Home' The Southern Cross : June 2017 Contents MARIAN PROCESSION
THE SOUTHERN CROSS June 2017 | www.thesoutherncross.org.au 15
I must confess that, growing up in a Protestant
church, I really only encountered Mary,
the mother of Jesus, at Christmas time, in
the nativity story. As an adult convert to
Catholicism, I had to ponder the place of
Marian apparitions in the Catholic tradition.
In the year 2000 I found a document issued
by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger very helpful. As
the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger issued a
commentary on what is known as the ‘Third
Secret of Fatima’. The Cardinal, who of
course became Pope Benedict XVI, began by
clarifying the status of visions and apparitions.
The Church teaches that Jesus Christ is
the fulfilment of divine revelation. No other
revelation is necessary. However, “a message
[from an apparition approved by the Church]
can be a genuine help in understanding the
Gospel and living it better at a particular
moment in time... It is a help which is offered,
but which one is not obliged to use.”
Cardinal Ratzinger reminded us that
messages and visions do not come directly
from God or Mary. A visionary can only report
what he or she has experienced, understood
and remembered, and honest mistakes can
occur in the re-telling. Cardinal Ratzinger
also stressed that a prophetic vision is not a
photograph of a future event. He pointed out
that in the biblical tradition, prophesy “does
not mean to predict the future but to explain
the will of God for the present, and therefore to
show the right path to take for the future.”
If such a path is authentic, it must lead to
Christ and nurture faith, hope and love.
Of the apparitions that have been approved
as worthy of belief by the Church, one of
the most famous and most loved is that of
Our Lady of Fatima. When I reflect, in this
centenary year, on our Lady of Fatima, three
points strike me.
The first is the humble, poor background
of the visionaries, the three young shepherd
children. When I was researching the life of
Archbishop Beovich some years ago, I came
across one of the Archbishop’s homilies in
the diocesan archives. (Incidentally, it was
Archbishop Beovich who founded the Marian
procession in 1949, and commissioned the
statue during a visit to Fatima in 1950.)
The homily was delivered on the feast day
of St Joseph the Worker, but it could equally
be applied to his wife, the Jewish peasant girl
chosen to the mother of our Lord. Archbishop
Since Joseph, then, and God’s choice of
him, a halo has been set upon obscurity.
Except in daydreams, most of us face up to
the sad fact that we are not among the world
shakers, the brilliant, the talented, the famous.
And, facing that, we tend to get smothered in
our own ordinariness. What is it that I, being
what I am, can do to set the labouring world
aright? Nothing, it seems... But it is precisely
this tendency of plainness to underrate itself
which God condemned when He chose
I find this comforting, but also confronting.
It means we have nowhere to hide, no valid
excuse for not doing our best, in our small
way, to lead others to Christ and to nurture
faith, hope and love.
The canonisation this month by Pope
Francis of the two youngest Fatima visionaries
– because of the holiness of their short lives,
not the miraculous visions – demonstrates in
a special way, very much in keeping with the
Gospels, “a halo being set on obscurity”.
My second point is the importance of the
call to pray for peace. In 1917 the First World
War still had another horrific year to run, so
prayer for peace was certainly appropriate
then. Tragically, however, the war which was
supposed to end all wars manifestly failed to
do that, and to this day we are confronted by
brutal conflicts in numerous parts of the globe.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed by these wars
and by the threats of even worse conflicts. Our
Lady of Fatima encourages us to persevere in
Finally, I am intrigued by the name Fatima.
The town in Portugal is thought to have been
originally named after a medieval Moslem
princess who was herself named after
Mohammad’s daughter, Fatima. While they do
not fully share our convictions, many Muslims
do hold Jesus and his mother in high regard
and some join the throng of pilgrims to Fatima.
Is it too much to hope that Our Lady could
help bridge the divide between Christians and
After returning from Fatima last weekend,
Pope Francis pointed out that many innocent
people, especially in the Middle East, whether
Christians, or Muslims, or members of minority
groups such as the Yazidis, are “sorely tried”,
suffering “tragic violence and discrimination”.
He entrusted to Mary, the Queen of Peace,
the destiny of those suffering from wars and
conflicts and exhorted us all to continue along
the “path of dialogue and reconciliation in
order to build a future of respect, security and
In this quest, we can be take heart from the
Gospel reading for today, Jesus’ words in the
Gospel of John: “I will not leave you orphaned.
I am coming to you. In a little while the world
will no longer see me, but you will see me;
because I live, you also will live.”
Australian Catholic University lecturer and theologian
Josephine Laffin was asked by Archbishop Wilson to
deliver the homily at the Marian Procession last month.
She spoke of the humble background of the Fatima
children, Mary’s call for perseverance in praying for peace
and bridging the divide between Christians and Muslims.
Pictures: Ben Macmahon
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