Fatima and the Theology of the Body: Part I

May is a month that Catholics traditionally devote to honoring the Blessed Mother. One of my favorite Marian memorials falls in the middle of the month, May 13, when we honor Mary under her title “Our Lady of Fatima.” I’m not a big devotee of Marian apparitions, but because of my work promoting John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB), I have gained a great interest in Fatima. What’s the connection? I could write a doctoral dissertation on it, but I’ll provide the short version in my two columns for the month of May.

As most Catholics know, between May 13 and Oct. 13, 1917, Mary appeared to three peasant children in Fatima, Portugal delivering a three-part message — the “three secrets” of Fatima, as they’ve come to be known. The first secret presented a horrifying vision of hell. The second involved a prophecy of World War II and the warning that “Russia would spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church.” However, Mary assured the children, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”

Mary also told the children that “the Holy Father will have much to suffer.” This brings us to the “third secret” of Fatima, which was not publicly revealed until the year 2000. In 1917, the children saw a vision of bullets and arrows fired at “a bishop dressed in white.” Sixty-four years later, while driving through the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, a “bishop dressed in white” was gunned down by Turkish assassin Ali Agca … on the memorial of Our Lady of Fatima: May 13, 1981.

OLF and JPII 2Many years, later John Paul II reflected: “Agca knew how to shoot, and he certainly shot to kill. Yet it was as if someone was guiding and deflecting that bullet.” That “someone,” John Paul believed, was the Woman of Fatima. “Could I forget that the event in St. Peter’s Square took place on the day and at the hour when the first appearance of the Mother of Christ … has been remembered … at Fatima in Portugal? For in everything that happened to me on that very day, I felt that extraordinary motherly protection and care, which turned out to be stronger than the deadly bullet” (“Memory and Identity,” pp. 159, 163).

The fact that John Paul was shot on the memorial of Fatima is well known. What few people know is that the pope was planning to announce the establishment of his Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family on that fateful afternoon. This was to be his main arm for disseminating his teaching on man, woman, marriage and sexual love around the globe. Could it be that there were forces at work that didn’t want John Paul II’s teaching to spread around the world? (In fact, by May 13, 1981, John Paul II was only about half way through delivering the 129 addresses of his TOB. Had he died, obviously, the full teaching never would have been presented.) And could it be that, by saving his life, the Woman of Fatima was pointing to the importance of his teaching reaching the world?

It would be over a year later that John Paul officially established his Institute (of which I’m a proud graduate). On that day, Oct. 7, 1982 — not coincidentally the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary — John Paul II entrusted the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family to the care and protection of Our Lady of Fatima. By doing so, it seems he himself was drawing a connection, at least indirectly, between his miraculous survival and the importance of the Theology of the Body.

Digging deeper, the precise link, I believe, between John Paul II’s TOB and Fatima lies in Mary’s mysterious words about the “errors of Russia” and the promised “triumph” of her Immaculate Heart. John Paul II’s TOB is like weedkiller applied to the deepest roots of the “errors of Russia” that have spread throughout the world. As such, the spread of the TOB throughout the world is a sign, I believe, that Mary is preparing us for her triumph.

But what does it mean to speak of “the triumph of the Immaculate Heart?” What are the “errors of Russia” and how does John Paul II’s TOB combat them? We’ll explore these questions in the next column.

Christopher West


Christopher West is a Catholic author and speaker, best known for his work on Pope John Paul II’s series of audience addresses entitled the Theology of the Body.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • stutmann9

    Just a note, there is a part of the Third Secret of Fatima that has not been made public knowledge. In the vision of the bishop dressed in white, he is led up a hill by soldiers, through the ruins of a city with the dead bodies of priests and other bishops everywhere, and in the vision he was actually shot DEAD. I do not think that the vision applied to Pope John Paul II, because he was not being led by soldiers to a hill in a ruined city with other dead bodies of priests and bishops everywhere when he was shot. Also in the message there is a part that reads at what is supposed to be the end of the statement, “In Portugal the Faith will always be preserved..etc.” and it ends there, leaving the reader to deduct that there is something more concerning how the faith would fare in other places, countries. The Blessed Mother always explained her statements to the children. After the vision of Hell, which is pretty self explanatory, Our Lady says tot the children, “You have seen Hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them (sinners), God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.” She revealed to Sister Lucia:
    “Behold my heart surrounded with thorns which ungrateful men place therein at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. You at least try to console me. Announce in my name that I promise to help at the hour of death, with the graces needed for salvation, whoever on the First Saturday of five consecutive months shall:
    1. confess and receive communion
    2. recite five decades of the Rosary and;
    3. keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary with the intention of making reparation to me.”

    The Five First Saturdays of Reparation were requested to atone for the five ways in which people offended the Immaculate Heart of Mary;
    1. Attacks upon Mary’s Immaculate Conception
    2. Attacks upon her Perpetual Virginity
    3. Attacks upon her Divine Maternity and the refusal to accept her as the Mother of all mankind.
    4. For those who try to publicly implant in children’s hearts indifference, contempt and even hatred of this Immaculate Mother.
    5. For those who insult her directly in her sacred images.

    Offenses to Mary and to Jesus are still happening today and with even more intensity! Mary’s promise is still in effect, Fatima is not over. We are not yet in the Era of peace promised by Our Lady of Fatima. More people need to be told of his devotion so that they may embrace it.
    I am in agreement with the idea that someone was certainly trying to stop JPII from disseminating the Theology of the Body, since we know that Our Lady Of Fatima told the children at Fatima that more souls go to Hell for sins of the flesh than for any other sin, and that usually means sins of impurity and sexual immorality. I just do not think that JPII is the bishop the vision is referring to. I do believe that Our Lady of Fatima saved him from the assassination attempt so that the Theology of the body would be made known and also because he was truly devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I just believe that there is more to the Third Sacret that is still under wraps. There is a DVD that is now being released, called “The Secret Still Silenced”, a documentary about the Third Secret of Fatima having a second part that has not been disclosed for reasons of “prudence” and not causing mass hysteria. You can order it from the Fatima Center at 1-888-328-4621. Very worth looking into!

  • Pingback: Loving Mary Leads to Loving Jesus « Being Faith-filled Citizens()

  • pgohn

    I can appreciate the words and efforts of stutmann9 to promote the Five Saturday Devotion, but I take issue with the writer’s thought that the Vatican is in some way holding back on the information regarding the third secret of Fatima.

    Kindly read the Vatican’s full statement on the Message of Fatima here:

    If you read it to the end, it includes the exact text in question, and a very thorough interpretation of it as it applied to JPII and previous popes, and is signed by none other than Card. Joseph Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI).

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    In the vision of the bishop dressed in white, he is led up a hill by soldiers, through the ruins of a city with the dead bodies of priests and other bishops everywhere, and in the vision he was actually shot DEAD. I do not think that the vision applied to Pope John Paul II

    I’m certainly no expert on Marian apparitions. However, Salvation History is full of typological references and cross-references where an apparently fulfilled Type turned out not to be so on further reflection. When Nero was turning Christians into human torches to light his gardens, people thought he was the Antichrist — and with good reason. Lots of Christians met their deaths — and their immediate route to particular and final judgment — at Nero’s hands. But Nero did not bring about the end of the world (or even coincide with it). Thus, he couldn’t have been the Antichrist.

    Still he was a type of antichrist — meaning a prefigurement of the Church’s great enemy whose atrocities are recounted in the book of Revelation. By this I mean that Nero was a type of Antichrist in a way similar to the way that Melchizedek was a type of Christ (although the Types represented are diametric opposites). Both prefigure the ultimate reality whose time, within time so to speak, has (or had, in the case of Christ) yet to come.

    Thus, even if JPII were not the bishop from the Fatima prophesy, he can readily be called a type of that bishop, insomuch as his suffering reflects that of the bishop of the prophesy even if it does not perfectly fulfill the prophecy. To say that the Church’s prophesying, in other words, can apply to only one circumstance is a bit short-sighted. Such prophecies might be said to apply perfectly to only one circumstance — i.e. to the fulfillment of the Type. But imperfectly fulfilled types (meaning those which reflect the prophesy without fulfilling it in every way) do come along.

  • JMC

    You DO realize, don’t you, that the vision of the “Bishop in White” isn’t all there is to the Third Secret? Our Lady never gave a vision to those children without explaining it to them. Where’s the explanation of this vision? And what about the things Pope Benedict XVI said on the plane to reporters after his trip to Fatima? They asked him specifically if the recent clerical scandal was related to the Third Secret, and the things he said indicated that they do indeed; he actually revealed a part of that Secret in that answer: That there are dangers to the faith of Christian. That there is great sin present at very high levels in the hierarchy. We have not been given the whole thing yet. And, before anyone decides to go on about the consecration of the world in the 1980s fulfilling the request for the consecration of Russia…YOU CAN’T CONSECRATE SOMETHING WITH IDENTIFYING IT BY NAME! Russia was never mentioned, not even indirectly, except by John Paul II’s mention of “those people still awaiting” the fulfillment of Our Lady’s request. He could not even refer to those people specifically as Russians; his “political advisors” forbade it.
    I highly recommend to you, and all our readers, the book “The Secret Still Hidden.” The author, by his own admission, started out to prove that all the Fatima requests had been fulfilled, and ended up proving…and BELIEVING…that they have not. Another in the same vein, with additional proofs, is “The Fourth Secret of Fatima.” Please stop perpetuating that farce in 2000 that masqueraded as the revelation of the Third Secret.

  • Lee

    I agree. We should not relax, but instead encourage everyone to take seriously the request by our Mother Mary. Pray the Rosary.Families are the best units for praying together. Mom and Dad encouraging their children to pray, bringing many together at one time to fulfill the Fatima request.

  • J D

    Firstly, to publicly announce a disinterest in Marian Apparitions seems odd. You would think an interest in the APPROVED communications of THE MEDIATRIX OF ALL GRACES would be of some interest to a devout Catholic (I can’t help but remember Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand’s many critiques of West and TOB now).

    Malachi Martin (John XXIII allowed him to read The Third Secret), JP 2, and Cardinal Ratzinger all said, well before 2000, The Third Secret, among other things, indicated “millions will die in minutes.” The key to understanding Fatima is to go back and read Our Lady’s prophetic words at Lasalette in mid 18th century France and her further bloody-tears warnings at Akita, Japan in the 1970’s. Both are APPROVED apparitions. The Vatican stunt in 2000 was an attempt by the Curia modernists (socialists?) to bury the Message of Our Lady of Fatima with the death of JP 2. This charade is not only laughable, but borders on blasphemy.

    Our Lady of Fatima asked that the secret be revealed publicly in 1960, not partially in 2000. The Third Secret allegedly foretold a great apostasy in The Church and a Russian/Communist victory over America if ALL that Our Lady asked at Fatima was not done. It hasn’t, despite the protests of those who say otherwise. Those who still promote the seminal cataclysm of v-2, and all the rancid fruits these past 50 years, don’t like to be reminded by Traditionalists that “Heaven told you so..”

    It has always seemed that the mental illness the debauched, sodomite, or homophile, are seemingly afflicted with, can always be measured according to the time and energy one spends connecting everything in life to one’s sordid obsessions.

    To see the “Errors of Russia” as simple opposition to TOB, which, in all candor, is just a “pastoral” nod to speak about graphic sex before marriage, so it can be practiced in it, seems more than a stretch.

    Memo to Mr. West: Marxist Communism, as practiced by the Soviet Union historically, and by China, North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam today, has been responsible for the deaths of 200 million people the last 100 years. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, et al., deserve some looking into. Forced abortion, feminism, the attack on The Family, and the systematic persecution of religion, to this day, are all inventions of Marxist Communism.

    Socialism, which is merely communism with a happy face, has been even more dangerous in The West where it continues to delude even Catholics, even some Shepherds, into believing that some smoky notion of hippie social justice has more value than pro-family and pro-life essential demands of The Faith.

    So, we can rest assured then, that the “Errors of Russia” was not opposition to speaking to 20-something Catholics candidly about the vast array of sexual activities available to them AFTER marriage.

    Sometimes TOB sounds like the DARE program in schools. It can so thoroughly talk about the effects of certain activities that it invites experimentation more than abstinence or continence. .

    Our Lady of Fatima, Pray for us!

  • .Elizabeth

    Forget the made-up TOB- and get to the business of consecrating Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary as SHE requested. I believe HER words mean more than the Pope with too much time on his hands in years gone by.

  • QuoVadisAnima

    Well, I can’t speak for Mr. West, but I can tell you that my husband’s ‘disinterest’ in Marian apparitions has far more to do with the people who follow them (comments here being a useful case in point) than it does with the apparitions. The messages of Our Lady are essentially those in the Gospel – the apparitions are more like wake up calls for those of us who are sleeping. If one is already awake & vigilant, then a wake up call is useful – for others.

    As for Theology of the Body inviting experimentation instead of abstinence or continence, I can only scratch my head in puzzlement over how you were so badly misinformed – it answered all the questions I challenged my mother with many years ago about why I should wait till marriage when my future husband & I were already committed together. If she had that information back then, my marriage would not have had the struggles that it did years ago before DH & I reverted to the Catholic faith of our childhood. How can something that teaches not only the value but the beauty of chastity lead people away from it?

  • QuoVadisAnima

    One can readily identify souls who have a close relationship with the Blessed Virgin by the influence of those virtues that the near presence of the Spouse of the Holy Spirit – especially charity and humility…

  • James H, London

    We should be very careful when following media reporting or sensational books, which tend to have unspoken agendas of their own, some of them dubious. Sr Lucia herself, the last surviving visionary, said the secret had been revealed. Are you saying she was lying? That’s a very, very serious charge.

    Assuming you’re making the accusation in good faith, how much can you trust your sources? Were *they* being honest? Or had they a pre-existing antagonism against the post-Vatican II church, and were looking for reasons to disregard its authority? Again, this is a very serious charge.

    The heart of all heresies is the elevation of some teachings at the expense of the others. We should remember that even approved Marian apparitions are still only private revelation, and if they lead us into sin, we should avoid them.

  • J D

    There is a distinction to be made between “following” an alleged, false (meaning demonic or man-made),apparition, and understanding the importance of significant APPROVED events and prophecies. Following Tradition and Scripture are the fundamental ways one can find fidelity and fruits from the age of reason till the acceptance of one’s vocation. Heaven never shows up and says, “Everything’s great! Just wanted to say ‘Hi’..” We have this tricky little thing called “free will”, which you indicated in your post, can often cloud our understanding about the responsibility and demands of our particular vocation. This is where authentic apparitions of Our Lord’s Sacred Heart, Divine Mercy, or any of Our Lady’s APPROVED apparitions, such as mentioned previously, are so important. None of those have to be “followed”. Studied? Prayed over? Yes! No need to follow what’s already been revealed. Young people should know of the importance of developing a clearly MARIAN spirituality if they are to avoid the pitfalls that you said you and your husband suffered from in straying from The Faith. We are not “sola scriptura” heretics after all. When Our Lord and Our Lady enter time there is always an URGENT reason with DIRE consequences attached if their requests are not followed.

    I suppose the brutes laughing at Noah, cackling at Lot in the city of Sodom, torturing Jeremiah, or diminishing St. John’s Apocalypse to a history lesson also thought these “prophets of doom” a bit much as well.

    Interestingly, the inhabitants of Ninevah, upon Jonah’s dire warnings, repented in sackcloth and ashes, Repentance is always the theme of any AUTHENTIC apparition or the goal of any Mystical Theology.

    Please search Dr, Alice Von Hildebrand’s criticisms of West and TOB. (Just put the previous line in your search engine,) She may be the greatest Catholic writer alive today, Her late Husband, Detrich, was also a Catholic genius. If you read TOB resources and view materials available you are left with the insight, as JP 2 said, and Hugh Hefner agreed with by the way, that Puritanism is the seed of Pornography.

    That is the fallacy of false choices. Traditional Catholic modesty, sensibilities, and the sanctity of the body are often lost in translation.

    There are TOB conference Q&A’s that matter-of-factly talk about the possibility of anal sex, toys, etc..just so long as the male finishes in a way that keeps the couple “open to life”. There are a few TOB adherents that believe that Onanism should be entertained to promote “prostrate heath” in the male.

    Hard to believe this is your mother’s “birds and bees” speech! Anyone want to imagine Padre Pio entertaining such a question?

    Before we instruct Adam & Eve on different ways to enjoy one another, we must make sure they are properly formed Catholic men and women FIRSTLY!

    This is what The Church, as a whole. has failed to do the past 50 years and what the messages of Our Lady of Lasalette, Fatima, and Akita are essentially about.

    Our Lady, Queen of All Prophets, pray for us!

  • J D

    Our Lord plainly gives us “The Fruits” test as a way to determine the sanctity of a particular action. Where is The Church presently? Where is The World in this moment of time? Do you agree that the ONLY institution that can fight the unique evil of these days is The Church? How is that battle going presently? Any EXTRAORDINARY indications from Heaven that these are particularly dire times?

    We must not be dumb dogs that don’t bark!

    Sr. Lucia is a great mystic of The Church. Who told YOU she said such a thing? The Appeal-to-Authority is a fallacy that only a rudimentary understanding of logic allows you to disarm.

    Has any member of the Church’s hierarchy ever used the vow of obedience, religious profess, to cover-up anything they deem unseemly?

    Our Lady, Queen of All Prophets, Hammer of heresy, Queen of All Patriarchs, Queen of All Apostles, Pray for us!

  • JMC

    I’m saying that the report itself was a lie, that Sister Lucia said that the secret had been revealed. They mention a “computer-written” letter from her, but her Sisters in the Order have said that she didn’t even use a typewriter, much less a computer. I put forth that no such “interview” ever took place, but that those who are working to block the fulfillment of the Fatima request completely fabricated it to back up the partial revelation they gave us in 2000. No, I’m not saying the Pope is lying, but others in the Vatican, in high enough position that they can actually tell the Pope what to do. THIS, I’m certain, is the “much to suffer” that Our Lady warned the Pope would have to endure: He would want to fulfill the requests completely, but be prevented from doing so.
    Russia has NOT been converted; there has not been one moment of peace in the world since 1917. One’s particular nation may have been at peace, but there was always a major conflict going on SOMEWHERE. These are the proofs that the requests have never been fulfilled.

  • QuoVadisAnima

    First point: I was attempting to point out to you that there are valid reasons for those people who do not pay a lot of attention to Church-approved apparitions. You assume to much by presuming to know West’s, or anyone else’s, reasons for not paying them the same degree of attention that you – and I – do. It is uncharitable.

    Second point: I love Dr Alice von Hildebrand’s writings and do see her as one of our best Catholic writers. I have also seen at least some of her criticisms (have not followed it closely enough to know if there are more) of West’s presentation of ToB but to my knowledge she has not condemned his effort – only certain aspects of it. It is dishonest to reduce his work to the controversial Q&A’s and what some adherents are proposing (are they even doing so because of West’s talks or is this just guilt by association?).

    The discussion about using sex toys & all that did not originate with West; I first learned of it from my membership with the very orthodox Couple to Couple League. There they explained that theologians were of mixed views & why it is a gray area in Church teaching. They stated that the only definites of the marriage act, as far as Church teaching goes, are that it must reach completion in a manner that is open to life and that each spouse must listen to and respect the dignity of the other.

    Similar to using NFP to avoid pregnancy only for “grave reasons”, the Church does not explicitly define what that means so it is left to the interpretation of the spouses – who presumably are also in conversation with God about the matter.

    Third point: You are conflating many issues into just a few here & attempting to address the complex in a manner that is not only facile but appears to be built on a lack of charity toward West that is not seemly for a child of Mary.