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At Fatima, Pope asks Christians to honor Mary of the Gospels, not a ‘plaster statue’

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Catholic News Service

FATIMA, Portugal — Mary’s example of believing and following Jesus is what matters most; she cannot be some image “of our own making” who Christians barter with for mercy, Pope Francis said.

On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions at Fatima, the pope asked tens of thousands of pilgrims May 12 to reflect on “which Mary” they choose to venerate, “the virgin Mary from the Gospel” or “one who restrains the arm of a vengeful God?”

Pope Francis arrives to bless candles at the Chapel of the Apparitions at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal May 12. The pope was making a two-day visit to Fatima to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions and to canonize two of the young seers. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis arrives to bless candles at the Chapel of the Apparitions at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal May 12. The pope was making a two-day visit to Fatima to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions and to canonize two of the young seers. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Is the Mary they honor “a woman blessed because she believed always and everywhere in God’s words or a ‘plaster statue’ from whom we beg favors at little cost?” he asked.

As the sun set at the shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, pilgrims held thousands of lit candles, filling the square with a fiery light before Pope Francis led them in praying the rosary.

The pope already had visited the shrine earlier in the evening, arriving by helicopter from Monte Real air base. Excited crowds, waving flags and white handkerchiefs, cheered as he arrived in his popemobile.

He then made his way to the Little Chapel of the Apparitions where Mary appeared to three shepherd children May 13, 1917. The apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church.

The festive cheering of the crowd turned to near absolute silence as the pope spent several minutes with his head bowed and hands clasped in prayer, occasionally looking up at the statue of Mary venerated by his predecessors and millions of devotees across the globe.

Pope Francis then recited a prayer he wrote, an expanded version of the traditional “Salve Regina” (“Hail Holy Queen”).

Alternating his verses with a choral refrain venerating the “Queen of the Rosary of Fatima,” the pope consecrated himself to Mary and entrusted to her intercession a suffering humanity where blood “is shed in the wars tearing our world apart.”

Begging Mary’s assistance, the pope prayed that believers would “tear down all walls and overcome all boundaries, going to all peripheries, there revealing God’s justice and peace.”

“In the depths of your being, in your immaculate heart, you keep the sorrows of the human family, as they mourn and weep in this valley of tears,” the pope prayed.

He also presented himself before the image of Mary as “a bishop robed in white,” a reference to the third secret revealed to the children at Fatima. Published 83 years after the Fatima apparitions, the vision described the image of a “bishop dressed in white” shot down amid the rubble of a ruined city.

The official Vatican interpretation, discussed with the visionary Sister Lucia dos Santos before its publication, was that it referred to the persecution of Christians in the 20th century and, specifically, to the 1981 assassination attempt on the life of St. John Paul II.

As Blessed Paul VI and retired Pope Benedict XVI did before him, Pope Francis placed a small silver vase containing 24-karat gold roses at the foot of the statue. Embedded in the statue’s crown is one of the bullets used in the assassination attempt against St. John Paul II on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13, 1981.

Returning to the little chapel for a nighttime vigil, Pope Francis reminded pilgrims to pray, as Mary taught the children at Fatima, for “those most in need” of God’s mercy.

“On each of the destitute and outcast robbed of the present, on each of the excluded and abandoned denied a future, on each of the orphans and victims of injustice refused a past, may there descend the blessing of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ,” he said.

Pope Francis held up Mary as a “model of evangelization,” particularly because Christian men and women can look at her and see that “humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong.”

Those who emphasize God’s punishment of sinners, he said, commit “a great injustice” to him by not recognizing that sinners “are forgiven by his mercy.”

“Mercy has to be put before judgment,” he said, “and, in any case, God’s judgment will always be rendered in the light of his mercy.”

“With Mary, may each of us become a sign and sacrament of the mercy of God, who pardons always and pardons everything,” he said.

     

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Pope recognizes miracle attributed to Fatima visionaries

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has approved the recognition of a miracle attributed to the intercession of two of the shepherd children who saw Our Lady of Fatima in 1917, thus paving the way for their canonization.

Pope Francis signed the decree for the causes of Blesseds Francisco and Jacinta Marto during a meeting March 23 with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, the Vatican said.  

Pilgrims walk on their knees at the Marian shrine of Fatima in central Portugal in this 2012 file photo. (CNS photo/Rafael Marchante, Reuters)

Pilgrims walk on their knees at the Marian shrine of Fatima in central Portugal in this 2012 file photo. (CNS photo/Rafael Marchante, Reuters)

The recognition of the miracle makes it likely that the canonization ceremony for the two children will be scheduled soon. The cardinals and bishops who are members of the congregation must vote to recommend their canonization and then the pope would convene the cardinals resident in Rome for a consistory to approve the sainthood.

Many people are hoping Pope Francis will preside over the canonization ceremony during his visit to Fatima May 12-13.

The pilgrimage will mark the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions, which began May 13, 1917, when 9-year-old Francisco and 7-year-old Jacinta, along with their cousin Lucia dos Santos, reported seeing the Virgin Mary. The apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church.

A year after the apparitions, both of the Marto children became ill during an influenza epidemic that plagued Europe. Francisco died April 4, 1919, at the age of 10, while Jacinta succumbed to her illness Feb. 20, 1920, at the age of 9.

Francisco and Jacinta’s 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; he declared them venerable in 1989 and beatified them in 2000.

Their cousin Lucia entered the Institute of the Sisters of St. Dorothy and, later, obtained permission to enter the Carmelite convent of St. Teresa in Coimbra, where she resided until her death in 2005 at the age of 97.

Following her death, Pope Benedict XVI waived the five-year waiting period before her sainthood cause could open. Bishop Virgilio Antunes of Coimbra formally closed the local phase of investigation into her life and holiness Feb. 13, 2017, and forwarded the information to the Vatican.

Also March 23, Pope Francis signed other decrees recognizing miracles, martyrdom and heroic virtues in six other causes, the Vatican said.

The pope also approved the bishops’ and cardinals’ vote to canonize two Brazilian priests — Blessed Andre de Soveral and Blessed Ambrosio Francisco Ferro — as well as Mateus Moreira and 27 laypeople, who were killed in 1645 as violence broke out between Portuguese Catholics and Dutch Calvinists in Brazil.

Pope Francis also approved the vote to canonize three young Mexican martyrs, known as the child martyrs of Tlaxcala, who were among the first native converts in Mexico. Known only by their first names —Cristobal, Antonio and Juan — they were killed in 1529 for rejecting idolatry and polygamy in the name of their faith.

In addition, Pope Francis signed a decree recognizing the martyrdom of Franciscan Claretian Sister Rani Maria Vattalil, who died in 1995 after being stabbed 54 times, apparently because of her work helping poor women in India organize themselves. With the signing of the decree, a date can be set for her beatification.

 

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Pope sends envoy to study pastoral care of faithful in Medjugorje

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Without commenting on the authenticity of alleged Marian apparitions in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Pope Francis has appointed a Polish archbishop to study the pastoral needs of the townspeople and the thousands of pilgrims who flock to the town each year.

A statue of Mary is seen outside St. James Church in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in this file photo. Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Henryk Hoser of Warsaw-Praga, Poland, as his special envoy to Medjugorje, the site of alleged Marian apparitions. A Vatican statement said his role would be to study the pastoral situation in Medjugorje. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A statue of Mary is seen outside St. James Church in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in this file photo. Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Henryk Hoser of Warsaw-Praga, Poland, as his special envoy to Medjugorje, the site of alleged Marian apparitions. A Vatican statement said his role would be to study the pastoral situation in Medjugorje. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The pope chose Archbishop Henryk Hoser of Warsaw-Praga as his special envoy to Medjugorje, the Vatican announced Feb. 11.

“The mission has the aim of acquiring a deeper knowledge of the pastoral situation there and, above all, of the needs of the faithful who go there in pilgrimage, and on the basis of this, to suggest possible pastoral initiatives for the future,” the Vatican announcement said.

Archbishop Hoser’s assignment has “an exclusively pastoral character,” the Vatican said, making it clear his task is separate from the work of a commission set up in 2010 by now-retired Pope Benedict XVI to investigate the claims of six young people who said Mary had appeared to them daily beginning in 1981. Some of the six say Mary still appears to them and gives them messages each day, while others say they see her only once a year now.

Pope Benedict had named retired Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini to chair the group studying the apparitions. In June 2015, Pope Francis told reporters that Cardinal Ruini had given him the group’s report and that it would be studied by the cardinals and bishops who are members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. At the time, Pope Francis said, “We’re close to making decisions,” although nothing was announced until the appointment of Archbishop Hoser about 20 months later.

Thousands of pilgrims travel to the small town each month to meet the alleged seers and to pray. Because the apparitions have not been approved, the Vatican has said dioceses should not organize official pilgrimages to Medjugorje. However, it also has said Catholics are free to visit the town and pray there, and that the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno and the Franciscans who minister in the town should organize pastoral care for them.

The Vatican’s February announcement said that Archbishop Hoser “is expected to finish his mandate as special envoy by summer of this year.”

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Look It Up — Church documents discuss devotions to Mary

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Catholic News Service

The important role that Mary, the mother of Jesus, plays in the salvation of the world has been recognized by the church from its earliest days. And since those earliest days a cult of devotion to Mary has developed to give her honor and praise, and to recognize her role as the Mother of God, a title bestowed on her by the Council of Ephesus in 491.

The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (“Lumen Gentium”) says that Mary is “justly honored” by this cult (No. 66).

As part of this cult, feast days honoring Mary have been established by the universal church, by local dioceses and by national bishops’ conferences. Thus, the Virgin Mary in the Immaculate Conception has been declared the patron saint of the United States, and Our Lady of Guadalupe has been declared the patron saint for the Americas (North and South combined).

Over the centuries, Mary has reportedly appeared to numerous people in countries all over the world. While the church has rejected the legitimacy of some Marian appearances, it has not made judgment on most of them.

Some appearances, however, have been recognized by the church as legitimate, including those at Tepeyac, Mexico, in 1531; Siluva, Lithuania, in 1608; the appearance to St. Catherine Laboure in Paris in 1830; and those in Lourdes, France, in 1858 and Fatima, Portugal, in 1917.

The appearance of Our Lady to Adele Brise in Champion, Wis., in 1859 was officially recognized by Bishop David L. Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay in 2010 and proclaimed “worthy of belief” under the title Our Lady of Good Help.

All Marian apparitions fall into the category of private revelations, meaning that the faithful are not required to believe in them, even those apparitions recognized by the church as valid. Private revelations are considered to be inspirational messages that encourage Christians to live so as to draw closer to Christ.

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments in December 2001 establishes guidelines for how Catholics should appropriately honor Mary.

It notes that devotion of Mary “is an important and universal” phenomenon throughout the church, throughout its history and across the world. Christians are encouraged “to develop a personal and community devotion” to Mary (No. 183).

All Marian devotions should “give expression” to the Trinity, meaning that Marian apparitions help us to better understand the love that exists with the Holy Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Apparitions also should be rooted solidly within the tradition of the church and be compatible with the church’s profession of faith as expressed in ecumenical dialogues. They also are to reflect a true concept of humankind and present a “valid response” to our needs.

Finally, these apparitions are to be missionary in tone and spirit. They are to encourage the Christian faithful to bear witness to the saving message of Jesus, as is appropriate for those who are disciples of the Lord (No. 186).

 

Mulhall is a catechist living in Louisville, Kentucky.

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Mary’s Miraculous Medal reminds us to stay close to Jesus

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Catholic News Service

I received my first Miraculous Medal almost 30 years ago. I was 12 years old, and it was a confirmation gift from my mother.

Pope Francis uses incense to venerate an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe during Mass in Ecatepec near Mexico City Feb. 14. While the church has rejected the legitimacy of some Marian appearances, it has not made judgment on most of them. Some appearances, however, have been recognized by the church as legitimate, including those at Guadalupe, Mexico, in 1531; Siluva, Lithuania, in 1608; the appearance to St. Catherine Laboure in Paris in 1830. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis uses incense to venerate an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe during Mass in Ecatepec near Mexico City Feb. 14. While the church has rejected the legitimacy of some Marian appearances, it has not made judgment on most of them. Some appearances, however, have been recognized by the church as legitimate, including those at Guadalupe, Mexico, in 1531; Siluva, Lithuania, in 1608; the appearance to St. Catherine Laboure in Paris in 1830. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Petals of gold wrapped around the medal itself, which bore the familiar image of the Virgin Mary atop a globe, her feet crushing the serpent and rays of light descending from her fingers. It had belonged to a great aunt, but now it was mine.

The gift came with a lengthy explanation from my mother about the history of the Miraculous Medal and Mary’s promise of blessings to those who wore it, as revealed by St. Catherine Laboure, who was visited by the Virgin Mary two times as a novice in 19th-century France.

“Don’t lose it,” my mother warned, roping the gold chain around my neck.

I never took it off. But truth be told, I did lose it eventually. When I was about seven months pregnant with my third child, it slipped from my neck, bounced off my belly and disappeared into the water during a vacation in Florida.

The medal itself is gone, but I’ve never lost my belief in the power of Marian apparitions like the one witnessed by St. Catherine.

I believe these appearances over the centuries have provided a needed nourishment of our faith, both on a larger scale and individually. They remind me that even on days when the struggle seems all too real, I have an infinite supply of spiritual support to lean on.

To be clear, I’m talking about Marian apparitions that have been approved by the church, not the random declarations of those purporting to see Mary on their slice of buttered toast.

The way I see it, these apparitions — like those at Fatima, Guadalupe and Lourdes, among others — are a nonsecular shot in the arm for the faithful. They offer a surprise for a world that thinks it already has it all figured out.

Perhaps that’s why many people are quick to dismiss these apparitions. They want something tangible, but faith is rarely that easy. We may believe a groundhog can predict an early spring but dispute the idea that the mother of Our Lord would present herself to someone.

Mary’s appearances may be unexpected, but her message is not, that penance and prayer are powerful antidotes to evil. By all accounts of these apparitions, it’s never Mary proclaiming her own awesomeness.

Rather, she reminds us that Jesus is always the answer to even the most confounding questions. And she offers to advocate for us through prayer.

One of the things I love about Mary is that she’s like the really cool friend who sees a better version of ourselves than we do, and who wants to help us get to where we need to be.

We may wonder what we did to deserve it. It’s simple; we believe in her Son.

That she has appeared to people who are poor, young and disadvantaged — those who lack the traditional trappings of the material world — makes it even more powerful.

As a little kid in Catholic school, I loved hearing the story of Our Lady of Fatima because she appeared to Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, children just like me.

For a girl who spent much of the fourth grade wanting to be a saint, I was hopeful that Our Lady might grace me with her presence. (She didn’t, for the record.) But her appearance to children made her more accessible in my mind.

Obviously, I’m the not only one who feels this way, judging by the millions of people who have made pilgrimages to the sites of these apparitions. And that connection to others also can help us grow in our faith.

I remember feeling a kinship with strangers when I attended Mass at the Knock shrine in Ireland on my honeymoon. We all experience our faith in different ways, yet here we were together celebrating Jesus because of what his mother did.

That’s the great part about Mary’s apparitions. They don’t call us to believe in her.

They call us to believe in Christ.

 

Bothum is a freelance writer and a mother of three.

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Determining what Marian apparitions are ‘worthy of belief’

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Catholic News Service

A recent case involving alleged Marian apparitions in the Philippines, which the Vatican effectively denied as “supernatural,” after a local archbishop had declared them “worthy of belief,” reflects the centuries-old caution with which the church regards reported appearances, real or imagined, by Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Pilgrims visit a shrine to Mary in Banneux, Belgium, Aug. 15, the spot where an 11-year-old girl said Mary appeared to her eight times in 1933 as the "Virgin of the Poor," officially recognized by the Vatican in 1949. Mary's appearances may be unexpected, but her message is not -- that penance and prayer are powerful antidotes to evil. (CNS photo/Julien Warnand, EPA)

Pilgrims visit a shrine to Mary in Banneux, Belgium, Aug. 15, the spot where an 11-year-old girl said Mary appeared to her eight times in 1933 as the “Virgin of the Poor,” officially recognized by the Vatican in 1949. Mary’s appearances may be unexpected, but her message is not — that penance and prayer are powerful antidotes to evil. (CNS photo/Julien Warnand, EPA)

Over the past 500 years, the number of reported Marian apparitions is somewhere in the thousands, although the Vatican has authenticated fewer than 20. Such a wide gap indicates how the official church exercises not just caution but vigorous detective work in its investigations.

And that’s understandable, since church leadership is acutely aware of its own people’s desire to find tangible signs of faith, but also mindful of the skepticism, cynicism and even scorn that many inside and outside the church hold for “supernatural” phenomena, including that connected to religious belief.

So it can take decades, even centuries, to reach a decision, some 300 years, for example, for the church to approve the apparitions of Our Lady of Laus in France that took place between 1664 and 1718.

By comparison, the approval by Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay in 2010 of a series of Marian apparitions that occurred during 1859 in Champion, Wis., the first time apparitions in the U.S. received official approval, happened in the blink of an eye.

The church is also well aware of human nature, and specifically the longing many have to be close to Mary, as indicated in the “lineamenta” (or preliminary document) of the 1997 special assembly of the Synod of Bishops for America.

“Within the church community,” the document noted, “the multiplication of supposed ‘apparitions’ or ‘visions’ is sowing confusion and reveals a certain lack of a solid basis to the faith and Christian life among her members. On the other hand, these negative aspects in their own way reveal a certain thirst for spiritual things which, if they are properly channeled, can be the point of departure for a conversion to faith in Christ.”

Four years ago, the Vatican translated and published procedural rules approved by Pope Paul VI in 1978 that had previously been available only in Latin. “Norms Regarding the Manner of Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions or Revelations” was published to help bishops determine the credibility of alleged Marian apparitions.

The process of verifying apparitions, like that of beatifying and canonizing saints, is generally long, meticulous and sometimes contentious, beginning with the local bishop.

In 1555, Archbishop Alonso de Montufar of Mexico approved the vision of Mary as reported by St. Juan Diego in 1531, on Tepeyac hill in Mexico.

On Sept. 12, 2015, Archbishop Ramon C. Arguelles of Lipa, Philippines, stated that the alleged 1948 appearance of Mary 19 times to a novice in the Carmelite order in Lipa City had, in fact, exhibited “supernatural character and is worthy of belief.”

A few months later, however, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith nullified the declaration of Archbishop Arguelles.

And 35 years after six young people first reported seeing Mary appear in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Holy See has not reached a final decision on their authenticity, even as droves of pilgrims journey to the site annually, and several of the young “visionaries” give presentations around the world.

The church’s official position on Medjugorje, stated in 1990 by the Yugoslavian bishops’ conference at Zagreb, and reiterated most recently in 2013, is: “On the basis of studies made to this moment, it cannot be confirmed that supernatural apparitions and revelations are occurring here.”

Yet, the bishops added, “the gathering of the faithful from various parts of the world to Medjugorje, inspired by reasons of faith, requires the pastoral attention and care of the bishops … so that a proper liturgical and sacramental life may be promoted, and so manifestations and contents which are not in accord with the spirit of the church may be prevented and hindered.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, while not using the term “Marian apparitions” explicitly, nonetheless points out that, “even if revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.”

Acknowledging that some “so-called ‘private’ revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the church,” the catechism adds quickly, “They do not belong … to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the magisterium of the church, the “sensus fidelium” knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the church.”

Which is why there is a process for investigating, reviewing and approving or disapproving Marian apparitions — a process ultimately aimed at nurturing a healthy spirituality and belief among all of God’s people.

 

Nelson is former editor of The Tidings, former newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

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