Special series on THE CHURCH IN RUSSIA for Tuesday, May 30, 2000
MOSCOW COMES TO FATIMA
Historic moment as Archbishop of Moscow visits Cova da Iria
It was a historic moment when the Latin Rite Archbishop Tadeusz of the European sectors of the Archdiocese of Moscow came to Fatima last October 1991. He led the first pilgrimage group, ten in number, ever to come from Russia to Fatima. He had been appointed by the Pope to this assignment only six months earlier. I was privileged to show him and his small pilgrimage group about the key areas of Fatima.
The historic moment came most into focus when this Archbishop from Moscow and several of his priests concelebrated their first holy Mass in the Little Chapel of Apparitions, marking the very spot where God's mother appeared. I was privileged to concelebrate with them. It was there where the Mother of God gave a message for the modern world manifesting her concern for leading the world back to her Son, Our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
I had already been to Fatima twice since last May when our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II was there, and for six weeks with the "Youth for Fatima" groups in July and August. Being asked almost at the last minute to return to Fatima for a third time in six months to be with the Archbishop of Moscow discovering the special points of interest and which would be filmed for television overwhelmed me. Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewiz, I was to discover later, only learned himself about the three weeks prior to departure that he would lead the first Russian pilgrimage group ever to come to Fatima.
The presence of the Archbishop of Moscow in Fatima was low-profile. There was no spotlight thrown on the Russian group. The sanctuary treated the group much like they respectfully treat any other group when a bishop leads them to this major Marian shrine of the world. Not that the authorities were indifferent to the significance of it all. It was a matter of great discretion after 74 years of suffering. There are those in the world that still look at Russia itself with great suspicion. The authorities have never been anxious to give any cause to be misinterpreted, lest political overtures be presented in misrepresentations by the secular press.
I was impressed with the humility of Archbishop Kondrusiewiz and his priests. They represented the coming fulfillment of the promise of Our Lady of Fatima. This Latin Rite Archbishop of Moscow and three of his priests offered the Liturgy of the Word of the Mass in the Russian language. This included the Scriptures, sermon and petitions in the Russian language. I could not help but think Our Lady must be pleased after all these years to hear the Russian language spoken at the very spot where she mentioned Russia.
I recalled too the words of Pope John Paul II in his encyclical on evangelization:
"Our own times offer the Church new opportunities in this field; we have witnessed the collapse of oppressive ideologies and political systems; the opening of frontiers and the formation of a more united world due to an increase in communications; the affirmation among peoples of the Gospel values which Jesus made incarnate in his own life (peace, justice, brotherhood, concern for the needy); and a kind of soulless economic and technical development which only stimulates the search for the truth about God, about man and about the meaning of life itself."
At his first Mass in thanksgiving to God's Mother for the new freedoms beginning in Russia, the Archbishop of Moscow spoke in the Russian language at the Chapel of Apparitions. In summary his message was as follows:
It is well known that a mother of a large family gives her most tender care to the child that is weakest. For the past 70 years Russia has been a weak child. St. Bernard said of Mary, "Never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection was left unaided." Mary has come to the aid of Russia. Mary and St. Michael the Archangel have come to the aid of Russia.
There was a revolution in Russia in 1917. A form of government took control that said, "we can do anything without God." Now, 70 years later, we see what they have been able to accomplish without God.
I remember the time when young people those 16 years of age and younger, could not be taught any religion. Millions of young people have grown up without God. At one time there were many Catholic churches in Russia. Now there remain but two, one in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and one in Moscow.
The people were not able to have the Mass but the Rosary remained the favorite prayer of the people. I am grateful to Our Lady to be able to come here with a small group of pilgrims (the Archbishop, three priests, two teenagers, four lay adults). I believe it is the first pilgrimage group ever from Russia. We come to thank God for the new religious freedom in Russia.
Fr. Fox yesterday and today has been telling us about the Trinitarian character of the Fatima message. The three children, the three apparitions of the Angel, the three phases of the miracle of the sun, etc. The Blessed Trinity was mentioned often in the message. The new flag of Russia has three colors (red, blue and white). I pray this, too points to the conversion of Russia back to God.
In Russia Our Lady is often venerated under the title of Our Lady of Kazan. Yesterday I was told that the wood of this roof (over the Little Chapel of Apparitions) was obtained from Russia. Just as the wood of Russia covers the spot where Our Lady of Fatima appeared here, I pray that God and His Mother will now cover Russia with a mantle of grace.
In 1984 our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, with the bishops of the world consecrated the world and therefore Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Immediately great changes began in Russia. The man who refers to himself as an atheist nevertheless became an instrument which the Mother of God has used to bring about changes in Russia.
There was no way I or others present at the Chapel of Apparitions could experience what was felt in the hearts of those Russian pilgrims and their Archbishop as he spoke at the very spot where the Mother of God had said:
When you see a night lit by an unknown light, know that it is the sign God gives you that He is about to punish the world for its crimes by means of war, hunger, and persecution of the Church and the Holy Father. In order to prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the communion of reparation on the first Saturdays. If my wishes are fulfilled, Russia will be converted and there will be peace. If not, Russia will spread her errors throughout the world, promoting wars and persecution of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, and various nations will be annihilated. But in the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me and it will be converted, and a tine of peace will be conceded to the world. In Portugal the Dogma of Faith will always be preservedů"
When you recite the Rosary, after each mystery say:
"Oh my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fire of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are most in need."
Bishop and His 16 Priests
As the Archbishop of Moscow and three of the sixteen priests of his archdiocese comprising four million square kilometers continued offering the Sacrifice of the Mass I again realized what God's Mother had spoken at that exact spot just 74 years previous. During the Mass the heavenly Mother of God and of the Church knew precisely what the newly papal-appointed Archbishop of Russia's capital was saying at the same spot. It was after 74 years of suffering under Communism, etc., I felt totally unworthy of the privilege to have any part of this.
As the sermon of Moscow's Archbishop came to a close he turned his thoughts and words directly to the Mother of God. His sermon became a prayer addressed to her. He was praying aloud. He had said, "It is my desire in coming here to give thanks to Our Lady of Fatima and also to consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I pray you Mother of God to open the hearts of all in Russia who want to receive God, to receive Him in faith and love, our country whose people have suffered so long, that it will now at last be blessed."
Tears filled the Archbishop's eyes as he prayed directly to Mary. His voice began to break. I had seen similar tears in his eyes when a day earlier I stood immediately facing him before the pillar of apparitions at Fatima and placed my hand on the pillar. This was possible, for the guard had raised the bullet-proof glass protecting the miraculous image of Our Lady of Fatima when the guards learned that the Archbishop of Moscow was making his first entrance to the site of the 1917 apparitions which mentioned Russia repeatedly in the call for a return to Jesus and His Church.
Tomorrow: part two
Father Robert J. Fox