The years had not been going well for Czar Nicholas II of Russia. In 1905, in the wake of the disastrous Russian-Japanese war, the Russian people forced their czar to forego his status as an absolute ruler, answerable to no one, and call together a parliament, known as the Duma, which would have some voice in Russia’s destiny. By 1914, Russia and the rest of Europe were in the upheavals of World War I, in which there were more than 1.7 million military deaths and 2.2 million total deaths from the Russian population. In 1917 Russia’s destiny was completely out of control. Trotskyites, Bolsheviks and Communists successively overthrew the Czarist government and in February 1917, Czar Nicholas was forced to abdicate on behalf of his brother, Michael. By July of 1918, the Czar, his son, his brother and the Czar’s wife and daughters were all dead, executed on the edges of Siberia. By the time of the Czar’s death, Lenin and his hard line Communists had seized the Russian government. The era of Soviet Russia had begun. Meanwhile…
Anticipating these disastrous events in Russia, an angel appeared in 1916, to three shepherd children — Jacinta, Francisco, and Lucia — near the village of Fatima, Portugal. The angel told the three children to “…offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High . . . Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners . . . Above all, accept and bear with submission the sufferings which the Lord will send you.” The children began to understand “how pleasing sacrifice is to Him and how, on account of it, He grants the grace of conversion to sinners.” The angel also taught the children what is often called the Pardon Prayer: My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love Thee! I beg pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love Thee. Amen. Again, in the autumn of that year the angel taught the children the so-called Angel Prayer: Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I adore Thee profoundly. I offer Thee the Most Precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges, and indifference by which He is offended. And through the infinite merit of His Most Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of Thee the conversion of poor sinners.
Three months after Czar Nicholas’ February abdication, on May 13, 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary herself appeared to these three children and instructed the two girls and the boy to pray for the conversion of Russia. At first, the children thought Russia was the name of girl. The Blessed Virgin especially asked for prayer, particularly that of the Holy Rosary, and for reparation and for consecration. The three children experienced six apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary between May 13 and October 13, 1917. These were the months immediately after Czar Nicolas’ abdication and half-a-year before his execution. These were also the months of Communism’s ascendancy in Russia. The timing of the Fatima appearances was certainly no coincidence.
During one visit, the lady taught the children the Eucharistic prayer: “Most Holy Trinity, I adore Thee! My God, My God, I love Thee in the Most Blessed Sacrament.” During her July apparition she taught them the Sacrifice prayer: “O Jesus all is for love of Thee, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” and the now popular Decade prayer: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy.” On October 13, 1917, during the final apparition, reminiscent of similarly-timed Mary’s words to St. Bernadette at Lourdes, Our Blessed Mother made herself known to the children as, “Our Lady of The Rosary.”
Prayer and sacrifice, the Rosary and penance, invocation and reparation — these were Fatima’s constant themes from the angel’s first visit in 1916 to Mary’s final appearance late in 1917. The daily prayers of individual believers and the “offering up” of daily sacrifices had been staples of Catholic piety for centuries. Until recent years such private prayers and small personal sacrifices were essential to the daily routine of many devout Catholics from the Fatima children to St. Theresa of Lisieux. Fatima reminds Catholics that the humble prayers and devout practices of daily life are most valuable in the sight of God. As the 100th anniversary of Fatima is highlighted this year with special monthly observances within the Diocese of Providence, the Catholic world should reassess the urgency of personal prayers and pious practices.