Pope John Paul II is pictured with Carmelite Sister Lucia dos Santos, the last of the three Fatima visionaries alive in 1991. Recent popes have had a special affection for Our Lady of Fatima, but no pope’s connection can match that of now St. John Paul II. (CNS photo/Joao Paul Trindade via EPA)

Throughout the history of salvation, God chooses to use what seems too small and insignificant to accomplish his purposes. Small realities, ordinary people: like the poor young children of Fatima, like the family.

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

At the time of Our Lady’s appearances to Jacinta, Francisco and Lúcia, none of them were older than 10, none of them could yet read or write, and two of them were not to live long. When Jacinta and Francisco, ages 7 and 9 respectively, were told that their lives on earth were to end soon, they were not upset. They longed to be with Jesus and His Mother in Heaven. Within two years of Mary’s appearances, they died in a widespread flu epidemic and, as shown by their recent canonization by Pope Francis, joined the saints in heaven.

Only Lúcia dos Santos, age 10, had a mission that called for a long earthly life. Our Lady told her to learn to read and write, and that it would be her task to share the Fatima message with the world.

In the third of Our Lady’s six apparitions, Mary showed the children startling imagery, including a disturbing one of the Holy Father, dressed in his white cassock, climbing a mountain and passing through a ruined city at the head of a large procession. In the vision, he was shot and killed, and those following him were also martyred. The children had the impression that this vision was a foreshadowing of future events.

Join us in Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Fatima

The Battle surrounding Marriage and the Family

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.

Sr. Lúcia’s description of the July 13, 1917 vision became known as the “Third Secret” of Fatima. Popes St. John XXIII and Blessed Paul VI read the account by Sr. Lúcia, but discerned the timing was not yet right to share it.

The Third Secret was to remain undisclosed until 1984 when St. John Paul II made it known. Why this moment? The late Holy Father, with whom I was working at the time in Rome, was convinced that the Pope shown in the vision referred to himself. Why? Because on May 13, 1981, the 64th anniversary of the first of the Fatima apparitions, he was shot by a would-be assassin and, then, miraculously was “given his life back”.

At the time of the assassination attempt, St. John Paul II was en route to publicly announce the establishment of a new educational institute, one that would deepen the Church’s understanding, pastoral care and evangelization of marriage and the family. The founding had to be postponed until the Holy Father recovered his health, but the resulting John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family was indeed established later in the year. To this day, the Institute is dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima.

EN ESPAÑOL: Defensa del matrimonio y la familia


54-Day Family Novena and Consecration

Aug. 21: Novena prayer begins

Oct. 13: Consecration of the Diocese of Phoenix to the Immaculate Heart of Mary

A time to accompany Our Lady of Fatima through prayer, penance and evangelization; in a particular way, to encourage praying the Rosary every day as a family for the conversion of hearts and peace in the world.

Info: dphx.org/fatima

As the Institute began its vital mission under its first president, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, he felt so overwhelmed by the intense spiritual battle that he was facing that he wrote to Sr. Lúcia to request prayers. To his surprise, he received a lengthy letter back, only a few weeks later. In this letter, Sr. Lúcia did not mince words, saying: “The decisive battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be over marriage and the family. … [But] do not be afraid, because anyone who works for the sanctity of marriage and the family will be opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue. … However, our Lady has already crushed his head.”

Why is the family so attacked by the evil one? Pope Francis explained it as follows: “when God completes his work of creation and makes his masterpiece, the masterpiece is man and woman. And here Jesus begins his own miracles with this masterpiece, in a marriage, in a wedding feast: a man and a woman. … A man and woman who love each other! This is the masterpiece!” (General Audience, April 29, 2015). If the devil cannot attack God directly, he seeks to make a mockery of the highest point of creation, the love of husband and wife.

Pope John Paul II is assisted by aides after being shot in St. Peter’s Square May 13, 1981. Bullets fired by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca struck the pope’s hand and lower abdomen as he rode in an open jeep greeting pilgrims on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. His personal secretary, Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz, is pictured over the pope’s left shoulder. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano) (March 20, 2014) See stories SAINTS- to come.

Never Left Unaided

We bishops and priests are keenly aware of the impact of spiritual attacks on families under our care. For our part, we pray ardently for our married couples and their families and we strive to make the sacraments generously available to nourish and strengthen them. We also teach the fullness of the truth of the family, including marriage’s indissolubility and the marital act and openness to life as prophetically presented in Humanae Vitae. When we do this, sometimes there is resistance as we present God’s plan for marriage and the family; but often, the response of the faithful is gratitude.

In all these efforts, we have a ready ally in Our Lady of Fatima. Confident of this, I will publicly consecrate our Diocese to her Immaculate Heart on Oct. 13, the 100th Anniversary of her final apparition to the children of Fatima. Given that the role of Catholic parents in their homes is analogous to my role as Bishop of our Diocese, I make an urgent request to all parents. Please join me by leading your family in daily prayer during a special 54-Day Novena to Our Lady beginning on Aug. 21, the vigil of the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, and continuing through the 13th of October. In this way, you will consecrate in a powerful way your domestic church to Our Lady’s motherly heart. Confident that she will not fail to intercede for your family, entrust to her all the challenges you face now and will face in the future.

Your family, like the children of Fatima, is not too little to be used by the Lord to accomplish His amazing plan.