which the apparitions of Our Lady at Fátima, and the Miracle of the Sun, occurred.
And it was timely. Remember that Fátima was a tiny village that wasn’t on anyone’s radar, a reminder of another small village: in the Gospel of John, Nathanael asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” In the early twentieth century, small villages and towns were cut off from the world’s commercial and political hubs. Our Lady could have appeared in Rome or Paris or London; she chose instead, and oddly enough, a place where the major occupation was sheepherding, a place that most people of the time hadn’t even heard of. We cannot believe that this was accidental.
In choosing Fátima, in choosing Lúcia, Jacinta, and Francisco, Our Lady was again affirming God’s love for the poor, the hidden, the obscure. She entrusted her message, not to the prelates of the Vatican, but to three schoolchildren.
And in doing so, she trusted that, somehow, the word would get out.
That was a breathtaking assumption. How was this supposed to happen? Through letters, newspaper articles, word of mouth? In essence, Our Lady was saying that the whole world matters. Before she even spoke, her presence made that announcement. Every person in the world matters, every village in the world matters, every child in the world matters. And if that is true, then what could be more important than finding ways to bring God’s love to all these places, to all people?
“Your mission has no boundaries,” Blessed James Alberione told the sisters.
“Its only boundaries are those of the world.”
So the time of the apparitions at Fátima mattered, and the place of the apparitions at Fátima mattered. Where do we take it from there?
What does Our Lady of Fátima have to do with you?
As the 100th anniversary year of the apparitions draws to a close, we need to cherish their lessons. That world peace might one day be achievable. That strengthening our faith and that of others through various means—prayer, penance, and evangelization—is of the essence. And that, to our amazement and delight, miracles do actually happen.
But also that we are, each of us, instruments of God in reaching out to the world. We have no excuse not to. We don’t have to wait for clipper ships to carry our letters to distant shores. We don’t have to rely on word of mouth to tell people about our own upcoming retreats, liturgies, community gatherings, Bible studies, prayer services. “The power of the cinema surpasses that of the school, the pulpit, and the press, “ said Blessed James Alberione, “and can produce greater results.” And there’s every reason to believe that our Founder would have been enchanted by the speed and reach of social media today as well.
In other words, we have no excuse. The message of Fátima is as relevant today as it was a century ago, if not in its specifics, then certainly in its essentials.
The Message of Fátima for Today
We need to pray for peace.
We need to up the ante in our daily faith practices, particularly around the Eucharist.
We need to believe in miracles.
- And we need to let the world in on this tremendous truth that we’ve been given: that God loves us, every one of us, and forgives us, and waits to welcome us home.
The children’s “lovely lady in a cloud” wasn’t speaking just to them; she was addressing the world, historically and geographically, and we’re called to do the same.
“If the Church accepted the message of Fátima,” wrote St. John Paul II, “it is above all because it contains a truth and a summons which are in essence the truth and the summons of the Gospel itself.”
The Daughters of St. Paul heed that truth, and that summons, every day.
by Jeannette de Beauvoir