June 26-27, 2000
volume 11, no. 113

NEWS for Monday-Tuesday, June 26-27, 2000


    On Monday, June 26, the Vatican released the full text of the "third secret" of Fatima, complete with a commentary by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

    The "third secret was written down by Sister Lucia, the only survivor among the three children to whom the Virgin Mary appeared at Fatima in 1917. Sister Lucia-- now a Carmelite nun-- wrote down the text in 1944, at the request of the local bishop. The following is the full text of the "third secret" in its original translation:

    I write in obedience to you, my God, who command me to do so through his Excellency the Bishop of Leiria and through your Most Holy Mother and mine.

    "After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: "Penance, Penance, Penance!" And we saw in an immense light that is God: "something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it" a Bishop dressed in White "we had the impression that it was the Holy Father." Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspergilium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.


    In his theological commentary on the "third secret" of Fatima, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger emphasizes that the key to understanding the Fatima message lies in the words attributed to the Virgin Mary: "Penance, penance, penance!"

    Cardinal Ratzinger adds that a second crucial aspect of the Virgin's message is her reassurance that "my Immaculate Heart will triumph."

    In the first part of his commentary, the cardinal-- who is the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith-- carefully places the Fatima message in its proper context, as a "private revelation." He explains that private revelations must be distinguished from the definitive public revelation which is contained in the Scriptures as interpreted through the Tradition of the Church.

    "In Christ, God has said everything--that is, he has revealed himself completely-- and therefore Revelation came to an end with the fulfillment of the mystery of Christ as enunciated in the New Testament," the German prelate writes.

    However, private revelations may and do continue, in the form of various apparitions, admonitions, and messages. A private revelation, Cardinal Ratzinger explains, " is a help to this faith, and shows its credibility precisely by leading back to the definitive public Revelation."

    The Church, through her hierarchy, judges the authenticity of private revelations. In some cases-- such as the Fatima apparitions-- the Church offers a public approval of the message. In such cases, Cardinal Ratzinger writes, the message can be "a genuine help in understanding the Gospel and living it better at a particular moment in time; therefore it should not be disregarded. It is a help which is offered, but which one is not obliged to use."

    Turning to the content of the "third secret," the cardinal writes that the prophetic vision which was disclosed to the three young children who saw the Virgin Mary at Fatima was a preview of the 20th century, the cardinal writes. "In the vision we can recognize the last century as a century of martyrs, a century of suffering and persecution for the Church, a century of world wars and the many local wars which filled the last fifty years and have inflicted unprecedented forms of cruelty."

    That vision is coupled with Mary's plea for prayer and penance, Cardinal Ratzinger continues. And taken as a whole, the Fatima message is a strong reminder that the crises of the world must finally be resolved not through armed force but through prayer, and reliance on God's grace. Thus despite its violent imagery and its strong warning tone, the Fatima message concludes with a note of confidence: "my Immaculate Heart will triumph."

    "To understand the signs of the times," the cardinal writes, "means to accept the urgency of penance, of conversion, of faith. This is the correct response to this moment of history, characterized by the grave perils outlined in the images that follow."

    Cardinal Ratzinger discloses that he spoke with Sister Lucia-- the sole surviving Fatima seer-- about the content of the entire Fatima message. He reports that "Sister Lucia said that it appeared ever more clearly to her that the purpose of all the apparitions was to help people to grow more and more in faith, hope, and love-- everything else was intended to lead to this."

    In the "third secret," Sister Lucia writes about the vision of an angel with a flaming sword. That image, Cardinal Ratzinger notes, is a common one from the Book of Revelations, and it represents "the threat of judgment which looms over the world." During the 20th century, when warfare threatened millions of people with instant annihilation, that threat of judgment became particularly immediate, he observes.

    However, the cardinal continues, the threat is balances by the image of "the splendor of the Mother of God." And in her message to the children of Fatima, the Virgin Mary emphasized the need for prayer and penance.

    "In this way, the importance of human freedom is underlined," Cardinal Ratzinger writes. The dangers which threaten the world can be avoided, if people answer Mary's call to penance. In short, the cardinal explains, "the vision speaks of dangers and how we might be saved from them."

    "In the vision we can recognize the last century as a century of martyrs, a century of suffering and persecution for the Church, a century of World Wars and the many local wars which filled the last 50 years and have inflicted unprecedented forms of cruelty," Cardinal Ratzinger writes.

    However, he concludes, the vision ends with a powerful expression of hope, echoing the Virgin's promise that "my Immaculate Heart with triumph." This, the cardinal points out, is a reminder of a basic tenet of faith. "The 'fiat' of Mary, the word of her heart, has changed the history of the world, because it brought the Savior into the world." In his analysis of the message, Cardinal Ratzinger directly addresses the theories which have been put forward by many amateur theologians, suggesting that the Fatima message-- and, in particular, the "third secret"-- contained extraordinary news about the end of the world or about apostasy within the Church. Those analyses were wrong, writes the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

    Cardinal Ratzinger writes: "Those who expected exciting apocalyptic revelations about the end of the world or the future course of history are bound to be disappointed. Fatima does not satisfy our curiosity in this way, just as Christian faith in general cannot be reduced to an object of mere curiosity."


Cardinal Ratzinger Answers Questions on Mary's Revelations


    "A careful reading of the text of the so-called third secret' of Fatima, published here in its entirety long after the fact and by the decision of the Holy Father, will probably prove disappointing or surprising after all the speculation it has stirred," Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger says at the beginning of the his commentary on the content of Mary's revelations, which was published today.

    Since 1960, Catholics all over the world have been speculating about the contents of that secret, which John XXIII decided not to make public. The interest in the visions has led to a proliferation of fanciful "recreations" of the secret, none of which correspond to the simplicity of the message revealed today. The complete English text is included in today's issue. Images of the original Portuguese text in Lucia's handwriting are available on the Vatican web page at [Just click on "Latest" and then "The Message of Fatima."]

    The essence of the third secret is a vision that the three little shepherds of Fatima received after their vision of Hell and the prediction of World War II. An angel shouted out, "Penance, Penance, Penance!" and the children saw a mountain topped by a cross. A bishop dressed in white, whom the children identified as the Pope, led a group of bishops, priests, religious, and lay people up a steep mountain. Along the way, he prayed for the dead. Upon reaching the cross at the summit, he was shot down. Angels came down to sprinkle the blood of the martyrs on the souls going up to Heaven.

    In commenting on the "secret," the German Cardinal answers the most common questions that have been circulating for decades on the Fatima apparitions.

    Cardinal Ratzinger first makes a distinction between "public Revelation" and "private revelations." The term 'public Revelation' refers to the revealing action of God directed to humanity as a whole and which finds its literary expression in the two parts of the Bible: the Old and New Testaments. It is a revelation of God and, therefore, it is a matter of faith for Christians. However, the Holy See presents the message of Fatima as "private revelation," "which refers to all the visions and revelations that have taken place since the completion of the New Testament."

    "Private revelation is a help to this faith," explained the Cardinal, "and shows its credibility precisely by leading me back to the definitive public Revelation... The Flemish theologian E. Dhanis, an eminent scholar in this field, states succinctly that ecclesiastical approval of a private revelation has three elements: the message contains nothing contrary to faith or morals; it is lawful to make it public; and the faithful are authorized to accept it with prudence. Such a message can be a genuine help understanding the Gospel and living it better at a particular moment in time; therefore, it should not be disregarded. It is a help that is offered, but which one is not obliged to use."

    In the first two secrets, the means offered to save souls was devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Cardinal Ratzinger explained that "in biblical language, the heart' indicates the center of human life, the point where reason, will, temperament, and sensitivity converge, where the person finds his unity and his interior orientation. According to Matthew 5:8, the 'immaculate heart' is a heart that, with God's grace, has come to perfect interior unity and, therefore, sees God.' To be devoted' to the Immaculate Heart of Mary means, therefore, to embrace this attitude of heart, which makes the fiat -- your will be done' -- the defining center of one's whole life."

    In the actual text of the third secret, Cardinal Ratzinger noted that "the Pope seems to precede the others, trembling and suffering because of all the horrors around him. Not only do the houses of the city lie half in ruins, but he makes his way among the corpses of the dead. The Church's path is thus described as a Via Crucis, as a journey through a time of violence, destruction, and persecution. The history of an entire century can be seen represented in this image."

    Thus, the Pope in the vision becomes an image for all of the Popes of this century, each of whom had to carry a heavy cross. "Here it would be appropriate to mention a phrase from the letter that Sister Lucia wrote to the Holy Father on May 12, 1982," continued the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. " The third part of the secret' refers to Our Lady's words: If not, [Russia] will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated.' "

    In the vision, the Pope too is killed along with the martyrs. When, after the attempted assassination on May 13, 1981, the Holy Father had the text of the third part of the secret' brought to him, it was all but inevitable that he should see in it his own fate. In fact John Paul II said at that time, "It was a mother's hand that guided the bullet's path, and in his throes the Pope halted at the threshold of death."

    The concluding part of the secret is a consoling vision, which seeks to open a history of blood and tears to the healing power of God. Beneath the arms of the cross angels gather up the blood of the martyrs, and with it they give life to the souls making their way to God.

    Finally, the Cardinal cleared up some misconceptions. He denied the idea that Ali Acga was a mere instrument of God in the assassination attempt. The Turkish national has been making statements of this sort since Cardinal Angelo Sodano revealed the first bits of the third secret on May 13.

    "Those who expect exciting apocalyptic revelations about the end of the world or the future course of history are bound to be disappointed," concluded Cardinal Ratzinger. "Fatima does not satisfy our curiosity in this way, just as Christian faith in general cannot be reduced to an object of mere curiosity. What remains was already evident when we began our reflections on the text of the secret': the exhortation to prayer as the path of salvation for souls' and, likewise, the summons to penance and conversion." ZE00062605

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