13 May 2017
FATIMA@100: Pope Francis lauds the Virgin Mary as a revolutionary not an unapproachable 'plaster statue'
Pope links himself to bishop dressed in white prophecy along with all of the baptised
The Virgin Mary is not a remote “plaster statue” figure restraining a vengeful God but someone who shows the “revolutionary nature” of love and tenderness, Pope Francis said today during the first day of his pilgrimage to the Portuguese shrine at Fatima.
Speaking to tens of thousands gathered for a night time prayer vigil and recitation of the rosary, Francis defined Marian devotion as humility and tenderness and not the false piety created by the “Mary of our own making”.
The Pope arrived in Fatima, 90 miles north of Lisbon, this afternoon for a day-and-a-half visit where he will canonise two shepherd children Jacinta, 7, and Francisco Marto, 9, who reported seeing a series of Marian apparitions exactly a century ago. They witnessed the visions along with their cousin, Lucia dos Santos, 10, who went on to become a Carmelite nun and died at the age of 97.
Included in the apparitions were a series of prophecies known as the three secrets of Fatima. The first was a vision of hell while the second the Virgin Mary predicted a second world war “if people do not cease offending God”.
Fatima devotees stress Mary’s call for penance and devotion while the Our Lady of Fatima prayer during the rosary asks: “Forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who have the most need of your mercy."
Tonight, however, Francis stressed that the forgiveness element of the Fatima prophesies stressing it was a serious mistake to put judgment ahead of mercy: "Great injustice is done to God’s grace whenever we say that sins are punished by his judgment, without first saying – as the Gospel clearly does – that they are forgiven by his mercy!” the Pope said this evening during the outdoor vigil at the chapel built on the site where the apparitions occurred.
"Mercy has to be put before judgment and, in any case, God’s judgment will always be rendered in the light of his mercy," Francis continued. "Obviously, God’s mercy does not deny justice, for Jesus took upon himself the consequences of our sin, together with its due punishment. He did not deny sin, but redeemed it on the cross.”
Speaking in Portuguese, the Pope stressed: “With Mary, may each of us become a sign and sacrament of the mercy of God, who pardons always and pardons everything." And then, quoting from the key text of his pontificate, Evangelii Gaudium, he added: “Whenever we look to Mary, we come to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness.”
Francis arrived at the vigil in a Popemobile but stepped out of it to greet the crowds gathered for the service. When he got to the chapel he placed his hand on the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, in front of which stood a gift of golden roses the Pope had earlier laid at the statue’s base in honour of the Madonna. This is a papal tradition and in keeping with the devotion of leaving bouquets of flowers in Marian chapels or in front of statues.
During his remarks tonight, the Pope stressed the importance of praying the rosary, and venerating the Madonna but asked “which Mary?” Christians should follow.
"A teacher of the spiritual life, the first to follow Jesus on the “narrow way” of the cross by giving us an example, or a Lady ‘unapproachable’ and impossible to imitate? A woman ‘blessed because she believed’ always and everywhere in God’s words, or a ‘plaster statue’ from whom we beg favours at little cost?" the Pope said.
"The Virgin Mary of the Gospel, venerated by the Church at prayer, or a Mary of our own making: one who restrains the arm of a vengeful God; one sweeter than Jesus the ruthless judge; one more merciful than the Lamb slain for us?"
During an earlier prayer service at the chapel, Francis also made reference to the third, and more controversial, secret of Fatima which was not revealed until 2000. The key person in relaying the prophecies was Sister Lucia, the cousin of Jacinta and Francisca who were both illiterate and died in childhood.
The third secret talked about a “bishop dressed in white”, seen to be the Pope, who is killed after coming under fire from bullets and arrows. This was read as a prediction of Saint John Paul II’s assassination attempt in 1981.
But today Francis widened this reading by linking himself to prophecy and applying it to all the baptised. “I gaze at your robe of light and, as a bishop robed in white, I call to mind all those who, robed in the splendour of their baptism, desire to live in God and tell the mysteries of Christ in order to obtain peace,” he prayed.
Peace is also an important theme of his visit to Fatima, particularly given the apparitions took place during the end of World War One, predicted the Second World War and talked about converting Russia. While St John Paul II consecrated the entire world to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, devotees of Fatima say that this needed to be more specific to Russia.
Tomorrow morning the Pope will preside at the canonisations of Jacinta and Francisca during a Mass that is expected to be attended by between 700,000 and one million people.
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