At the coffee shop near the Vatican, the woman behind the counter asked my friend Father Riley and me this question. Why are all these Russians here in Rome? Father Riley knew the answer: because of the “Marian Day” that is part of the Year of Faith.
We went on to explain to the woman that this Marian Day would be especially dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima. On October 13, 1917, Our Lady appeared for the final time at Fatima in Portugal, the date of the “Miracle of Sun” where so many saw the sun “dance” in the sky.
What does Our Lady of Fatima have to do with all these Russians visiting Rome? Now, I don’t speak Russian, and I don’t pretend to speak for any tour group, but both this woman and I noticed the presence of these Russian-speaking pilgrims arriving in Rome. What is the connection?
At the same time that Our Lady appeared in Portugal in 1917, the Communist Revolution in Russia was underway, which would shape the course of the 20th Century. One of Our Lady’s requests was the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart, which subsequent Popes carried out. Pope John Paul II, who was shot in 1983, had the bullets put into the crown of the Virgin Mary, as an act of gratitude to Our Lady for her motherly protection for him and for the whole Church.
The prayer for Russia at the request of Our Lady united so many Catholic throughout the 20th Century. For those who are familiar with the role of Poland and the Polish Pope John Paul II in the downfall of Communism, we see with the eyes of faith that God is active in history and that prayer has powerful consequences.
In recent days, we have seen the effect of the Pope’s appeal for peace in Syria, accompanied by a united effort of prayer by Catholics, along with members of other religions.
Is it possible to measure what exactly is changed in history by the power of prayer? Can we use the tools of physical or social science to “track” God’s work in history? What does it mean to talk about the “power of prayer”?
In God’s mysterious design, He has wanted to bring about change in our hearts and in our world in a way that respects and even exalts our humanity. We are not dealing with a stingy God, but with a God who waits for us to ask Him what He desires to give us. Is that a big risk for God to leave so much up to us? Yes! But it is also a sign of the love of God, His love for our humanity as He made it,with its reason, freedom, and affection.
Father Luigi Giussani once said, “The forces that change history are the same that change the human heart.” The prayer of an individual, but even more so, the united prayer of the whole Church, becomes the crossroads at which this change enters the world. In prayer, I open my life to the God who wants to act in history, on the micro as well as the macro level.
And so, this Marian Day in which so many will participate is a testimony to all of these things: commemoration of Our Lady of Fatima, the consecration to the Immaculate Heart that will take place again, the continued prayer for peace in our world and for the conversion of sinners, and above all a chance for individuals and the whole Church to demonstrate our love for the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and of every Christian.
It is expressed beautifully on the website for the Year of Faith, http://www.annusfidei.va:
On Sunday, October 13, we will see present the various Marian groups for the purpose of expressing how the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, is the icon of faith for every believer and that in her trusting obedience to the will of the Father was able to work genuine wonders.
Why are all these Russians here in Rome? After all of our explanations, it is really the Mystery of God’s grace, a grace to which we give testimony along with the Blessed Virgin Mary: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
The times have changed of course, and the circumstances in which we live are not those of 1917, or 1989 for that matter. But God’s plan of salvation for each of us and for all of us has not changed, and the place of the Virgin Mary in the plan has not changed. We love her because her Son loved her, more than any of us every could.
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!