The ways of peace: Our Lady of Fatima and non-violent resistance

By Glen Argan

(Published in The Catholic Register, Toronto, http://www.catholicregister.org; issue of May 22, 2017)

Students at St. Augustine School in Regina were abuzz in the fall of 1960 when we learned a priest was coming who would reveal a secret message from the Virgin Mary.

Until then, my eight-year-old friends had known nothing about Our Lady of Fatima and her appearances to Portuguese shepherd children in 1917. But when we heard about Fatima, we were eager to learn secrets from heaven and every detail of the apparitions.

Speculation was that the priest would announce the day the world would end, a day that had supposedly been kept secret in a letter only the pope had read. At my tender age, I had never considered the world might end someday. Now, we were about to receive divine confirmation of it.

On the eagerly-anticipated evening of the priest’s talk in Little Flower Church, I was sick at home. Drat! When I spoke with my friends the next day, disappointment was in the air. No date for the apocalypse had been announced; the priest had mainly urged those in the packed church to pray and do penance.

Still, my interest in the Fatima apparitions had been piqued. A few years later, I found a hardcover book about Fatima on my mother’s bookshelf and devoured it from cover to cover. It told about all six appearances of Mary to the children, the persecution they experienced from a secularist government, Mary’s prediction of a second major war and the famed third secret.

It is a great story for young boys — a mysterious heavenly apparition, a group of nasty opponents of the vision and a special effect of the sun hurtling toward the earth.

Further, my awareness of the apparitions was one of the first things that chipped away at my childhood innocence. Our family was far from wealthy, but we lived a comfortable enough existence with none of the existential dread that soon engulfed the Western world.

With Fatima, I learned that sin and lack of devotion had political consequences. It had led to an horrific war and someday the world would end. The day of my awareness of the apparitions had been followed by the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, and radical student uprisings. Were these also part of Fatima’s apocalyptic scenario?

Slower to dawn on me was that Our Lady of Fatima brought a message of peace. She was not the origin of all the frightening possibilities of war, persecution and the end of the world. She held the remedy. If the world had become more deeply devoted to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, much of the turmoil and suffering of the last century might have been avoided.

Many would see this diagnosis as naive. However, what can ordinary folks do to prevent war and build peace?

Currently, I am a member of the Roman Catholic-Mennonite dialogue in Edmonton. Our recent discussion focused on the commitment to peace, an area of Christian teaching and witness where Catholics can learn much from Mennonites.

One Mennonite member of the dialogue spoke of his 25-year history of refusing to pay that portion of his income tax which supports the military. Somehow, he has avoided going to jail, but he opens himself to that risk because of his conviction that the way of Jesus is that of non-violent resistance. His stance challenges both governments and Christian believers. If we are committed to peace, how do we witness to that belief?

May 13 is the 100th anniversary of Mary’s first appearance at Fatima. Some followers of the apparitions have warned that during this centennial year, “something” is going to happen. Yet, when it comes to war, “something” is always happening. In many places around the globe, murder and mayhem masquerading as struggles for justice are ongoing.

Peace was Mary’s central concern at Fatima. She urged us to do penance and pray to her Immaculate Heart so the world might have peace. Jesus witnessed to peace too. When his life was threatened by the powers, he chose not to respond with much greater power. Instead, he paid the ultimate price so we might share in God’s eternal life and peace.

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