Lebanon: The Church consecrates the country and the Middle East to Our Lady of Fatima
by Fady Noun

The long schedule of prayers was dedicated to peace. The journey is not for the "weak of heart" who are content with "salvation on the cheap". Without the conversion of the heart, pilgrimage is not enough. Penance and mercy go hand in hand. We must always be ready to respond to the Virgin's requests.

Fatima (AsiaNews) - I caught Sister Gloria Maalouf at the entrance of the Casa da Nossa Senhora do Carmo (House of Our Lady of Carmel), an hotel next to the shrine of Fatima. It belongs to the Congregation of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I’ll never find out how a daughter of Zghorta ended up in Portugal, but her help seems invaluable to organisers. Quickly, she reminded me of the schedule of the Saturday evening prayer vigil, the first part of the "Day of Lebanon in Fatima" organised on the occasion of the centenary of the apparitions: the rosary, the torchlight procession, then the exhibition Of the Blessed Sacrament and a moment of adoration. . . until 3 am. "Otherwise, we’ll never have peace!" she said, turning around to go back to the Chapel of the apparitions, where the vigil was set to start.

Taken aback, I thought about it. "Until three in the morning, when I have just spent a sleepless night. . . Otherwise, we’ll never have peace!" It is an extreme assertion, but she is probably right. "Penance! Penance! Penance!" cried the angel of the apparition in 1917, pointing to the earth in the form of a globe, according to the Third Secret, the one that foretold the attack against the pope (13 May 1981).

The Virgin is also into the extreme. "Only the violent attack the Kingdom," says the Gospel somewhere. To the timorous, the tisanes of insipid consolations. . . If we came to Fatima for these impossible hours of flying, it is not to play spoiled children to those one gives a spoonful on which we have already blown. Lukewarmness, half measures, softness, the middle class of holiness, the salvation on the cheap. . .

The Second World War, the horror of communism, announced in 1917 by Mary "unless we don’t listen to her" are also "extreme". If we measure the gravity of the fault, it must have been immense: 66 million dead in the USRR according to Solzhenitsyn, who experienced the gulag first hand. The same goes for a war triggered by a Nazi ideology that even planned the elimination of a race.

"Nazism is a humanism," one philosophy professor dared to say as quoted by the philosopher Martin Steffens (Rien que l'amour, éditions Salvator). This is another "extreme" statement that the Virgin Mary must appreciate. All atheistic humanisms lead to horror, and this is what it is all about, when Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin crowned, each in his own way, the century of the Utopia of Reason, with the bonfires of living souls delivered to the Molochs of megalomania of man without god, the mad intoxication of Nietzsche's will to power.

No pilgrimage without conversion

In Fatima to renew, along with the Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi, the act of consecration of Lebanon, Mgr Paul Rouhana, Maronite bishop of Sarba, is also extreme, in his own way. "We can come to Fatima, Lourdes or Harissa for selfish reasons," he said before going to the Basilica of the Trinity where Mass was to be celebrated. It is something if we go to the shrines for our personal gratification, to receive graces of consolation, but it is insufficient. To be truly accepted, the visit must be accompanied by a conversion of the heart to the love of God and neighbour. It is the love of which Saint Paul speaks in the Epistle to the Corinthians. It is at the heart of the relationship among human beings. It is an entire plan of conversion, patience, forgiveness, self-control. It is the opposite of hardness of the heart. We must link popular faith to the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, so that it may bear fruit."

This is the challenge facing the thousands of believers who have come from Lebanon and all the countries of emigration in response to the appeal of the Lebanon Commission of Consecration. Of course, grace is at the appointment of a pilgrimage made possible by the hard work of organisation led by an exceptional woman, Suzie Hage.

Asked by a Portuguese journalist on Sunday morning in the sober Casa do Carmo where he was staying, the patriarch confirmed this by saying: "Did you see how yesterday, after the rosary and during the torchlight procession, as we arrived exhausted, we forgot our tiredness!"

"We had to struggle to get some ‘Hails’ in Arabic and Armenian, since the Maronite liturgy, and the eastern Churches in general, seemed something new to Fatima,” said Maryse Slaiby, who was closely involved with the organisation. The patriarchal vicar of the Catholic Armenians, Georges Assadourian, came along as well, together with Patriarch Younan of the Catholic Syriacs, and about thirty priests. Still, the effort was worth it! On Saturday night, hearts were swelling with hope. Foreign pilgrims who participated in this open prayer vigil were enchanted by the oriental hymns. The torchlight procession was magical, as were the polyphonic songs – most notably a Salve Regina arranged by the tenor Gaby Farah, a revelation of this pilgrimage.

Crowning moment

The Mass of Consecration, on Sunday, was the crowning moment of the Day of Lebanon in Fatima, in the great basilica of the Holy Trinity, in honour of the prayer taught by the Angel of Peace to the three children of Fatima. "Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly. I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world . . ."

In his homily, Patriarch Rahi called for the intercession of the Virgin "for peace in the region and the stability of Lebanon". [. . .] May our country continue its mission and remain a model of coexistence between different cultures and religions, especially between Christians and Muslims [. . .] far from any temptation to exclude or seize power [. . .] this is one of the first requirements of positive globalisation.”

In spite of the Maronite liturgy that echoed for the first time in the basilica, the office was less prayerful than the previous evening. It must be said that recollection was less easy in this immense well-lit wooden hall, whose steps are anonymously laid out only under the vault of the starry sky. What is more, in the crowd of faithful, religious sensitivities expressed themselves most notably with a remarkable presence of traditionalist believers, many of whom wore a double apron, on their clothes, with printed on the back the face of Saint Veronique de Julianis (Veronica Giuliani), a 17th century mystic, famous for her visions of hell.

Of course, the religious service went perfectly: the procession of the offerings, the well-expressed intentions, the beautiful torch offered to the shrine by the sculptor Raffi Yedalian, the liturgy beautifully animated by the choir hand-picked by Gaby Farah. Yet the meditative prayer of the day before was really missing and the crowd dispersed without fraternising, after the prayer of consecration was read aloud.

Grace and Mercy

Did the patriarch remind this traditionalist current, in remarks he made on Saturday night, that "the message of Fatima is a message of peace that ends with two words: Grace and Mercy?" Very likely considering the charisms of the patriarch who handles opposites to hold onto to all of his flock and not lose any. As Pope Benedict XVI put it, "Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future." Penance and mercy go hand in hand. Of course, man does not demand enough of himself, and the Mother of God does not speak lightly. She sees history coming. Yes, we must believe that the misfortunes of the 20th century could have been avoided had we listened to her. History is malleable and responds mysteriously to inner attitudes of conversion. When there is an apparition of Our Lady, and she asks for something, we must be quick to answer. This is the great lesson that can be drawn, after all the others, from the apparitions of Fatima.

But love, says Saint Paul, "believes everything" and triumphs over all obstacles. History is open and the patriarch reminded us that Fatima’s message is not only a call to penance but also of hope. It is not just a judgment, but also a promise. "In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph!" said the One whose mouth said nothing but the truth. We do not know how, but that will happen.