Is the End Near?

Author: Inside the Vatican Staff

Is the End Near?

Inside the Vatican Staff

No, says Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who has read the Third Secret of Fatima.

But then, what is the secret? And what does it have to do with Russia?

Two hundred thousand pilgrims from around the world, and in particular many from Poland and Russia, gathered in Fatima, Portugal, on October 13 to celebrate Mass on the 79th anniversary of the last apparition of Our Lady of Fatima to three shepherd children there (October 13, 1917).

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was present to deliver a homily. He left many in the crowd disappointed, however. They had expected a sensational revelation about the so-called "Third Secret of Fatima," but none was forthcoming. (Sister Lucia, the shepherd girl to whom the secret was revealed, long ago said the Church could make the contents known any time after the year 1960, but Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II have all refrained from revealing it publicly.)

But two days earlier, Ratzinger — one of the very few in the world who has read the text of what are considered the predictions made to Lucia and two other shepherd children — had spoken publicly of the "Third Secret." In an October 11 interview with the Portuguese Catholic Radio Renascenca, Ratzinger was asked if the contents of the "Third Secret" predicted the imminent end of the world.

He began his reply by denying that the Third Secret had anything to do with the Apocalypse or the end of the world.

Ratzinger then said speculation about the supposed "Third Secret" is not part of a healthy devotion to the Blessed Mother.

Ratzinger has told Inside the Vatican on several occasions that he is concerned about an exaggerated emphasis in the Church on apparitions and related mystical phenomena. He is worried that people may "run after" such phenomena, when the Church already possesses sacraments of enormous richness, meaning and power. In the Eucharist, for instance, Christ is truly present; there is no need to "run after" any apparition when one can meet Him at daily Mass. This is part of the reason why the Church always seeks to discern the "fruits" of apparitions and other mystical phenomena: Do they draw people toward the practice of their faith, toward a deeper love of God and neighbor? If not, then there can be a suspicion that the mystical phenomena are counter-productive, even dangerous.

And yet... the Church must never "quench the Spirit," never place a priori limitations on the actions of the living God — or of His Mother, Our Lady. And, at Fatima, viewing all the evidence available, the Church has judged it is not wrong — though also not required — to believe that Our Lady did appear, did bring a message, did desire that message to be transmitted and heeded.

"If the Church does not make known the text of the 'secret,' it is to oppose sensationalism, the desire for unheard of things," Ratzinger said. "It is to reduce Marian devotion to its essential nature," he continued, because "the Virgin did not appear to children, and little people, and simple people unknown to the rest of the world, in order to cause a sensation, but to recall the world, by means of simple people, to simplicity, that is, to the essential: to conversion, to prayer, to the sacraments."

Ratzinger then added, in what seemed very close to a revelation of the contents of the "Third Secret": "To all those who are curious, I would say that they should be certain that the Virgin does not engage in sensationalism; she does not create fear. She does not present apocalyptic visions, but guides people to her Son. And in this we have the essential (of the secret)."

However, as Vatican expert Orazio Petrosillo noted in IlMessaggero on October 14, this is not the same thing as saying there is nothing "catastrophic" in the "Third Secret" (see below).

Ratzinger also spoke of Ali Agca, the Turkish assassin who tried to kill the Pope on May 13,1981 (anniversary of the first apparition at Fatima) and who is increasingly seen in Rome as the (obviously unwitting) agent of a divine plan.

"This Ali Agca," Ratzinger said, in response to a question about the relationship of the Pope to Fatima, "was an absolutely precise marksman. He once said, 'When I fire, the matter is finished.' Therefore, he carried out this attempt with the utmost precision and if the Pope survived, it really was a miracle. The date, May 13, Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, is in itself significant."

Ratzinger added that what worries him today is "the half-heartedness of the faith in many parts of the world and especially in Europe." He said: "Instead of being happy that we know the true God, that we have been spoken to by the Lord, that we know how to live, we regard Christianity, rather, as a burden. Many, for this reason, would like to create their own Church for themselves, like a private club, and they forget the Church."


Despite Ratzinger's remarks, the mystery of Fatima and its secrets remains.

At Fatima in 1917, Our Lady left such a remarkable sign of her presence in the extraordinary "Miracle of the Sun" that even nonbelievers — including secular journalists who had come to the scene to scoff — were convinced and converted. She also left three "secrets."

(1) The "First Secret" had to do with the lives of the three young children she was appearing to: Francesco and Giacinta, the two youngest, would die young, while Lucia, who in due time became a Carmelite nun, would have the mission of spreading the Fatima message. (Some overlook this private "secret" and begin their count of the secrets of Fatima with the Madonna's apparent prediction of the Second World War. The Madonna, speaking on July 13, 1917, three years into World War I and more than a year from the war's end, told the children: "If what I will tell you is carried out, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is coming to an end. But if they do not cease offending the Lord, in the reign of Pius XI will begin another, worse war..." Two decades later, in 1939, World War II broke out. This is considered by some to be the "First Secret" of Fatima, already revealed in history. Some, however, link this prediction with the "Second Secret" described below.)

(2) The "Second Secret" had to do with terrible wars and with the punishment of mankind for sin. The Madonna predicted that God would punish sin through a chastisement of the world unless the world repented. "To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart," the Madonna said. "If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted and there will be peace. Otherwise, Russia will spread her errors throughout the world, fomenting wars and persecutions against the Church; many good people will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, many nations will be annihilated."

The "Second Secret" ends this way: "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 the Italian press in October, the "Second Secret" was presented as already fulfilled in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Empire.

(3) The "Third Secret" does not really emerge until 1943. In that year, Sister Lucia fell ill. The bishop of Leria, where she was, asked her to write down the revelation she had received.

A year later, Sister Lucia sent the text to the bishop, who put it in an envelope, charging that upon his death it should be handed over to the Patriarch of Lisbon, Cardinal Cerejera. (He had so little interest in the secret, it is reported, that he never opened the envelope.)

In 1957, the envelope arrived in the Vatican via the Apostolic Nuncio to Lisbon, and it came to the desk of the Prefect of the Holy Office. It is said that Pius XII, though he had a great devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, never came to know the contents of the letter.

It is known, however, that the head of the Holy Office, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, carried the letter to John XXIII after his election in 1958. John had the text translated from the Portuguese, read it, and put the message back in the envelope.

Ottaviani later said that John "sent the letter into one of those archives which is like a bottomless well into which documents are dropped and never seen again."

But Archbishop Loris Capovilla, Pope John's private secretary, has said that John, on the contrary, kept the letter in a box on his desk until he died.

Pope Paul VI was cautious about Fatima. He visited the site in 1967, the 50th anniversary of the apparitions. But he always spoke of "devotion to the Madonna of Fatima," not of "apparitions." In Portugal that year, Sister Lucia asked to meet with Paul in secret, but he refused.

It is known that John Paul II has read and meditated on the text, and has shown the letter to Ratzinger. But neither man has ever spoken publicly about the contents — except once.

According to a report from more than 15 years ago, John Paul spoke about the "Third Secret" to a group in Fulda, Germany, on a visit there on November 17,1980. His words were tape-recorded.

What emerges is a picture rather more disturbing than the one painted by Ratzinger last month.

In that private gathering, the Pope spoke of a "troubling" message, of predictions of "oceans flooding entire continents, people annihilated suddenly, by the millions, from one instant to the next."

"We must be well prepared," the Pope said, "for great trials in the near future, which can even require the sacrifice of our lives." And he explained why he had not made the message public: "If a message announces that millions of people are going to die, one doesn't really wish to have it made public. Many want to know it only out of curiosity, but they forget that knowledge brings responsibility."

John Paul then reached into his pocket and, in front of the astonished onlookers, pulled out his Rosary. "Here is the medicine against this evil!" he exclaimed. "Pray, pray, and don't ask any more questions. Leave everything else up to the Madonna!"

Still, John Paul has also expressed himself in a calmer way with regard to the "Third Secret." In May 1991 he visited Fatima, and during a homily, told his listeners: "This is not an old world that is coming to an end, but a new one that is beginning."

Perhaps the Fatima secret is a catastrophic one, but in the manner of the biblical prophets, in which terrible punishments are predicted but the prophet ends always with expressions of hope and liberation. Perhaps this is the way Wojtyla and Ratzinger are now reading the "Third Secret": as a message containing terrors, but also a final catharsis and new hope.

This article was taken from the November 1996 issue of Inside the Vatican.

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