“The war is going to end and the soldiers will return home ..”
(Our Lady of Fatima, 13th October 1917)
Today, Remembrance Sunday, we remember the end of the so-called ‘Great War’, World War I, the 99th anniversary of which – Armistice Day – was yesterday. The War begun in July 1914 and finally ended in November 1918 – at the ‘eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month’, the guns finally fell silent. Before then, around 16 million people had died in this “war to end all wars”.
World War I had been the result of various political incidents, notably the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand. It would trigger various political, societal and global changes and upheavals which would endure long into the future – in particular, the Russian Revolution. As a result of the War, the world would be changed forever.
In the Vatican, Pope Benedict XV was watching events occurring around the world with a sense of profound sadness. His Pontificate had begun only a couple of months after the start of the Great War, which he would call “the suicide of civilised Europe”. Declaring the Vatican neutral, he would seek to mediate peace – initially through diplomatic channels, and then through humanitarian efforts. Neither of these were successful.
And so, on 5th May 1917, Pope Benedict wrote a letter to Cardinal Gasparri, the Secretary of State, calling for a great spiritual effort from the Catholics of the world, begging the Blessed Virgin Mary to obtain peace for the world and beginning a Novena in Her honour –
“Since all graces which the Author of all good deigns to grant to the poor children of Adam, by a loving design of His Divine Providence are dispensed through the hands of the most holy Virgin, we wish that the petition of Her most afflicted children, more than ever in this terrible hour, may turn with lively confidence to the august Mother of God.
To Mary, then, who is the Mother of Mercy and omnipotent by grace, let loving and devout appeal go up from every corner of the earth – from noble temples and tiniest chapels, from royal palaces and mansions of the rich as from the poorest hut – from blood-drenched plains and seas. Let it bear to Her the anguished cry of mothers and wives, the wailing of innocent little ones, the sighs of every generous heart: that Her most tender and benign solicitude may be moved and the peace we ask for be obtained for our agitated world.” (Letter of Pope Benedict XV, 5th May 1917)
Also in this Letter, Pope Benedict would decree that henceforth, the invocation “Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us” be added to the Litany of Loretto.
In the great prayer of the Memorarae, Saint Bernard reminds us that ‘never was it known that anyone who fled to Her protection, implored Her help or sought Her intercession was left unaided’. And so the fact that She would assist humanity was not a surprise. But what was a surprise, perhaps, was the speed with which the Blessed Virgin responded.
On the eighth day of this Novena, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three young children at Fatima in Portugal.
In the course of six appearances there, the Mother of God would speak of this ‘Great War’ – from the first appearance, She would ask for the prayer of the Rosary to obtain peace and to bring an end to the War, reminding them on the third appearance that “only She can help you”. That same day, She told the children –
“If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end; but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out in the pontificate of Pius XI.”
At Her fifth appearance, She told the children –
“Continue to pray the Rosary in order to obtain the end of the war.”
And on the last appearance, on 13th October 1917, She promised –
“The war is going to end, and the soldiers will soon return to their homes.”
Of course, all of this came to pass as She had said, one year later. Unfortunately so, too, did the prediction of a second World War. Mankind had not learned it’s lesson, despite the motherly intervention and assistance of the Blessed Virgin.
It is interesting that the Blessed Virgin intervened so directly in response to the explicit appeal from the Church, the Mystical Body of Her Son, made by the Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ on earth; it is also interesting that over six appearances at Fatima, She spoke directly about the War on three different occasions and advised us on what was necessary in order not only to stop the current war, but to prevent a future worse war. Later, She would speak more on this to Sister Lucia.
Her words remind us that world events have a spiritual dimension, that they are not merely temporal, despite how it may seem. She also reminds us that, since these events have a spiritual dimension, so too do they have a spiritual remedy – in particular, the prayer of the Rosary. This is the most efficacious of all prayers, outside of the Sacrifice of the Mass.
And so ultimately, despite the dark prospect of war befalling humanity, the words of the Mother of God are – more than anything – a message of hope. And to note again the great St Bernard, along with numerous other Saints, when our hope is placed in the Mother of God, we are neither forsaken nor left to our own ends; She will always come to our aid and do all She can to lead us gently back to the Lord.
Today, as we remember Armistice Day, as well as giving thanks for all those whose lives were lost in that ‘war to end all wars’, may we remember, also, to pray to God for the gift of true peace, which is more than simply the absence of war. And in this prayer, may we be united with the motherly prayer of Blessed Virgin Mary.
Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us.