COMMENTARY: Remove My Name From the Fatima Mailing List

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c. 2000 Religion News Service

(Eugene Kennedy, a longtime observer of the Roman Catholic Church, is professor emeritus of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago and author most recently of “My Brother Joseph,” published by St. Martin Press.)

(UNDATED) Unsolicited e-mail and faxes often end with the words: If you do not wish to receive this in the future, call 1-800 something or other to remove your name from our lists.

This should be appended to messages from Fatima, the last of which has just been released but the last word about which has certainly not been spoken.

Can we at least stop Vatican news conferences about them? There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that we shouldn’t be reading other people’s mail anyway.

In a world increasingly concerned about the privacy of our communications, could we not begin by respecting that of the children who claim to have been the recipients of these messages from the Virgin Mary more than 80 years ago?

These letters, or messages, fall under what the Roman Catholic Church describes as “private revelations” and, as such and if they be genuine, they are for specific times, cultural moments, and individual life circumstances that we cannot, from our perspective, easily understand. In short, they are none of our business.

The Fatima letters have, however, been appropriated for generations now by people who have indeed made them their business, and big business at that. The spiritual essence of Fatima was long ago swallowed up as the event has been transformed into a multinational corporation that delivers a message from Mammon as much as from Mary.

The commercialization of the experience of these children into packaged tours, books, magazines and religious paraphernalia _ along with its politicization by religious orders and other groups as their cause and, it might be added, their source of revenue _ has depended, to some extent, on four generations of speculation about the “secrets” these famous “letters” are supposed to contain.

They have been the subject of bad jokes and much uninformed and adolescent religious speculation. They have also ignited the fuse of global paranoia, spawning end-of-the-world scenarios, preposterous visions of God as a harsh judge watching souls flutter down into hell as if they were autumn leaves, and a large share in the already overexpanded field of conspiracy theories.

The first test of any supposed religious message, of course, is not whether it makes sensational news but whether it corresponds with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

No supposed prophecies that use the innocence of children to scare people to death about their reservations in the fires next time can possibly be compatible with the teachings of Jesus.

His message remains one about love, not fear. Listen to the man who buried his talent in the ground explain himself to his master: “I knew that you were a hard man, and I was afraid.”

It is fear that undoes us spiritually, that undermines our willingness to risk ourselves in serving the world, that makes us afraid of the world as a place doomed by God as a hard master who makes us afraid.

Listen to Jesus as he speaks of fear as the enemy of spiritual growth and of his promise that perfect love casts out not hate, which seems to be its opposite, but fear that is its true enemy.

Now, after all these years, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger says of the just-released third messager from Fatima: “No great mystery is revealed. The future is not unveiled” and the images (of a popelike figure being fired on that John Paul II identifies as himself) are not to be taken literally but rather “synthesize and compress background facts which extend through time. … The future is not in fact unchangeably set and the image that the children saw is in no way a film preview of a future in which nothing can be changed.”

You mean, after all these years, all these fierce prophecies, all this buildup, that’s it?

Father Nicholas Gruner, who has broadcast breathless Fatima warnings for years about the Commies in our midst, opened the conspiracy lines immediately, suggesting the released message may have been a first draft “but not the full statement.”

Revealing the message merely convinces such enthusiasts that we “ain’t heard nothing yet.” Soon, Father Gruner and his doomsday crowd will tell us that so horrible was the third prophecy that the Vatican held back, and Cardinal Ratzinger is the mastermind of a coverup of an imminent apocalypse.

The real miracle of Fatima is not found in such extended madness but in the good people who bring their hopes and sorrows there so that they may overcome them by love. They bring their faith, they do not find it there. They earn the peace Jesus gives them. That is what makes Fatima sacred and is its only true message.


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