An article by a faithful Russian Catholic:
Despite Official Denials, Fatima Shrine
Seems Headed On Interfaith Path
Report/Analysis By Lee Penn
The Christian Challenge (Washington, DC)
May 30, 2004
Ideas of "mingling" and "converging" religions are hardly new, but it is startling to find them at Portugal's famed Roman Catholic shrine at Fatima.
Nonetheless, such ideas appear to be taking hold at Fatima, despite official denials and claims that hardline traditional Catholics are stirring unfounded controversy over Fatima. Even more surprising, perhaps, is that the trends do not appear to be opposed--so far--by Pope John Paul II.
Fatima is the site where the Catholic Church says an Angel of Peace and the Virgin Mary appeared to three children on several occasions in 1916 and 1917, giving them messages for the Church and the faithful, and calling all to conversion, repentance, and prayer. Two of the three Fatima visionaries, who died soon after the apparitions, have been canonized by Pope John Paul II. One visionary, Sister Lucy, is still living; she is a cloistered nun.
The controversy surrounding the Roman Catholic shrine at Fatima began in the fall of 2003, when a Portuguese newspaper reported that the site would be remade into an interfaith shrine. Catholic officials denied the assertion, saying that the shrine will retain its Catholic, Marian focus.
But in early May this year, a Hindu priest worshiped his faith's gods at the altar of Fatima's Chapel of the Appartions, and he clothed the shrine's rector and the diocesan bishop in Hindu priests' vestments.
Reporting on the Hindu service on May 5, the Portuguese broadcast news services SIC and SIC Notï¿½cias said that the Hindu priest chanted prayers from the altar, on behalf of 60 Hindu pilgrims who gathered before him, outside the altar rail. A local television reporter explained, "This is an unprecedented unique moment in the history of the shrine. The Hindu priest, or Sha Tri, [prayed] on the altar the Shaniti Pa, the prayer for peace."
Additionally, the news report showed "scenes of the Hindu priest lighting a candle at the shrine while his followers [danced] outside the Chapel of the Apparitions chanting praises to their gods."
The TV broadcast showed that after the service, each of the Hindus was "personally greeted by the [Roman Catholic] Bishop of Leiria-FÃ¡tima," who then "bowed to the Hindu priest repeating his gesture of greeting." The Hindu priest then clothed the diocesan bishop and Msgr. Luciano Guerra, the rector of the Fatima shrine, with a Hindu priestly shawl. The reporter told his viewers, "On the shoulders of the highest representatives of the Church in Fatima, the Hindu priest [placed] a shawl with the inscriptions of the Bagavad Gita, one of the sacred books of Hinduism."
The two Catholic dignitaries explained these events with rhetoric reminiscent of that used by Frank Griswold, the Presiding Bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church. Fr. Guerra said during the broadcast that: "These meetings give us the opportunity to remind ourselves that we live in community." And the diocesan bishop, D. Serafim Ferreira e Silva, told a local newspaper: "We don't want to be fundamentalist, but sincere and honest." The only Griswoldian buzzwords they forgot were "reconciliation" and "inclusive."
A CONFERENCE sponsored by the Fatima shrine last October 10-12 demonstrates that the Hindu service was hardly an inadvertent event. Titled "The Present of Man--The Future of God: The Place of Sanctuaries in Relation to the Sacred," the conference was attended by an array of prominent Catholics. They included Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; Cardinal JosÃ© da Cruz Policarpo, the Roman Catholic patriarch of Lisbon; Fr. Jacques Dupuis, professor of theology at Rome's Gregorian University; and the aforementioned Bishop Silva, and Msgr. Guerra, rector of the shrine.
The event occurred at the Paul VI Pastoral Center adjacent to the shrine, and was opened by Bishop Silva. The rector of the shrine said in December 2003 that the meeting was inspired by "the reading of the message of Fatimaâ¦within the spirit of Vatican II."
Adherents of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), traditionalist followers of the excommunicated Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, protested at the meeting site. Msgr. Guerra said in a January 2004 interview that the SSPX demonstrators "behaved very badly. Instead of listening first and talking later, they began immediately distributing leaflets."
But some Catholics will think the Lefebvrites had reason to protest. The Belgian Jesuit theologian Fr. Dupuis told the conference October 11 that "we should not refer to the other religions as 'non-Christian', since this is a negative term that describes them by what we think they are not. Ratherâ¦we should refer to them as 'the others'."
Dupuis added that "Christians and 'the others' are co-members of the Reign of God in history," and that "the Holy Spirit is present and operative in the sacred books of Hinduism or of Buddhism," as well as in "the sacred rites of Hinduism."
"The universality of God's kingdom permits this," he declared, "and this is nothing more than a diversified form of sharing in the same mystery of salvation." Dupuis predicted that "The religion of the future will be a general converging of religions in a universal Christ that will satisfy all."
An eyewitness to the conference, John Vennari, a traditionalist Catholic, reported that almost everyone present, including the Catholic hierarchs, vigorously applauded Dupuis' speech. This occurred despite a 2001 warning by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican theological watchdog, that a recent book by Dupuis on religious pluralism erred with certain ambiguities and inadequate explanations relating to five doctrinal points.
The next day, Sunday, October 12, Archbishop Fitzgerald praised Fr. Dupuis' speech, saying the cleric had "explained the theological basis of the establishment of relations with people of other religions."
Fitzgerald averred that "The Church is there to recognize the holiness that is in other people, the elements of truth, grace and beauty that are in different religions," and "to try to bring about a greater peace and harmony among people of other religions."
These novel statements on the Church's mission are significant, since they come from the head of the Vatican department in charge of inter-religious dialogue.
Many of the conference speeches were in Portuguese, but the speeches by Dupuis and Fitzgerald were in English. These two speeches were recorded in person by Mr. Vennari.
On the same day that Fitzgerald spoke, "Father Arul Irudayam, rector of the Marian Shrine Basilica in Vailankanni, India â¦ rejoiced that, as a further development of interreligious practice, the Hindus now perform their religious rituals in the church," according to Vennari.
In his November 2003 report on the conference, Vennari accurately predicted that "it is only a matter of time before this blasphemy takes place at Fatima."
DEBUNKERS of the reports about interfaith excesses at Fatima have noted that stories of these activities have appeared in a little-noticed Portuguese English-language weekly, Front Page Online, and in traditionalist Catholic publications that are vehemently opposed to the direction taken by the Catholic Church since Vatican II.
But Vennari pointed out that the October 24, 2003, issue of "the local Fatima weekly newspaper, Notï¿½cias de Fatima, which is friendly with the Fatima Shrine," reported on the interfaith conference "under the headline, 'Sanctuary of Various Creeds'â¦The front page featured the caption, 'The future of Fatima must pass through the creation of a Shrine where different religions can mingle.'" The statement paralleled one attributed to Shrine Rector Msgr. Guerra by Front Page Online last November.
Page 8 of the same issue of Noticias de Fatima ran the headline, "Sanctuary Opens Itself to Religious Pluralism" followed by the subheading: "The Shrine of Fatima Assumes a Universalist and Welcoming Vocation Towards Different Religions."
Notï¿½cias de Fatima then quoted Msgr. Guerra as saying that: "This proposal of coexistence - also in Fatima - of a religious pluralism is still embryonic. It's the first step. We are like the engineers in Portugal who begin by examining the structures of the bridges to see if we can trust them in the future." This assertion by Guerra also was included in the Front Page Online coverage.
According to Noticias de Fatima, Msgr. Guerra further pointed out that the very fact that Fatima is the name of a Muslim and Mohammed's daughter is indicative that the shrine must be open to the co-existence of various faiths and beliefs. "Therefore we must assume that it was the will of the Blessed Virgin Mary that this comes about this way," he was quoted as saying.
Traditional Catholics in opposition were described by Guerra as "old fashioned, narrow minded, fanatic extremists and provocateurs."
Church spokesmen have blamed recent controversy over Fatima on publicity-seeking by Fr. Nicholas Gruner, a traditionalist Catholic priest who was suspended by the Vatican in 1996 for disobedience, and who continues to publicly state that the Catholic hierarchy has ignored or falsified the requests made by the Virgin Mary in her Fatima apparitions. Additionally, according to the rector of the shrine, "the great majority, perhaps the totality, of the reactions received is the result of a long orchestration, centered in the United States, by people bitterly opposed to Vatican Council II, specifically to what pertains to a wider opening of the Church, with emphasis on the ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue." However, reporter John Vennari, who acknowledged that he visited the October 2003 interfaith conference at the behest of Gruner's organization, said that "no one from Fr. Gruner's organization had anything to do with the articles" that appeared in Front Page Online and in Notï¿½cias de Fatima.
And, since word of the interfaith trends at Fatima first emerged last fall, attempted reassurances by officials at the Vatican and the shrine have been undercut by clearly contradictory messages, and no one has denied or retracted the statements attributed above to Dupuis, Guerra, and Fitzgerald during the October interfaith conference.
Archbishop Fitzgerald described the October 2003 conference as "part of an ongoing reflection" on the sanctuary's "inter-religious dimension" in the Church and the modern world," and said that "there were no practical conclusions arising from the meeting."
Last November, he declared that "There is no question of the Fatima sanctuary becoming an inter-faith pilgrimage centerâ¦This is a place of prayer centered on Our Lady, and everyone is welcome."
But in late 2003, Archbishop Fitzgerald told Zenit (a Catholic news service) that "we must learn to journey together, for if we drift apart we do ourselves harm, but if we walk together we can help one another to reach the goal that God has set for us."
A large new church, conceived in a stark modern style, is being built at Fatima to accommodate 9,000 pilgrims at a time. The design by a Greek Orthodox architect, Alexandros Tombazis, has received the approval of the diocesan bishop, and construction is to begin soon. In a December 28, 2003 statement, the rector of the Fatima shrine said that the new church will be "exclusively destined to be a place of Catholic worship, located not next to the current basilica, but between the Cruz Alta and a national road and, when opportune ... can receive pilgrims of other convictions who wish to fraternally partake in our way of prayer."
On March 9, 2004, the Pope personally gave the rector of the Fatima shrine a stone fragment from the tomb of St. Peter; this relic will be formally placed as the cornerstone of the new basilica on June 6. Thus, the new basilica is proceeding with the highest blessing from the Vatican.
In an interview with Zenit, published on May 13, 2004, the Bishop of Leiria-Fatima said that the new church at the shrine "will be a Catholic one, much like the Pius X Church in Lourdes â¦ As with any Catholic church, it will be open to all, but the services held there will be Catholic." The Bishop dismissed concerns over interfaith worship at Fatima as "a controversy caused by a few foreigners."
But in his December 28, 2003 communiquÃ©, Msgr. Guerra asserted that the Fatima apparitions included "at least two implicit calls to the exercise of the spirit of dialogue with persons of other convictions." These calls included "the message of the Angel of Peace," regarding the Oriental, Orthodox, and Catholic Churches, and, "in regard to the Islamic religion, in the name itself that God chose for the town where Mary would one day appear: Fatima."
It was Guerra who earlier assured an interviewer that: "We are very far from having Hindus or any Muslims pray in Fatima, except if they do it in private - not in public liturgies or other such services."
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