The Catholic Herald

Fatima centennial: Is it wise to cover, or to ignore, famous claims of the miraculous?

Fatima centennial: Is it wise to cover, or to ignore, famous claims of the miraculous?

Although 2017 is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenberg door, there’s another religious anniversary -– a centennial -– this past Friday that got far less publicity.

Oct. 13, 1917, is the date when some 70,000 people, including a few newspaper reporters, witnessed the “miracle of the sun” in Fatima, a town north of Lisbon in central Portugal.

Many dismiss this as outdated Catholic lore, but the alleged appearance of the Virgin Mary in Fatima was a big deal for St. Pope John Paul II, who was nearly assassinated on May 13, 1981. He attributed his escape from death to Our Lady of Fatima.

Yet, I found very little about this anniversary in the secular media. The Philadelphia Inquirer was one of the exceptions, possibly because the local archbishop, Charles Chaput, made its observance a priority.

Throughout the year, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s 1.5 million Catholics have been observing the anniversary with special services, lectures, movie screenings, retreats, and pilgrimages.  Archbishop Charles J. Chaput will preside over a consecration service at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.
Fatima is among the three most popular Marian apparitions, including one reported in 1858 by St. Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France (Our Lady of Lourdes), and another in 1531 by St. Juan Diego and his uncle on the Hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City (Our Lady of Guadalupe), according to Jason Paul Bourgeois, an assistant professor at the International Marian Research Institute at the University of  Dayton in Ohio.
Messages of prayer, penance, reparations for sin, and devotion to Mary are oft-repeated in Marian sightings, but Our Lady of Fatima’s three secrets — prophecies and apocalyptic visions of specific events to come — set it apart.

The story is quite complete, going into the history of the three secrets of Fatima as well as other Marian apparitions. My only complaint is that it gave too much credence to those debunking the “miracle of the sun” -- in that how does one deceive 70,000 people? The skeptics never explain that one.

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Your weekend 'think piece' game: Once again, it's time to play 'Name that pope'

Your weekend 'think piece' game: Once again, it's time to play 'Name that pope'

This weekend's think piece is a kind of game -- a journalism game, to be precise.

It's a game that I have written about in the past, in part because of the billions -- OK, maybe just millions -- of news stories and commentaries that are built on the assumption that the theological content of the work of Pope Benedict XVI is sharply different than that of Pope Francis on just about any issue that you would want to mention.

Now, there are important differences and I know that. That is not my point. My point is that the mainstream press tends to ignore the many things Francis says on hot-button topics that support Catholic orthodoxy (thus, statements that sound like Benedict). There have also been times when journalists have taken statements that, in context, are not all that unusual and turned them into Google-dominating soundbites. Hey, who am I to judge?

In a 2014 "On Religion" column about this "Name that pope" game I offered these examples, among many:

 "The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion."
Name that pope: That's Pope Francis, believe it or not. ...
"It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the church's pastors wherever it occurs."
Name that pope: That's Pope Benedict XVI.

Now, it's time to play "Name that pope" again. Are you ready?

On the subject of the church's traditional doctrine of marriage, stating that marriage is between a man and a woman:

"We cannot change it. This is the nature of things."

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The First Lady is Catholic? It would appear this story may have been hiding in plain sight

The First Lady is Catholic? It would appear this story may have been hiding in plain sight

What we have here is a strange story about a missing news story.

To say that the press has dedicated a large amount of ink to Citizen Donald Trump over the past two years would be the understatement of the century.

Under normal circumstances, when a man runs for president, the press also does quite a bit of digging into the life and times of the woman who would become the First Lady. This digging only intensifies after the election.

You can say that the quiet supermodel named Melania Trump received her share of press attention, but most of it merely raised some rather nasty questions about her past (she won damages from the Daily Mail after one set of accusations). As always, her fashion choices as First Lady have been treated as international news. That's normal.

But it appears that journalists missed a rather interesting personal fashion choice long ago on her wedding day -- she was wearing her mother's rosary. The Palm Beach Post team noticed that rosary at the time (photo and story here), but no one investigated that detail.

She brought that same rosary, it appears, with her when she met Pope Francis -- even though pool reporters (see this USA Today story) apparently thought that the pope gave it to her. Actually, it appears that the First Lady asked Francis to bless the rosary, which he did -- with a broad smile.

Later, it appears that -- ironically -- someone at The Daily Mail asked a rather obvious question: Is Melania Trump a Roman Catholic? 

As it turns out, she is. One would have thought that hidden fact about her life -- her family maintained a Communist/atheist public image in Slovenia -- would have been uncovered by now.

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Will U.S. journalists spot the religion ghost in Putin's mixed motives in Syria?

Will U.S. journalists spot the religion ghost in Putin's mixed motives in Syria?

It's hard to write a post about news stories that do not yet exist. However, based on the emails I'm getting, I expect to see major newsrooms writing about "this story" sooner rather than later. Do we really have to talk about religion "ghosts" in Syria?

So what is "this story"? 

Look for up-front use of the term "Holy War" in connection with Russia's involvement in Syria, where President Vladimir Putin is doing everything he can to save the territory most crucial to President Bashar al-Assad -- which certainly starts with Damascus. I expect prominent play to be given to the supporting role of the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Kirill, for reasons that our own Ira Rifkin mentioned in one of his "Global Wire" pieces the other day.

At the moment, your typical religion-haunted story on Russia's push into the Syria war focuses on politics, airplanes and hardware and the assumption that Putin is acting purely out of motives to maintain a power base in the Middle East and embarrass the United States and President Barack Obama. Please hear me say that there obviously truth in that assumption. In a current New York Times story, this is what that sounds like:

Although in its early stages, the coordinated attack has revealed the outline of a newly deepened and operationally coordinated alliance among Syria, Iran, Russia and the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, according to an official with the alliance, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss military strategy. ...
For Mr. Assad’s supporters and opponents alike, regionally and internationally, Russia’s increasing willingness to throw its full military power behind him is a game-changer.

But might there be religious logic to Putin's bold move, even if -- thinking cynically -- it is at the level of rationalization?

Just the other day, a Times story -- "Russian Soldiers Join Syria Fight" -- added a very brief reference to another layer of the conflict, well down into that text. Spot the ghost?

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