Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor visits India on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI

The former head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Murphy O'Connor, has returned from a visit to India. He was representing Pope Benedict XVI in events commemorating the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's historic visit to the country.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor visited many of the areas Pope John Paul II did. In Delhi he celebrated Mass in the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart; in Ranchi he discussed the central role the Eucharist plays in the life of the Church; in Calcutta he spoke about works of charity; in Cochin he preached on the central role of the Family; and in Bombay he met with the city's Clergy and Religious as well as seminarians at the Goregaon Seminary.

Speaking on the BBC Sunday Programme, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said: "India is the most fascinating country. What struck me most was the respect for religion."

"John Paul's visit had a huge impact at the time. I spoke mostly on the themes he had spoken on himself. I spoke on the family; young people, tribal issues, the Holy Eucharist and inter-religious dialogue."

"What struck me was what an extraordinary brave and courageous man he was. I was in India for ten days and was very tired at the end of it. Pope John Paul went all over the world with huge crowds - proclaiming his belief in Jesus Christ - an apostle of the Gospel. I remember him saying that I want to be in every country; in every home. He was an extraordinary man. My visit made me reflect that he was also a man with enormous faith; enormous stamina to undergo these great visits, but also an apostle who wished to put his belief before the world."

"Twenty five years ago, Pope John Paul II said to the Indian Catholic Church - 'you are a very tiny minority, but you are important - you have a very special part to play in this country with its myriad number of religions.'"

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said that the Church in India today is "confident and vibrant." He praised the Indian Catholic Church's distinctive liturgy and customs. "Wherever I went I was garlanded and the crowds were enormously enthusiastic. It was very moving."

According to Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, Archbishop of Ranchi, Pope Benedict XVI is also interested in coming to India, but he may not be able to visit as many places in the country as his predecessor.

"Whenever I meet the Pope, I talk to him about visiting India. Quite a number of Indians were his students when he was teaching before becoming the Pope. He is interested to come to India to see his students," Cardinal Toppo told a gathering of Catholic religious and lay workers in his Archdiocese.

"Maybe, if Mother Teresa is canonised in India, probably he can come here for the canonisation ceremony," Cardinal Toppo said.

I think the canonisation of Mother Teresa, whenever that happens, would be a great time for another papal visit to India. Not only would that be an opportunity to celebrate one of the greatest Catholic saints in modern times, but it would also give India’s small Catholic community a great boost. Living the Christian faith in a highly pluralistic and highly stratified society is a quite a challenge, and in recent times there have been attacks from Hindu extremists.

Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, who headed a recent Vatican delegation to India, encouraged the Church in India to foster “inculturated catechism." By this he means the Church should imbibe and assimilate local cultures, without of course impacting the doctrines of the faith, so that the Indian Church is fully Catholic and authentically Indian. I think that is the way to go. Insisting on Latin mass and other western traditions on the Church in India is really futile. What matters is people practice their faith in the most practical and appropriate manner.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Our Lady of Fatima – Part 2

Continued from Our Lady of Fatima - Part 1

13 August 1917

On 13 August 1917 the children were unable to keep their appointment with Our Lady because they were kidnapped by the Mayor of Ourem, Artur de Oliveira Santos, who was a Freemason. As a member of the Leira Masonic Lodge he had founded a branch in Ourem, the administrative centre of the area which included Fatima. Duty bound to his beliefs, his Lodge, and his position, Artur saw it as his responsibility to quash the religious fervour that was breaking out in his territory.

The Mayor offered the children money and other blandishments to try and get them to disclose their secrets. When this didn’t work he became more intimidating. He threw them into the town’s public jail and threatened to kill them by boiling them in hot oil if they didn’t reveal him their secrets. The children bravely refused, determined they would rather die than disclose anything. Eventually the Mayor released the children and took them back to Fatima on 15 August, the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady.

19 August 1917

On 19 August 1917, while the children were grazing their flock in Valinhos, near Fatima, Our Lady appeared to them on another holm-oak tree.

Lucia asked the customary question, "What do you want of me?"

"I want you to continue going to the Cova da Iria on the 13th, and to continue praying the Rosary every day. In the last month, I will perform a miracle so that all may believe."

"What do you want done with the money the people leave in the Cova da Iria?"

"Have two litters made. One is to be carried by you and Jacinta and two other girls dressed in white; the other one is to be carried by Francisco and three other boys. The money from the litters is for the ‘festa’ of Our Lady of the Rosary, and what is left over will help to towards the construction of a chapel that is to be built here."

Lucia asked Our Lady if she could cure certain sick people. Our Lady replied she will cure some of them during the year. Then, looking very sad, she added, "Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them."

There was no light from Our Lady's hands during this Apparition, and she simply rose and disappeared towards the east.

13 September 1917

Between August and September, the children devised dozens of sacrifices to offer in reparation and for the conversion of sinners. Often these sacrifices caused them much suffering.

A crowd of around thirty thousand gathered in the Cova for the September Apparition. As the children arrived, people pleaded with them to ask Our Lady to cure ailments they or their loved ones were suffering. Members of the anti-religious press were there too, and one of them even had the audacity to snip off Lucia’s long plaits with a pair of scissors.

It wasn't long after the children arrived that Our Lady appeared to them, standing on the holm-oak tree. She said, "Continue to pray the Rosary in order to obtain the end of the war. In October Our Lord will come, as well as Our Lady of Dolours and Our Lady of Carmel. St Joseph will appear with the Child Jesus to bless the world. God is pleased with your sacrifices. He does not want you to sleep with the rope on, but only wear it during the day time."

When Lucia asked Our Lady for various cures, she replied: "Yes, I will cure some, but not others. In October I will perform a miracle so that all may believe." Then she simply rose, moved off to the east and disappeared.

13 October 1917

The news of an expected miracle had spread all around Portugal, and created a great deal of speculation, so that on 13 October 1917 a huge crowd of around 70,000 people, from many different parts of the country, assembled at the Cova. At a time when there was no television, radio, internet or mass transport this was all the more remarkable, and they had to contend with torrential rain.

The children had trouble getting through the crowd to the tree; but once they were there, Lucia, moved as she says by an interior impulse, asked the people to shut their umbrellas and say the Rosary. It wasn’t long before their heavenly visitor appeared in her usual position.

"What do you want of me?" Lucia asked.

"I want to tell you that a chapel is to be built here in my honour. I am the Lady of the Rosary. Continue always to pray the Rosary every day. The war is going to end, and the soldiers will soon return to their homes."

Lucia asked Our Lady to cure various sick people, to which she replied, "Some yes, but not others. They must amend their lives and ask forgiveness for their sins." Then looking very sad, she added, “Do not offend the Lord our God any more, because He is already so much offended.”

Then Our Lady began to rise towards the east, but while doing so she opened her hands and made them reflect on the sun. As she disappeared, her own light continued to be reflected on the sun. Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco did not see the famous "Miracle of the Sun" that followed; instead they saw various Apparitions of Our Lady, St Joseph and Jesus.

Miracle of the Sun

The vast crowd witnessed a spectacular miracle, which is well documented and will forever be associated with Fatima. Many eyewitnesses reported seeing the dark clouds part and the sun appearing as an opaque, spinning disc in the sky, which could be looked at without any discomfort. The sun cast multicoloured lights across the landscape, the people, and the surrounding clouds. Then it seemed to careen towards the earth in a zigzag pattern, frightening some of those present who thought it was the end of the world.

The journalist Avelino de Almeida, who had previously written a satirical article about the Apparitions in the anti-religious pro-government newspaper O Seculo, was forced to change his tune after the miracle. This is his description of what happened:

"From the road, where the vehicles were parked and where hundreds of people who had not dared to brave the mud were congregated, one could see the immense multitude turn toward the sun, which appeared free from clouds and in its zenith. It looked like a plaque of dull silver, and it was possible to look at it without the least discomfort. It might have been an eclipse which was taking place. But at that moment a great shout went up, and one could hear the spectators nearest at hand shouting: 'A miracle! A miracle!'

Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was biblical as they stood bareheaded, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws - the sun 'danced' according to the typical expression of the people.

Standing at the step of an omnibus was an old man. With his face turned to the sun, he recited the Credo in a loud voice. I asked who he was and was told Senhor Joao da Cunha Vasconcelos. I saw him afterwards going up to those around him who still had their hats on, and vehemently imploring them to uncover before such an extraordinary demonstration of the existence of God.

Identical scenes were repeated elsewhere, and in one place a woman cried out: 'How terrible! There are even men who do not uncover before such a stupendous miracle!'

People then began to ask each other what they had seen. The great majority admitted to having seen the trembling and the dancing of the sun; others affirmed that they saw the face of the Blessed Virgin; others, again, swore that the sun whirled on itself like a giant Catherine wheel and that it lowered itself to the earth as if to burn it in its rays. Some said they saw it change colours successively...."

The solar activity was also reported by people up to 18km from Fatima, ruling out the possibility of a mass hallucination. Some people, including believers, saw nothing at all. Another interesting but important fact is that the heat of the sun, as it descended on the people, had the effect of drying their clothes and the ground, so that they went from being completely soaked to being dry in ten minutes. Since there were no reports of unusual solar activity anywhere else, the only valid explanation is that the crowd in Fatima witnessed a true miracle.

Private Apparitions

Jacinta and Francisco were to depart from this world early just as Our Lady had indicated; both succumbed to the effects of the influenza epidemic that swept Europe as the Great War came to an end. Lucia became a religious sister; she joined the Dorothean Congregation initially but later joined the Carmelites. Although the 'public' Apparitions came to an end in October 1917, Our Lady did appear to the children privately, thus keeping her word that she would never abandon them.

On 10 December 1925, when Lucia was in her room on the second storey of the Dorothean Convent, she saw an Apparition of Our Lady with the Infant Jesus. Mary told Lucia to announce that she promised all the graces necessary for salvation to those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, confessed, received Holy Communion, recited five decades of the Rosary, and meditated on the Rosary for fifteen minutes, all with the intention of making reparation to her.

In another Apparition on 13 June 1929, Mary told Lucia to ask the Pope, in union with all the bishops of the world, to make the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart that she had spoken of during the July 1917 Apparition.

In August 1931, Our Lord, in a private communication to Lucia, complained: "They have not chosen to heed my request...Like the King of France, they will regret it and then will do it, but it will be too late. Russia will already have spread her errors throughout the world, provoking wars and persecutions against the Church. The Holy Father will have much to suffer." The reference to the King of France is thought to be the failure of King Louis XIV to consecrate France to The Sacred Heart, as revealed by St Margaret Mary Alacoque, and the French Revolution was the outcome.

On 25 January 1938, a strange light was seen in the skies all over Europe. This was described as a brilliant display of the Aurora Borealis, but Sr Lucia realised it was the "unknown light" announced by Our Lady in the July Apparition. This meant punishment for the world was close, principally through the Second World War, because people had not turned back to God.

Consecration of Russia

On 31 October 1942 Pope Pius XII consecrated the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in a Portuguese language radio broadcast. Although he didn’t specifically mention Russia, because it would have been politically imprudent to do so, he referred to "those people separated by error and discord." Sr Lucia said that this did not fulfil Our Lady’s request because it lacked the participation of all the bishops.

Further attempts to consecrate Russia were made by Pope John XXIII in 1960 and Pope Paul VI in 1965, but again they did not properly fulfil the terms of Our Lady’s request. Finally on 25 March 1984 in Rome, on the feast of the Annunciation, Pope John II consecrated the whole world, "especially the peoples for which by reason of their situation you have particular love and solicitude," to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Although he didn’t specifically mention Russia, he meant Russia when he said "the peoples…" Sr Lucia said that this attempt, made in union with all the bishops of the world, fulfilled Our Lady’s request and was accepted in heaven.

In a private correspondence, Sr Lucia further revealed that the 1984 consecration of Russia prevented a nuclear war that would have taken place in 1985. Historical records show that the United States of America and Russia did indeed come very close to such a war in the mid 1980s.

Fatima today

In 1930 Bishop Correia of the Diocese of Leiria, which includes Fatima, after careful investigation of the events there, formally approved the Apparitions. The Catholic Church generally takes a very cautious line in approving any apparition. Despite hundreds of claims of purported apparitions in the twentieth century, just eight received Church approval. Only if there are clear signs that an apparition is of supernatural origin is it approved, and in the case of Fatima this was deemed to be the case.

The messages given by Our Lady, the characters involved and the famous Miracle of the Sun are what make Fatima such an important Marian shrine. At a time when regimes seemed determined to bury God and persecute the Church, Our Lady stepped in to start something of a counter-revolution in the hearts and minds of people, and she chose the most unlikely candidates to implement it. What this shows is that heaven’s values are opposite to ours, and God is ultimately in control.

The revolution Mary started in 1917 continues to the present day, for many millions of pilgrims still visit Fatima every year. A beautiful neoclassical basilica stands at the site of the Apparitions. Consecrated in October 1953, the basilica houses the tombs of the three children – Blessed Francisco Marto, Blessed Jacinta Marto and Sr Lucia dos Santos. Scenes of the Apparitions are shown in stained glass. A second larger basilica has recently been opened to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims. The message of Fatima has spread wide and continues to do so.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Our Lady of Fatima - Part 1

In 1917, Portugal seemed destined to follow the path of other European countries and turn increasingly hostile toward religion. Anti-clerical forces had taken the reins of power in the country and the Church was represented as an outdated institution, full of superstition. The new thinking, emboldened by the Great War and an increasingly materialistic western outlook on life, was all for destroying the Church's influence; but the godless forces reckoned without the faith of the Portuguese peasantry and the concern of heaven.

As the Great War raged on, Russia was in a state of crisis by 1916 and this gave the communist revolutionaries under Lenin their chance to take power. Pope Benedict XV made repeated pleas for peace, but to no avail. Finally, in May 1917, he made a direct appeal to Mary to intercede for peace. The response was her first appearance at Fatima, Portugal, just over a week later to three illiterate peasant children – Lucia dos Santos, aged ten, and her two cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, aged eight and seven respectively. The children had been prepared for their meeting with Mary by an angel, who introduced himself as the "Angel of Peace".

13 May 1917

Jacinta, Lucia, FranciscoOn 13 May 1917 the children took their flocks to an area called Cova da Iria (meaning "peaceful hollow" or "valley of peace"). After eating their lunch and saying the rosary, they suddenly saw a bright flash of something like lightning, followed quickly by another flash in the clear blue sky. Then appeared before them, standing on top of the branches of a young holm-oak tree, "a lady all dressed in white. She was more brilliant than the sun and radiated a light clearer and more intense than a crystal glass filled with sparkling water, when the rays of the burning sun shine through it."

Lucia asked, "Where are you from?" The lady pointed to the sky and said, "I am from heaven."

Lucia then asked what she wanted. The lady replied, "I have come to ask you to come here for six months on the 13th day of the month, at this same hour. Later on I will tell you who I am and what I want. Afterwards I will return here yet a seventh time."

Lucia, curious as ever, then asked if they would go to heaven. The lady replied they would, but Francisco would have to say many more rosaries. Did this mean Francisco was a spiritual cut below the girls? Or was this a diplomatic way of stopping Lucia from asking if her relatives and neighbours were going to heaven too? Lucia's next question was on the same lines, though about a sixteen year old who had died recently.

"Is Maria das Neves in heaven?"

"Yes, she is."

"And Amelia?"

"She will be in purgatory until the end of the world."

Our Lady then asked the children, "Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?" The children could have refused her request at this point, but they willingly acquiesced.

"Then you are going to have much to suffer but the grace of God will be your comfort."

As Our Lady said this, she opened her hands and communicated a light on them, which penetrated their souls and allowed them to see themselves in God. This gesture of Our Lady was to be repeated at three subsequent Apparitions.

"Pray the Rosary every day, in order to obtain peace for the world, and the end of the war."

Then she began to rise serenely, going up towards the east, until she disappeared.

13 June 1917

Between May and June, the children thought of sacrifices to make for the reparation of sinners, as the Lady had requested, and prayed their Rosaries. For Lucia, the greatest sacrifice came at home where her mother insisted she was lying and tried to force her to recant. The reaction of the local people was also sceptical and even derisory. So just as the Lady had told them, the children had much to suffer.

The 13th of June is the feast of St Anthony, Portugal's patron saint, and the day is marked by festivities across the land. On this particular day, however, the children showed no interest in the activities associated with the saint. Instead, they went to the Cova da Iria and waited for their appointment with Our Lady and recited the Rosary. About fifty or so local people joined them.

Our Lady promptly appeared at midday in the same place, just as she had a month ago. Lucia asked, "What do you want of me?"

"I wish you to come here on the 13th of next month, to pray the Rosary every day, and to learn to read. Later I will tell you what I want."

Lucia then asked Our Lady to take them to heaven. She replied, "Yes. I will take Jacinta and Francisco soon. But you are to stay here some time longer. Jesus wishes to make use of you to make me known and loved. He wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. I promise salvation to those who embrace it, and those souls will be loved by God like flowers placed by me to adorn his throne."

Lucia, sad at the first part of this reply, said: "Am I to stay here alone?" To which Our Lady replied, "No my daughter. Are you suffering a great deal? Don't lose heart. I will never forsake you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God."

One of the witnesses to this Apparition, Maria Carreira, described how Lucia cried out and pointed as Mary departed. She herself heard a noise like "a rocket, a long way off," and saw a small cloud a few inches over the tree, rise, and move slowly toward the east until it disappeared.

13 July 1917

Between June and July, the children had to bear more taunts and insults about their alleged Apparitions. Lucia's mother was so opposed to her daughter's claims that she scolded, threatened and, at times, gave Lucia the silent treatment. Even the local parish priest was not convinced, and he suggested the visions, if they were genuine, could be of satanic origin. So distressed was Lucia that she decided not to go to the Cova on 13 July, and she held that stance until the last moment when she felt drawn by inn force.

Despite the disbelief and hostility shown to the children, word of the alleged Apparitions had spread outside the bounds of the Fatima parish and some three to four thousand people gathered at the Cova. As soon as the children arrived, they saw the flashes of light signalling the approach of their heavenly visitor. Then Our Lady appeared, standing on the little tree.
Lucia asked, "What do you want of me?"

"I want you to come here on the 13th of next month, to continue to pray the Rosary every day, in honour of Our Lady of the Rosary, in order to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war, because only she can help you."

It is interesting to note here that Our Lady, who still hadn't told the children who she was, referred to herself as if she was someone else. Lucia then asked a question, which seemed carefully prepared: "I would like to ask you to tell us who you are, and to work a miracle so that everybody will believe that you are appearing to us."

"Continue to come here every month. In October I will tell you who I am and what I want, and I will perform a miracle for all to see and believe."

Various sick people had petitioned Lucia to ask Our Lady for cures. When Lucia asked for these favours, Our Lady replied that these people must pray the Rosary in order to obtain these graces during the year. She added, "Sacrifice yourself for sinners, and say many times, especially when you make some sacrifices: 'O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.'"

Vision of hell

Our Lady then opened her hands to emit the light of God, but this time the light penetrated the earth to show a terrifying vision of hell. This is Lucia account in her words:

"The rays of light seemed to penetrate the earth, and we saw, as it were, a sea of fire. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals. Terrified and as if to plead for succour, we looked up at Our Lady, who said to us, so kindly and so sadly:

'You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end; but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illuminated by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father.'

'To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world. In Portugal, the dogma of the Faith will always be preserved…'"

The vision of hell is known as the First Secret of Fatima. The Second Secret is the statement about World War I ending and another future war during the pontificate of Pius XI if men continue to offend God.

Third Secret of Fatima

Our Lady also showed the children a prophetic vision, which came to be known as the Third Secret of Fatima. Lucia wrote the secret down on 3rd January 1944 and, after a period of 83 years, it was announced by Cardinal Sodano that the secret would be released. Here is the text of the secret, which was published on 26 June 2000:

"I write in obedience to you, my God, who command me to do so through his Excellency the Bishop of Leiria and through your Most Holy Mother and mine."

"After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendour that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: 'Penance, Penance, Penance!' And we saw in an immense light that is God: 'something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it' a Bishop dressed in White 'we had the impression that it was the Holy Father'. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God."

Cardinal Sodano explained that the secret was about the persecution of Christians in the 20th century by atheist regimes that culminated in the failed assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II on 13 May 1981. Pope John Paul II himself spoke of "a motherly hand which guided the bullet's path," enabling him to halt "at threshold of death." The assassination attempt took place on the anniversary of Our Lady's first appearance in Fatima.

Our Lady told Lucia not to reveal the secret at that stage to anyone. Then she continued, "When you pray the Rosary, say after each mystery: 'O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are in most need.'" After assuring Lucia that there was nothing more she needed of her that day, she rose toward the east and disappeared.