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Speaking at the weekly General Audience in Saint Peter’s Square in Rome this morning, our Holy Father Pope Francis had this to say –

“Tomorrow we remember, with great veneration, Our Lady of Fatima. Let us place ourselves confidently under Her maternal protection, especially when we encounter difficulties in our prayer life.”

Like his recent predecessors, particularly St John Paul II, Pope Francis has a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin under the title of ‘Our Lady of Fatima’. He has mentioned Her often and he has recommended this devotion several times over the last few years.

(Note: It may be that you are not too familiar with this devotion to the Mother of God and Her appearances to three children in Portugal just over one hundred years ago, in the summer of 1917. You can read the full Story of Our Lady of Fatima here – it is a detailed account, based on the memoirs of one of the three children who saw Her. Also, it corrects much of the nonsense which has been written about these appearances and debunks some of the twisting of the message of Fatima which appears online and is then reproduced as ‘fact’, with a good measure of conspiracy theory thrown in.)

Fatima reminds us of many of the truths of our faith – the reality of God and the offence sin causes Him; the true presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist; the need for penance and reparation; a strong recommendation for prayer generally and especially that of the holy Rosary; and the place of the Blessed Virgin in God’s plan of salvation for humanity – and especially the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, through personal adherence to Her message and through the consecration She asked of the Church, and which was done by Pope John Paul in 1984.

I was blessed to learn about these appearances and this devotion many years ago and it remains with me still, thank God. In the intervening years, I have tried very hard to live out the full message of Fatima – and most crucially, through the prayer of the daily Rosary, which Our Blessed Lady asked for at every one of Her six public appearances to the children.

And yet, no matter for how long I have tried to live this message, and regardless of how hard I have attempted to do so – still, I have failed both repeatedly and spectacularly at every turn; I dread to think of how She must look upon me, and with what sadness and disappointment. So many graces; many of them wasted, others put to poor use, and some fought hard against despite my good intentions. So many wasted opportunities, so much time lost.

I realise that might sound bleak – but I know, too, that it is not the full story. I have seen what those graces, obtained through Her intercession, can achieve in a soul, and what miracles can follow in their wake, as surely as ripples follow the stone thrown into the water.

And I know this, also – despite my numerous and constant failures in Her service, despite being the poorest of Her subjects in so very many respects, and even though I personally pierce Her Immaculate Heart with so many of the very thorns She asks our help to remove – despite all of this, and much, much more, still She loves me and She remains a mother to me. Even now, She offers Her Immaculate Heart and I hear again those words She spoke in 1917 –

“Do not lost heart; I will never forsake you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.”

I know those words are true. I know they apply to me, to you and to every one of us. I know, because I have experienced the reality of these words over and over. Such is Her gracious kindness.

Around the image of Our Blessed Lady in every Shoenstatt shrine are the words ‘Servus Mariae nunquam peribit’‘a servant of Mary will never perish’. These words echo what Our Blessed Lady said at Fatima about Her Immaculate Heart – it is our refuge always. She is our refuge always. Her sole task is to lead us to Her Son – and She will do everything in Her power (which is not inconsiderable!) to achieve this.

And so the message underpinning all I have written here is very simple; go to Mary.

No matter who or what you are, whether the greatest of saints or the worst of sinners, go to Mary in absolutely everything – your prayer, your spiritual life, your joys and sorrows, all your needs, and in every moment of your life. Go to Her with the perfect confidence of little children, whose trust in the love and solicitude of their mother is boundless. Go to Her in everything and remain with Her throughout everything, whether good or bad. Stay with Her; never leave Her, never abandon Her. And be certain that She will never abandon us.

She will never forsake us and Her Immaculate Heart will always be our refuge and the way that will lead us to God.

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