To understand Fatima, one must begin far away, across the continent in fact, in Russia.
'What underground currents will bind together the two extremes of Europe: this little Portugal, planted on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, and that immense Russia, at the other end of Europe?
For seventy years now these underground currents have existed. It was not through the invention of reputable ideologies, but through the simple confession of three humble children, to whom the Virgin Mary appeared here and to whom she spoke. And she appeared precisely in the year and in the month (according to the Russian calendar) in which the revolution established the dictatorship of the proletariat and the atheism of the State of Russia. None of the children had heard the name of this country before, lost as they were on the heights of an arid rocky mountain region, watching their flocks, belonging to families where letters were not part of the daily bread that was eaten. But it was these children who transmitted the message heard from the lips of the Lady:
"Russia will spread her errors, but finally she will be converted." The fulfillment of this prophesy...we see today in our midst, the first Apostolic Administrator for the Latin Catholics of the Republic of Russia, with his seat in Moscow, the Archbishop Dr. Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz.'
This is an extract from the homily delivered by Bishop Manuel Trindale on October 13th at the Mass celebrated in Fatima in 1991, on the occasion of the seventy-fourth anniversary of the final apparition of the Mother of God when Fatima welcomed the first pilgrimage from Moscow. (Fatima, Russia & Pope John Paul II, Timothy Tindall-Robertson, pp 115-122, The Ravengate Press)
There are no coincidences with God. One of the first things I read upon return from pilgrimage was a story from Inside the Vatican that the same pilgrim to Fatima, 'Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the Catholic archbishop in Moscow for the past 16 years had celebrated his last public Mass before his departure to Minsk, capital of Belarus.' (Dr. Robert Moynihan, MOSCOW, Russia, October 28, 2007)
So for sixteen years now, Russia and many dedicated Catholics--both there and abroad--have been rebuilding the Russian Catholic Church from the ground up. That there exists a church, any Christian church for that matter, in that former atheistic state is nothing less than a miracle. And yet it is true. Joyfully, many of us can say we lived to see Communism fall in the former Soviet Union. Russia is Russia once more. But we cannot forget, that but for the intervention of Our Lady, the faith of three young children and the prayers of millions, there would have been no church in Russia to rebuild.
All the ironies in the story struck me anew--the immensity of Russia and the smallness of Portugal. The supposed mightiness of the Soviet Union and the relative political insignificance of Portugal. The terrible losses suffered by the Soviet Union not only during World War II, but also under her Communist leaders, especially Lenin and Stalin. And what about tiny Portugal? Our Lady promised her mothers to keep their sons out of the second World War and she did, because of their faith and prayers.
Many of these things were on my mind and in my heart when I traveled to Fatima. I lived for nine years ('81-'90) in Europe during the Cold War. I left Germany just after the Berlin Wall came down and I remember what a happy time it was. Communism had been 'defeated' and the full terror of 'terrorism' was not yet understood, well at least not by me, and probably not by most average Americans I suspect.
But evil is always present in this world and one tyrant vanquished only made room for others to assume prime positions. I was just too naive to realize this then.
Since my return from pilgrimage a week ago today I've been trying to figure out how to write up Fatima--as a chronological monologue, as a travelogue, as a series of reflections on my photos or some other way--but so far none of my writing seems to be going anywhere. So I guess I'll just keep plugging away, praying and hoping God shows me how to document my journey, a pivotal place, and this incredible story. It's so miraclous, no mere words can ever do it justice.
So I beg for your prayers for this endeavor and also call your attention to something our group of pilgrims noticed while we were at Fatima.
There was no American flag. Can you believe it? In the processions, there were flags from many nations -- certainly not every country, but many -- but no American flag. It made me feel so bereft. I can't explain it--why the United States wasn't represented in this symbolic way. There were certainly plenty of other American pilgrim groups there besides even our small group, which mostly consisted of Catholics from California and Hawaii. I suppose each country's delegation brings their own flag, but I don't know the protocol for such things and did not have the opportunity to check this out given our limited time and resources.
Still, it makes you wonder, 'Why did no one from our great nation bring an American flag to include in the procession?' If I had had a flag with me or been able to get my hands on one--no matter what size--I think I'd have hopped in the procession myself just to insure our representation. It really was a very sad day for us.
So I write this in hopes that you will spread the word about this travesty. And if you, or anyone you know, is traveling to Fatima next year or the next, or anytime in the future, will you please, please, please, bring, carry and display an American flag in the procession?!
I cannot tell you how sad I felt not to have our country visibly represented in that otherwise beautiful tribute to Our Lady. I also cannot help thinking it made her sad. I know she loves us too. She is our Mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas. We were there. Our flag should have been there too.
God bless you and God bless America!
"God has been very good to me, for I never dwell upon anything wrong which a person has done, so as to remember it afterwards. If I do remember it, I always see some other virtue in that person." ~~Saint Teresa of Avila