For the 533rd time, a group of Catholics in the Milwaukee area gathered for what they call an "All Night Eucharistic Vigil of Reparation and Prayer." Going from church to church throughout the archdiocese, they begin with Mass at 8 PM on the First Friday of each month and end with Mass at 5 AM on First Saturday. During the night they listen to talks, pray the four sets of mysteries of the rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, offer prayers of consecration and reparation, and make the Stations of the Cross. I joined them for about an hour last night, leading a procession with the Blessed Sacrament and giving a brief talk on "Mary, Queen of Peace." Preparing for the talk helped me further process my recent pilgrimage to Fatima. Here's basically what I said...
The All Night Vigil began as a response to Our Lady's call at Fatima to pray, do penance, and show devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. For 45 years this group has gathered to pray and sacrifice some of their sleep for the cause of peace.
In 1916, before the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in Fatima, a celestial being named the Angel of Peace appeared to three children to prepare them. A year later, on six succesive months, Mary herself appeared. Since its official approval in 1930, every pope has called Fatima "a reaffirmation of the Gospel." Why? Because when Jesus began His public ministry He did so calling for conversion. This was Mary's message at Fatima.
There will be no peace in the world without the conversion that begins in each human heart.
Last December 7 to 14 I went on a pilgrimage to Fatima. This pilgrimage affected me more than my 2006 pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The Cova da Iria, where Mary appeared in 1917, is a place of tangible peace. All 26 of us pilgrims felt that the first evening that we walked on to the grounds of the shrine. After I returned to the U.S. I met with the superior of the Carmelite monastery in Denmark, WI and she told me "What Lourdes is for the body, Fatima is for the soul." I experienced Fatima as a place of deep healing and of peace. And I had to wonder: why did it affect me more than the Holy Land?
Was it because this is the very place where Mary appeared with a message of peace less than 1oo years ago? Was it because this is the place where the 3 shepherds who saw her are buried? Was it because of the faith of all the people who come there with votive offerings of candles and wax images representing their needs, who come to adore our Eucharistic Lord at the perpetual adoration chapel, who come for the Sacrament of Reconciliation which is available in various languages throughout the day, who walk on their knees in petition and sacrifice down the length of the plaza?
Peace seems like an impossible dream today, but miracles are possible. I saw the results of two miracles at Fatima. One was the huge chunk of the Berlin Wall that is on display there. When I was growing up I never thought I would see the end of Communism in the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yet it happened, the result of prayer and sacrifice. The other miracle I saw was a bullet in a crown. After the attempt on his life, Pope John Paul II said, "One finger pulled the trigger; another finger guided the bullet." That bullet should have killed him but it didn't and in gratitude for Mary's protection on that day, May 13, 1981, the anniversary of Mary's first appearance at Fatima, Pope John Paul went to Fatima and made an offering of the bullet that almost killed him. It is in a gold crown that, on special occasions, is placed on the statue of Our Lady of Fatima that sits on the very spot where she appeared. I wondered where the bullet would be located. How could it be artistically added to the crown without destroying its symmetry and beauty? It is in the very middle, under the top, in a spot where it fit so perfectly that the crown needed no adjustment to accomodate the bullet.
Before he was elected pope, when he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote the Church's interpretation of the "Third Secret" of Fatima which Pope John Paul had allowed to be released. Lucia had always said that it was not within her capacity to interpret the vision she had; this was the Church's task, not hers. Thus the Church's interpretation of the Third Secret--the vision the children had of a bishop in white being struck down as he climbed a hill--is that this was a prophetic vision of what could have happened but which was avoided because of prayer. As the future Pope Benedict wrote: "When, after the attempted assassination on 13 May 1981, the Holy Father had the text of the third part of the 'secret' brought to him, was it not inevitable that he should see in it his own fate? He had been very close to death, and he himself explained his survival in the following words: '...it was a mother's hand that guided the bullet's path and in his throes the Pope halted at the threshold of death' (13 May 1994). That here 'a mother's hand' had deflected the fateful bullet only shows once more that there is no immutable destiny, that faith and prayer are forces which can influence history and that in the end prayer is more powerful than bullets and faith more powerful than armies."
Miracles are possible. Peace is possible. How? Through the Blessed Virgin Mary's "Peace Plan."
It's really very simple and the All Night Vigil has been implementing it for 45 years. It consists of 1) prayer, especially the rosary; 2) penance, acts of sacrifice for the conversion of sinners and to make reparation for the way in which humanity has treated the Hearts of Jesus and Mary; 3) devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, especially honoring her on the First Saturday of each month.
Such devotion to the Heart of Mary is more than a prayer that is said and then forgotten. To be devoted to Mary's Heart is to desire to have a heart like hers. This is what the three children at Fatima had.
Whenever Mary appeared to them, Lucia first asked one question--"What do you want of me?" She didn't begin by asking something for herself. She didn't ask "What can you do for me?" She sought not her will but the will of the heavenly visitor. Lucia had a heart like Mary's which sought and totally accepted God's will for her.
Francisco had a heart like Mary's because he was willing to have his heart pierced by sacrifices. Mary sacrificed so much to be the Mother of God and she consoled Jesus by standing under His cross sharing in His sufferings. After Our Lady's visits, Francisco gave himself to offering sacrifices to console Jesus who had been rejected by so many in the world. He spent hours in the church where he and the other children had been baptized so that he could console the One whom he called "The Hidden Jesus."
Jacinta showed that she had a heart like Mary's through her special concern for the Vicar of Christ, the Holy Father. After the July appearance, when the three children were playing in a field, and Lucia and Francisco had gone off to look for some wild honey, Jacinta had a vision of the Pope. When her brother and cousin returned she described it this way: "I don't know how it happened. I saw the Holy Father in a very big house. He was kneeling before a table, holding his face in his hands and he was crying. Outside, there were many people; some were throwing stones at him, others were swearing at him and saying many ugly words to him. How pitiful it was! We must pray a lot for him." I can't help thinking of how Pope Benedict must suffer as he looks out over the world. And how he was grabbed and pulled down at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Perhaps our prayers protected him from injury that night. This is something--prayer for the Holy Father and his intentions--that is a big part of what we try to promote in the Apostleship of Prayer.
So I say to you tonight: be strong, be confident, persevere in your monthly vigil. Encourage others to join you. Miracles are not over. Conversions can happen. Peace is possible. The Queen of Peace promised it, but as her subjects on earth, we must pray and sacrifice for peace. It will begin in our own hearts and from there it will spread into the world.