Read: "Fatima, a place of peace and prayer" by Father James Conlon, Pastor of Saint Francis of Assisi, Ann Arbor

One of the great joys of priestly ministry is to be able to celebrate Mass at the great Christian shrines of the world, writes Father James Conlon, Pastor of Saint Francis of Assisi in Ann Arbor, upon the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13. Father Conlon, who made a pilgrimage to Fatima last month as pictured below, continues:

The Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal must certainly be one of those great shrines for there in 1917, in the midst of the Great War, the Blessed Mother appeared on several occasions to three simple shepherd children (Lucia dos Santos and Francisco and Jacinta Marto) sharing with them a message of prayer, repentance and conversion. It’s a message that still holds true for us today as we survey our world and see so many nations and regions tarnished by war and violence and witness the never-ending attacks on the family and the Church. Today as we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Fatima we are once again invited to focus on that message and to join in prayer and self-denial for peace and the conversion of sinners.

In the first of six apparitions beginning on May 13, and ending with the spectacular events of October 13 when the sun was seen to dance in the sky, Mary asked the children to pray the rosary for peace. She also asked if they were willing to offer themselves to God and to bear all their sufferings as an act of reparation for the conversion of sinners. While they did not fully understand that request they willingly said “yes” and so began lives of prayer, penance, and self-denial. For Jacinta and Francisco, that life would be short-lived- both died very young, but for Lucia who died in 2005, it would be a long life of prayer and service to the Church in the Carmel in Coimbra, Portugal.

Lucia recalls in her memoirs that the “Lady from Heaven,” as she described Mary, offered her Immaculate Heart to the children, and promised that she would stay with them to the very end. Yes, Mary is in heaven, dwelling in the light of her Risen Son but in her role as Mother of the Church her heart remains here on earth binding us to her, making our struggles and pains hers. In that maternal role Mary cannot help but share in those challenges. As mother of the Redeemer, she has but one desire on her heart- that all men and women repent and come to share in the Resurrection of her Son. That desire is as real today as it was in 1917 and sadly, the need for peace is equally as great.

As late as 2000, Lucia expressed some frustration that more people wanted to dwell on the secrets and politics surrounding the message than on the actual message – its relevancy and urgency for humanity! So, is the Fatima message relevant to us today? Clearly, the popes of the past century have thought so, for nearly every pope from Pius XII to Francis has proclaimed its merits and used it as a call to pray and conversion. Many of the popes have travelled to the shrine as pilgrims seeking the intercession of the Blessed Mother for the well-being of the Church and the good and peace of the world.

When you stand on the holy spot in the great square in Fatima where Mary first appeared and ponder the accounts left to us by the children, and as you survey the current state of our world, you cannot but come away with the realization of just how important the call to prayer and conversion is for all. Remember, the message, while sobering, is in conformity with the Gospel and the teachings of the Church and one that is echoed in many other Marian apparitions.

Today, with wars raging in Ukraine, the Middle East and in various parts of Africa, with so many turning their backs on God and his Church, with an endless list of attacks on the family and on the dignity and sacredness of human life, we need to know in a deeper way the maternal embrace of the Blessed Mother and to learn from her example of faith and discipleship. Her appearance at Fatima, truly remind us of her words at Cana “do whatever he tells you.” As a conduit of grace, Mary is privy to God’s wisdom and knowledge and so the message of Fatima is best understood as one that ultimately comes from the heart of God.