Pope Francis leads a vigil in the Little Chapel of the Apparitions at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal May 12. The pope was making a two-day visit to Fatima to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions and to canonize two of the young seers. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Can prayer change the direction of history? Are prayer and acts of penance capable of preventing nuclear annihilation? Can prayers and penance increase our freedom? “Yes, yes and yes.” Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), on June 26, 2000, in reference specifically to the request of Our Lady of Fatima to pray and do penance “to save souls,” wrote: “The future is not in fact unchangeably set, and the image [of terrible destruction and suffering] which the children saw is in no way a film preview of a future in which nothing can be changed. Indeed, the whole point of the vision is to bring freedom onto the scene and to steer freedom in a positive direction. The purpose of the vision is not to show a film of an irrevocably fixed future. Its meaning is exactly the opposite: it is meant to mobilize the forces of change in the right direction.”

Unlikely protagonists of freedom and peace

This is the second in a series of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s reflections on Our Lady of Fatima.

When I was about the age of the three children of Fatima, Sister Veronica told my catechism class about God’s weapon for peace: the Rosary. Then, she invited each of us to take up this weapon and use it every day. I accepted her invitation and have been blessed in many ways because of it.

A century ago, as World War I continued its destruction across Europe, Pope Benedict XV, after making many multiple pleas for peace that went unheeded, called for a novena to the Mother of God. As many of the faithful were heeding the late Holy Father’s summons to prayer, on the eighth day of the novena, May 13, 1917, God sent Our Lady of Fatima to three children in a remote area of Portugal and called them to be protagonists for peace in the world by asking the faithful to pray and do penance for this intention.

The oldest of the children, Lúcia, described the apparition as follows, “A lady, clothed in white, brighter than the sun, radiating a light more clear and intense than a crystal cup filled with sparkling water lit by burning sunlight.” Mary told the children, “Do not be afraid, I will not harm you. … I come from heaven.” Then, just before rising and disappearing in the sky, she entrusted them with the mission of praying the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world, an end to the war, reparation of sins and the conversion of Russia.

Join us in Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Fatima

EN ESPAÑOL: Libertad con la ayuda de oración — Devoción del Primer Sábado

‘Wage the good warfare’

The Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted is the bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix. He was installed as the fourth bishop of Phoenix on Dec. 20, 2003, and is the spiritual leader of the diocese’s 1.1 million Catholics.

The Lord chooses unlikely persons for accomplishing His designs. St. Paul was keenly aware of this fact. Of his own call from God, he wrote (1 Tim 1:13ff), “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man, but I have been mercifully treated because … Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in Him for everlasting life.”

Paul exhorted Timothy, even though quite young, not to doubt that God is the One who called him to be a successor of the Apostles. He wrote (I Tim 1:18f, 4:12), “This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son … wage the good warfare holding faith and a good conscience. … Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct in love, in faith, in piety.”

During the third of her six apparitions to the children, Our Lady of Fatima asked them to promote the Five First Saturdays Devotion, aimed at helping people to be freed of sin, to draw close to Jesus and to make reparation for the evils of blasphemy and ingratitude. This devotion is another effective weapon for waging war against the forces of the Evil One.

First Saturday Devotion: Formation for Freedom

Mary recommended to the children of Fatima (and to us) the practice of the First Saturdays Devotion, done over five successive months, a devotion aimed at winning the spiritual battle against the Accuser and the Father of Lies (Jesus’ favorite names for the devil). This devotion consists of the following four practices: 1. The Sacrament of Confession, 2. Worthy Reception of Holy Communion, 3. Five decades of the Rosary, and 4. Fifteen minutes keeping company with Jesus and Mary.

The First Saturdays Devotion stimulates the spirit of reparation. It nurtures our love of the Blessed Mother and the Rosary. It increases our appreciation of the Sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist. In a world plagued with blasphemy, religious indifference and enslaving addictions to drugs and pornography, the First Saturday Devotion is an excellent means to maintain ourselves in the state of grace while waging daily spiritual battles and bearing witness to God’s redeeming love.

When we confess our sins and receive our Lord in Holy Communion, when we pray the Rosary and spend time in the presence of Jesus and Mary, we grow in freedom from selfishness and become freer for the worship of God and love of our neighbor. Then, we experience the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy (Luke 1:70ff), “Through His holy Prophets He promised of old that He would save us from our enemies, from the hands of all who hate us … free to worship Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight all the days of our life.”

While struggling against constant attacks by the Evil One, we look with hope to the Redemptive suffering and death of Jesus, and find ready assistance in the intercession of His Beloved Mother. The First Saturdays Devotion, done five months in succession, is a wonderful way proposed by Our Lady of Fatima to journey more confidently along the path of freedom that Christ won for us on the Cross. I invite you and your family to accompany me on this spiritual pilgrimage.