COLORADO SPRINGS. The three Portuguese children to whom the Blessed Mother appeared six times in 1917 were not chosen at random but rather were open to Mary’s messages because of the spiritual preparation they had undergone — a lesson that we should all take to heart, Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa told a record-breaking crowd at Pikes Peak Center in downtown Colorado Springs on Aug. 4.
Father Pacwa, a regular host on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), was one of the speakers at the annual St. Thomas Aquinas Society conference Aug. 3-6. The theme of this year’s conference was “Fatima and the Triumph.” Father Pacwa gave two talks, one on “The Fatima Predictions for the 20th Century” and a second one titled “Responses to Fatima in the 21st Century.”
In his first talk, Father Pacwa reminded the audience that, a year before Mary’s apparitions, Jacinta and Francisco Marto and Lucia dos Santos “were first met by an angel in 1916 — an angel who had been sent to them to prepare them to meet Our Lady. In that preparation, they were told to pray ‘My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love thee. I ask pardon for all those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love you.’ This was something they were told to repeat — a phrase that certainly fit the times. This was when World War I was raging — it had begun with the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo. That assassination triggered one series of events after another.”
As the world’s great empires fought against each other in World War I, they often tried to make the Catholic Church an enemy in the process. Those empires were all ultimately destroyed, Father Pacwa said.
“It’s in that context that the angel comes to these little kids and tells them this message,” he said. “We certainly can hear some resonance even 100 years later in regards to those who, in the name of separation of church and state, insist on placing the state ahead of the church.”
Father Pacwa suggested that modern-day Catholics recite the same prayer said by the children at Fatima in response to the current cultural landscape, where it’s easy amidst the noisy promotion of fads to forget that Jesus Christ should be the center of attention at Mass.
“These children were prepared for the messages they would receive in 1917,” Father Pacwa said. “We have to have a similar preparation for our own ability to understand the message from Fatima. It’s not easy to see through the nonsense, so I must become more spiritually prepared like these young children were so I can look at what’s happening through spiritual eyes and see our culture not as a series of fads. It’s time for us to be more deeply spiritually prepared in eucharistic devotion and adoration of God. These are key, as well as reparation for the various offenses against our Lord Jesus.”
Rather than focusing on declining Church attendance, Catholics should put more effort into evangelizing those of other faiths by pointing to the sacraments and other treasures offered by the Catholic faith, Father Pacwa said.
“Most of the churches that separated from us at the time of the Reformation are themselves in freefall collapse,” Father Pacwa said. “We have a lot to offer them. We have lots of problems ourselves, to be sure, but we are still by far the strongest of the churches. This is a good time for us Catholics to become much more evangelical. As one of my Protestant friends recently told me, ‘If you Catholics become more evangelical — preaching the Gospel and keeping focused on salvation — then we Protestants will become more sacramental.”
In 2017, the Catholic Church is marking the 100th anniversary of the apparitions at Fatima. Francisco and Jacinta, who died as children from an influenza epidemic, were canonized by Pope Francis in May. Their cause for canonization was stalled for decades due to a debate on whether non-martyred children have the capacity to understand heroic virtues at a young age. However, in 1979, St. John Paul II allowed their cause to proceed. Lucia, who lived to age 97, is currently being considered for canonization.
Also, because one of the messages Mary gave to the three children at Fatima was that “Jesus wishes to establish throughout the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart,” Bishop Michael Sheridan will consecrate the Diocese of Colorado Springs to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on Oct. 15 at 2 p.m. during a Rosary Rally at Holy Apostles Church.
(Catholic News Service contributed to this story.)