Catholic Moments in History: WWI, Fatima, and the Rise of Communism

The history of the 20th Century is a history of wars, intrigue, martyrs, and government domination over human populations that consisted of some of the most horrific atrocities ever. Government suppression of basic human rights spanned the globe from Mexico in the 1920s and ‘30s to Europe in the ‘30s and ‘40s to Russia and the Soviet Union afterward. Yet the 20th Century also saw some of the most brilliant and life affirming advances imaginable: medical breakthroughs; communications media such as television, the Internet, satellite; agricultural expansion and better nutrition overall, to name just a few. Within the paradoxical characteristic of the 20th Century—that between the secular geopolitical causes of the 20th Century upheavals and the positive, almost lightning speed technological advances—lies the leitmotif of a spiritual nature that ties the various events together. That common theme is the ongoing battle between good and evil.

On October 13, 1884, exactly 33 years to the day before the “Miracle of the Sun” at Fatima, Portugal, Pope Leo XIII had a vision in which Satan boasted to Jesus that he could destroy the Church. Pope Leo had just finished celebrating Mass in a chapel in the Vatican with a few Cardinals and members of the household staff. Suddenly the Pope turned ashen and collapsed on the floor. After about 10 minutes spent as if in a trance, he remarked “What a horrible picture I was permitted to see!” Then going directly from the Chapel to his office, he composed the prayer to St. Michael and later issued instructions that it be said after all Low Masses everywhere in the world. He explained that, as he was about to leave the foot of the altar, he had suddenly heard voices—two voices, one kind and gentle, the other guttural and harsh. There he heard the voice of Satan in his pride, boasting to Our Lord: “I can destroy your Church.” The gentle voice of Our Lord: “You can? Then go ahead and do so.” Satan replied, “To do so, I need more time and more power.” The Lord said, “How much time? How much power?” “75 to 100 years, and a greater power over those who will give themselves over to my service,” was Satan’s reply. Mysteriously our Lord said, “You have the time, you have the power. Do with them what you will

Father Koys went on to describe the intricate network of alliances, both legal and familial, that set the stage for the events leading up to WWI. For example, the power structure in Europe was to some extent maintained amongst the interrelated royal families of Hanovers, Romanovs, and the newly-minted Windsors (which families included such notables as Tsar Nicolas II of Russia, King George V of England, Kaiser Wilhelm II who was the great grandson of Queen Victoria of England) and treaties among countries requiring mutual assistance in the event a signatory country faced aggression from another sovereign nation. So, when Mary first appeared to the three peasant children in Fatima on May 13, 1917, the world was already experiencing turbulence of enormous proportions. She revealed the “secret” to the children during her third visit on July 13, 1917, the first part of which was a horrifying vision of hell. The second part foretold of another war during the reign of the future pope, Pius XI. Mary told the bewildered children that “[WWI] is about to end, but if men do not cease to offend God there will begin a worse [war] in the Pontificate of Pius XI . . . the punishment of the world is at hand for its so great sins by means of war, famine and persecutions directed against the Church and the Holy Father. Her admonition was to “say the Rosary every day, to obtain peace for the world, and an end to the war.” Mary also spoke specifically of Russia, a faraway country of which the children likely had never heard, saying “I come to ask the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart and the communion of reparation on the first Saturdays. If they listen to my requests, Russia will be converted and there will be peace. If not she will scatter her errors through the world, provoking 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 end my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and it will be converted.” Within a very short period of time, Russia was in the throes of the Bolshevik Revolution, modeled on the French Revolution which introduced the Reign of Terror. Future Pope Benedict XVI explained that “the ‘immaculate heart’ [of Mary] is a heart which, 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. . . .” The third part of the secret, the one which has generated so much controversy, was revealed publicly only after the assassination attempt on the life of John Paul II. Sister Lucia wrote: “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. . . .” Lucia later confirmed in communications with the Vatican that the Bishop dressed in White was a future Pope, but she did not know who.

Interestingly, John Paul II did not read the third part of the secret until after the assassination attempt. He notes in Crossing the Threshold of Hope (1994), “And thus we come to May 13, 1981, when I was wounded by gunshots fired in St. Peter’s Square. At first, I did not pay attention to the fact that the assassination attempt had occurred on the exact anniversary of the day Mary appeared to the three children at Fatima in Portugal and spoke to them the words that now, at the end of this century, seem to be close to their fulfillment.” Realizing the connection between the assassination attempt and Fatima, the Holy Father later donated to Sister Lucia the assassin’s bullet that was removed from his body and consistently attributed his survival of the gunshot wound to the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima. Said Father Koys, the antidote to the secular, political, and spiritual malaise the world over is respect for the teachings expressed in Humanae Vitae, in which matrimony and the family are recognized as integral to the implementation of God’s master program. In a word, Love. Specifically, that type of self-sacrifice and genuine desire for the authentic good for the sake of another. Instead, what we end up with, Father Koys noted, is the tendency for our political nature to continually seek new programs to “help” society in the form of socialistinspired programs that ultimately are almost always an end-run around marriage and family, and, because such programs are designed by humans, generally with poor theology, they are doomed to fail in the end. In conclusion, one may wonder whether, if the 20th Century was violent and saw a record number of martyrs, might the tactics of the 21st Century be more subtle?

In other words, might governments use what can be described as issues of “social justice” to disguise methods of delegitimizing, if not rendering illegal, positions of the Church or even the Church itself? According to Koys, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Government’s increasingly burdensome and complex regulatory schemes, such as that of the Affordable Care Act, cause the individual to lose ever more freedom, religious liberty, and human dignity.  A wonderful source of information on this topic is Warren H. Carroll’s The Crisis of Christendom, A History of Christendom, Vol. 6, Christendom Press, 2013, available through Well-researched, the book covers the years 1815-2005, and “discusses in detail Nazi and Japanese militarism and its crisis in World War II, the inhuman system of Communism and its fall in 1989, and the origins and consequences of the denial of human dignity in the modern culture of death.” Pax Christi

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly Hosts, thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world, seeking the ruin of souls.