"L'ULTIMA VEGGENTE DI FATIMA. I MIEI COLLOQUI CON SUOR LUCIA"
WRITTEN BY CARDINAL TARCISIO BERTONE
AND DOCTOR GIUSEPPE DE CARLI
ADDRESS OF CARDINAL TARCISIO BERTONE
Aula Magna of the Pontifical Urban University
At the end of this round of interventions, I warmly thank the speakers who with their different but complementary reports have outlined a magnificent, I would say "Marian", fresco, which from various viewpoints has been edifying in its spirit, incisive in its history, profound in its culture and informative.
For my part, I would like to reflect on just two apparently contradictory points: the value for Catholic spirituality of Mariology, which also includes supernatural phenomena, and the Church's justifiable prudence in officially recognizing them.
1. Down through the centuries the Church has come face to face with various apparitions - for the most part involving the Mother of the Lord and the Saints -, the subject of a mysterious divine plan. Some people have recognized and accepted them as extraordinary manifestations for the providential guidance of disciples of Christ or as a prophetic sign. Yet, the Church has never wished to oblige believers to believe in them (this was already attested to by Pope Benedict XIV in De Servorum Dei Beatificatione). Faith is always and only rooted and founded in Jesus Christ, who is the Father's true prophecy until the end of history.
Conciliar teaching recognizes manifestations that do not belong to biblical revelation but are addressed to private individuals (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 66). These revelations. which cannot contradict the content of faith, must converge toward the central subject of Jesus Christ's proclamation: the Father's love, which engenders conversion in human beings and imparts the grace they need to entrust themselves to him with filial devotion. This is also the message of Fatima which, with its heartfelt appeal to conversion and repentance, actually urges us on into the heart of the Gospel. In this regard the apparition of Fatima acquires, as it were, the form of a great ecclesial fresco, as Cardinal Ratzinger demonstrated in his Theological Commentary for the publication of the third part of the so-called "secrets".
The Virgin Mary's mission in the plan of universal salvation and in every Christian's life is brought increasingly into the limelight by contemporary Catholicism. Several people are concerned about this, fearing that it may increase the gap that separates us from our Protestant brothers and sisters.
The criterion for the discernment of the truth of a private revelation is therefore its orientation to Christ and to the Gospel. Starting with this fundamental criterion, certain keys of interpretation can intervene, such as popular piety or religiosity. In his Theological Intervention, Cardinal Ratzinger referred to popular piety in very meaningful terms, affirming: "This does not mean that a private revelation will not offer new emphases or give rise to new devotional forms, or deepen and spread older forms" (Theological Commentary, L'Osservatore Romano English edition [ORE], 28 June 2000, p. VII, n. 2). Yet, underlying all this is the question of nourishing faith, hope and charity, which for everyone constitute the permanent path to salvation. Popular religiosity means that faith puts down roots in the heart of individual persons in such a way that it may be introduced into the world of daily life. Popular religiosity is the first and fundamental mode of "inculturation" of the faith.
2. But what are the reasons for the Church's prudence in recognizing apparitions as genuine manifestations of the supernatural? With reference to our day rather than to the past, one of the reasons has to do with the increase in these phenomena, which in all likelihood is due to various causes: the collapse of rationalism, the spasmodic search for mystery, a superficial, insufficiently formed faith, increasing apprehension or anxiety about not knowing what the future will bring....
Such phenomena are more quickly affirmed than in previous times. Their influence is being felt in various parts of the world mainly because of the emphasis given to them by the media. Indeed, a conspicuous, programmed dissemination of presumed "supernatural messages" associated with these phenomena can be observed. There is likewise a tendency to connect the "messages" received during specific "apparitions" with the messages of other apparitions, so much the better if they are recognized as authentic by the legitimate ecclesiastical Authority, but also with those that have not been recognized; and thus to link the various movements dependent on the different phenomena.
With regard to the content of the "messages": there is a risk of judging such phenomena as authentic for the sole reason that the messages contain no doctrinal errors against the faith since they are exhortations and invitations to prayer and conversion. These presumed apparitions are often a vehicle for "apocalyptic" messages and this trend is increasing. Publications (books, periodicals) that specialize in supernatural phenomena are attracting considerable interest. These publications make a special impact, particularly when they are written by an ecclesiastic or a theologian.
Furthermore, the fact that "seers" are attracting considerable attention can be seen as characteristic of our time. New "Movements" or Associations of the faithful frequently form round a specific phenomenon, which requires discernment so as to forestall problems arising with communion or with ecclesial life in the country or local Church.
Even if at times the behaviour of diocesan Bishops and their collaborators may be wanting, it is essential to steer clear of the risk of a "Church of apparitions", diffident of the Hierarchy of the Church, as a variant of the well-known opposition of "charismatic Church - institutional Church". In this case, of course, we find that rather than facing a definite ideological position we are up against an attitude lived out and influenced by a somewhat superficial religiosity, a weakened ecclesial communion and a rather shallow faith in need of miraculous signs.
The above-mentioned characteristics mean that prudence and caution are required on the part of Bishops examining these cases, especially when it is a question of granting them public worship, and even more, of possibly pronouncing on their supernatural character. This worship, however, is increasingly assuming a theological status with important pastoral implications. The International Congress at Lourdes in 2008 will focus precisely on the "theological significance" of Marian apparitions.
But let us return to the Fatima message. The fruitful encounter between charism and institution, Trinitarian mystery and Christological mystery, is fulfilled in it. Mary, a sign of God's mercy, does not leave Christians on their own. She gives us hints as signs to combat the titanic battle between good and evil. Mary is the image of God's tenderness for us.
There are certain characteristics at Fatima: from the consignment of pious practices to the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary; from spirituality to a historical and political vision (Russia, peace and war, atheism...); from a geographically limited influence to one that is universal to the point that it affects the Pontiffs, and in a special way, Pope Wojtyła.
In a recent interview with Avvenire [Italian Catholic daily] newspaper, I have already had the opportunity to say that the mystery of Fatima is an event that has affected and permeated contemporary history more than any other Marian apparition. And the fullness of its message - not only of the third part of the "secrets" - touches the hearts of human beings, inviting them to conversion and to co-responsibility for the world's salvation. Here we find an interpretative key to the 19th century, and in a certain sense its message obliges today's men and women to reckon with a supernatural dimension that they are not always prepared to consider. Even for believers, the idea of a supernatural "intrusion" into earthly events can be difficult to accept, compared with that which refers every confrontation between man and God to eschatology, which is in some ways soothing. A remote and distant God is more comfortable, as Pope Benedict XVI has said several times, than a God who is close and accessible.
Many do not know that Mother Teresa of Calcutta's last gaze before she died met that of a statue of Our Lady of Fatima placed in her bedroom. In September 1959, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina felt that he had been "miraculously cured" by Our Lady of Fatima at the very moment when her little statue was leaving San Giovanni Rotondo. In that period, the Saint with the stigmata was weakened by a dangerous "bronchial-pneumonia complicated by the effusion of serous fluid". The diagnosis was made by Dr Sala, his regular physician. Padre Pio prayed to Our Lady of Fatima and the following day he was once again able to celebrate Mass.
The book being presented today was written above all with the intention of speaking of Sr Lucia, of her attractive and forthright humanity, typical of an ordinary woman who had had a quite extraordinary experience; and through Sr Lucia, of Mary. It should be noted that Sr Lucia, the illiterate child who learned to read and write in the convent, then wrote throughout her life. In the 1980s alone an average of 5,000 letters a year arrived in Coimbra, and this figure became tens of thousands after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Doubt was cast on the veracity of the integral publication of the third "secret" which she had written down in obedience to the Bishop's orders; well, had the truth been different it could have been detected in the thousands of answers which Lucia wrote to the faithful in every part of the world who asked her questions, spending many hours a day in her very personal office. Lastly, I cannot omit a reference to Pope Benedict XVI. Some of his journeys have been profoundly marked by the figure of the "Pilgrim Pope in the footsteps of Mary": Czestochowa, Poland; Altötting, Bavaria; Ephesus, Turkey; Our Lady of the Forlorn, Valencia, Spain; Aparecida, Brazil; Loreto, Italy, with the young people; and Mariazell, Austria.
The Pope's Marian devotion is also being given a practical expression this year, which is the 90th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions. Two Papal Envoys will have been sent to Fatima: Cardinal Angelo Sodano on 13 May, the anniversary of the first apparition; and the Cardinal Secretary of State is to be there for the anniversary of the last apparition and the conclusion of the festivities.
As is well known, I will preside at the rite of the dedication of the new Basilica to the Most Holy Trinity on the evening of 12 October, whereas on 13 October I will celebrate for pilgrims on the esplanade. Then, on 14 October, I will preside at another celebration to be broadcast live by RAI, the Italian radio and television network.
I would like to stress the theological value of the dedication of the Basilica to the Most Holy Trinity. This means consolidating God's concrete presence in human history; it is of course a judicious presence but above all of salvation and hope.
"History, in fact, is not in the hands of the powers of darkness, chance or human decisions alone. When the evil energy that we see is unleashed, when Satan vehemently bursts in, when a multitude of scourges and ills surface, the Lord, the supreme arbiter of historical events, arises. He leads history wisely towards the dawn of the new heavens and the new earth" (General Audience, 11 May 2005; ORE, 18 May, p. 11).