OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY IN FÁTIMA
HOMILY OF CARDINAL TARCISIO BERTONE
Church of the Holy Trinity, Fátima (Portugal)
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
This solemn celebration concludes the mission the Holy Father has entrusted to me to represent him here in Fatima on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to the three shepherd children at Cova da Iria. Yesterday was a Saturday, as was that 13 October 1917. Today, we are meeting once again in this beautiful church - which two years ago I had the joy of dedicating to the Blessed Trinity - to celebrate the Eucharist on the Day of the Lord, the weekly Easter. We have just heard the Apostle Paul's words: "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David" (II Tim 2: 8-13). He comes to renew this call on Sunday, every Sunday. We thank God for having had the chance to listen to him today, here in Fatima, the place chosen by Our Lady to offer a motherly message, through the three little shepherd children, to the Church and to the whole world.
I wish to express my gratitude to the Bishop of Leiria-Fatima and to his collaborators for the welcome I was given as Papal Legate. I have again joyfully perceived the deep devotion to the Successor of Peter which one breathes in Portugal and particularly in this blessed place.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us now seek to understand the Word of God that has just been proclaimed. The Gospel speaks of the meeting of 10 lepers with Jesus. They are healed by him but only one, a Samaritan, returns to thank him and it is to this grateful foreigner that he says, "Your faith has made you well" (Lk 17: 19). All 10 were "healed" from their illness, yet only one was "saved": the one who through his faith glorified God and thanked Jesus. St Luke stresses that the leper who was saved was a foreigner. Naaman, of whom the first Reading speaks, a commander in the army of the Arameans and sick with leprosy, was also a foreigner. He was healed when, obeying the Prophet Elisha's words, he went to wash in the waters of the River Jordan. The Word of God, as we sang in the refrain of the Responsorial Psalm, sheds light on the fact that "the salvation of the Lord is for all the peoples". Universal openness of salvation and fidelity to Israel, which at first sight appear contradictory, are in fact two inseparable and reciprocal aspects of the same saving mystery: it is precisely the intensity and steadfastness of God's love for the people he has chosen that makes this love a "blessing" for all peoples (cf. Gn 12: 3). This is manifested to the most exalted degree in the Cross of Christ, the greatest sign of his dedication to the lost sheep of the House of Israel and, at the same time, of the redemption of all humanity.
The Word of God, which today resounds in the liturgy throughout the world, acquires a quite special significance for us who hear it in this blessed place, marked 90 years ago by Mary's special presence. Everything here continues to be illuminated by this spiritual presence, which also offers us a perspective for interpreting the message of Scripture that we can sum up like this: Mary was preserved from the leprosy of sin, she lived continually giving thanks to God and became the icon of salvation; "full of grace", she is a sign of God's fidelity to his promises, an image and a model of the church, the new Israel open to all peoples; Mary fully participated in the Paschal Mystery of her Son: she died with him and lives with him, with him she persevered, and with him she reigns for ever (cf. I Tim 2: 11-12).
The beautiful Lady presented herself to the shepherd children dazzling with light; but in her words and sometimes also on her face, veiled with features of sadness, was a constant reference to the reality of sin; she showed the children her Immaculate Heart, crowned with thorns, and explained that their prayers and sacrifices were needed to atone for all the evils that offended God, in order to bring an end to war and obtain peace for the world. Mary's language was simple and suitable for children, but far from sugary and nothing like the language of a fairy tale. Indeed, she introduced them in very realistic terms into the drama of life; she asked for their collaboration and since she found Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia full of generous willingness she revealed to them: "Therefore, you will have much to suffer, but God's grace will be your comfort" (First Apparition, 13 May 1917). The Virgin chooses innocent children as her select collaborators in order to combat with the weapons of prayer and penance, of sacrifice and suffering, the terrible leprosy of sin that corrupts humanity. Why does she do so? Might it not be because this responds to the method of God, who "chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong... things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are" (I Cor 1: 27, 28). Our thoughts go to the example of the many children who have faced and today still continue to face suffering and illness with serenity, comforting their parents and relatives in moments of such great testing. Among these marvellous figures of miniature apostles of Christ, I am pleased to remember the extraordinary Silvio Dissegna, a little boy from the Piedmont who died of cancer when he was about 12 years old and whose cause of Beatification has already been introduced.
Ninety years after the apparitions, Fatima continues to be a beacon of comforting hope but also a strong appeal for conversion. The light that Mary made shine into the eyes of the shepherd children and manifested to so many people in the miracle of the sun on 13 October, shows that God's grace is stronger than sin and death. Mary invites everyone, however, to convert and repent; she wants simple hearts who generously accept to pray and suffer for the reparation of sins, for the conversion of sinners and for the salvation of souls. Mary expects a response from all her children! Dear brothers and sisters, let us accept her invitation and remain faithful to our Christian vocation.
Let us offer fervent prayers every day, especially the Holy Rosary, as well as our suffering in reparation for sin and for world peace. Let us consider ourselves her small and humble children who are anxious to live in praise and glory of the Most Blessed Trinity, to whom this Church is felicitously dedicated. Amen!