Fr Billy Swan
On 25th March this year, Pope Francis consecrated Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. With this act of consecration, the Holy Father invited all the bishops of the world to simultaneously join him in their cathedrals for prayer along with their priests and the faithful of their dioceses. In a rare act, this consecration represented a great mobilisation of prayer by the universal Church for peace in a specific region and between two countries currently at war.
Outside of Rome, Russia and Ukraine, another place that was at the centre of attention was a small village in Portugal. At Fatima, the papal envoy Cardinal Konrad Krajewski joined with Pope Francis and consecrated both countries in the place where the Blessed Mother asked for Russia to be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart during her apparitions to three young children at Fatima in 1917.
Although the children had no idea of the significance of Mary’s messages to them at the time, the prophetic nature of her words has been proven by the events that unfolded in the history of Europe in the twentieth century. The Blessed Mother’s first apparition to Jacinta Marto, her brother Francisco and cousin Lucia, took place in Fatima on 13th May 1917, shortly before the Bolshevik revolution in Russia where the aristocracy was overthrown and a new communist government came to power. It was a revolution that would result in thousands of laity, priests and religious being killed, exiled or sent to concentration camps as the Soviet Union came into existence and asserted its power.
During the apparition of 13th July 1917, Our Lady asked through the three children for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart together with prayer and reparation on the First Saturday of every month, stating that if this request was not granted, Russia would “spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church”. She warned that unless there was prayer and penance, “the good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated.” She then concluded with a note of hope: “In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, she will be converted and a period of peace will be granted to the world”.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24th February this year, the Blessed Mother’s prophesy that “the good will be martyred and various nations will be annihilated” is seen in sharp relief in the light of present developments in Eastern Europe. While the good were martyred and various nations were annihilated during the last century under the Soviets, the words of Mary seem to take on an unnerving relevance as we see Ukraine’s sovereignty violated and thousands of innocent people killed since the invasion began.
As part of Our Lady’s prophesy in 1917, she foretold that “the Holy Father will have much to suffer”. Three years later, a child was born in Poland behind the iron curtain that fell after the events in Russia in 1917. This child, born in Wadowice on 18th May 1920, would become the Holy Father in October 1978. Karol Wojtyla certainty did suffer both before he became pope but also afterwards, not least when he was shot and seriously wounded on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima on 13th May 1981.
After he recovered, on 25th March 1984, Pope John Paul II offered prayers of solemn consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. While these prayers did not specifically mention Russia, many believe that John Paul II did so privately. On that occasion, while recalling the ‘YES’ uttered by Mary at the Annunciation, the Holy Father prayed:
“Behold, as we stand before you, Mother of Christ, before your Immaculate Heart, we desire, together with the whole Church, to unite ourselves with the consecration which, for love of us, your Son made of himself to the Father. ‘For their sake’ he said, ‘I consecrate myself that they also may be consecrated in the truth’ (Jn. 17:19). We wish to unite ourselves with our Redeemer in this his consecration for the world and for the human race, which, in his divine heart, has the power to obtain pardon and to secure reparation”.
With these words, the pope rooted the idea of consecration in Christ’s desire that his disciples of every age be consecrated to him and his truth – a desire he expressed on the night before he died. This is also the sense implied in the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the peace that flows from such a prayerful act. As Cardinal Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, explained in the year 2000:
“The heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind. The fiat of Mary, the word of her heart, has changed the history of the world, because it brought the Saviour into the world - because, thanks to her ‘YES’ God could become human in our world and remains so for all time. The Evil One has power in this world, as we see and experience continually; he has power because our freedom continually lets itself be led away from God. But since God himself took a human heart and has thus steered human freedom towards what is good, the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word. From that time forth, the word that prevails is this: ‘In the world, you will have tribulation, but take heart: I have overcome the world’ (Jn. 16:33). The message of Fatima invites us to trust in that promise”.
This is the spirit in which Pope Francis consecrated Russia and Ukraine to Mary’s Immaculate Heart on the day that celebrated her assent to God’s will and her faith in the power of her Son to meet any need.
By inviting all the faithful around the world to join him, Pope Francis united the Church and focused her faith in Christ’s final triumph over sin and death that he achieved on the cross and that burst forth in new life on Easter Sunday. As he consecrated Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we pray with him that the fruit of peace that flows from that victory of Christ may be realised concretely in Ukraine at this time of darkness. We do this in hope and with the promise of Our Lady of Fatima in our hearts: “in the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph”.