Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
One hundred years ago, in the summer of 1917, while the slaughter of the First World War entered its fourth year, and on the cusp of still more savage Russian Revolution, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared six times to three children watching sheep in a quiet meadow in Fatima, Portugal. She taught them again the central Gospel message of God’s saving love, and our love in response through repentance for sins, and growing in faith, hope, and love.
Through them, she reminded the whole church of the importance of personal devotion and prayer for growing closer to Christ. Her own immaculate heart, so pure and free from sin, and so perfectly united to the Sacred Heart of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the model we should strive to imitate every day. By drawing closer to Mary, for example by praying the rosary, we also draw closer to Christ, and to heaven.
Of course the children spoke of what they had seen. By the time of the sixth apparition, perhaps 70,000 people were waiting in that meadow to see for themselves, some in simple faith, some intent on disproving the children’s claims. Together they witnessed what’s now called the “miracle of the sun.”
After a rainy night and morning, the sky remained overcast. Suddenly, the clouds parted around the sun, leaving a circle of clear blue sky, in which the sun, somehow veiled so that it could be looked at directly without harm, danced and whirled for several minutes. Many eye-witness accounts were published in newspapers throughout the world, and there still exist photographs of the crowds staring raptly at the sky.
Last Saturday, we celebrated this 100th anniversary of Fatima with a joyful conference here in Sioux City. The miracle of the holy sacrifice which I offered there – while certainly not so dramatic as the miracle of the sun – brings us far more grace and devotion, and is offered for all of you in our parishes every day. We recited the rosary together, just like those who waited at Fatima, and were united with our holy Mother in seeking greater faith and union with Christ.
And, as one more support to your growth in devotion and faith, I was greatly pleased to designate Trinity Heights in Sioux City as our newest diocesan shrine.
On Tuesday, Aug. 15, we also celebrate the solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, who was taken body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life. This is a powerful promise to us, too. Though we shall have to wait for the general resurrection for the reuniting of our body to our soul, nevertheless, we know that salvation includes our body also, not merely our soul.
Someday, if we are saved, our body too will be in heaven, like Mary’s. Therefore what happens to our body in this life matters, for salvation. The selfish materialism of our age preaches the opposite – that what we do with and to our body has no moral significance. The Assumption of Mary proves that this idea is false and harmful to our soul.
The world seems immensely changed over the past hundred years. The despair of 1918 – of the seeming inevitability of total war, communist victory, epidemics, and cultural collapse – still seems ascendant in current events and self-obsessed culture. We are tempted to doubt that Mary’s message at Fatima can still speak to us, in our struggles and needs. We set our rosaries aside for lack of faith.
But the most important things in life never change: the message of the Gospel about the reality of God’s love for us, and, therefore, about Christ and the church, the mystery of sin and evil, and the path of the cross to redemption and resurrection. The message of Fatima was not just about the moral dangers of war and revolution in 1917, but rather a permanent message to the church, to us even in our own day, about the dangers of losing our faith, ignoring the Gospel, and being complacent in the face of all the current forms of “man’s inhumanity to man.” We must not allow ourselves to be silenced. We must grow ever stronger in our faith and in our witness to the saving love of Christ.
Do not lose hope. We all may struggle, but God who is mercy itself does not abandon us. We cannot see clearly how we shall persevere, but Mary our mother sees and marks the way for us. If we remain close to her, we cannot be far from Christ. I urge you to renew your commitment to pray the rosary regularly, for peace and the church and the salvation of souls. Please pray also for me, as I pray constantly for all of you.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City