A Maternal Ambassador's Peace Plan Unveiled at the United Nations

On May 12, at the very time Pope Francis was arriving in Portugal to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Fatima apparitions and the canonization of Saints Francisco and Jacinta Marto, something special was taking place at the United Nations: the Holy See and Portugal were jointly sponsoring a conference, which I had the joy to coordinate, on the Fatima centenary and the enduring relevance of its message of peace.

Every place in the 569-seat conference room was taken, with Ambassadors and delegates from scores of countries, senior and junior UN personnel, leaders of various non-governmental organizations, and hundreds of Fatima devotees, most of whom had traveled great distances.

The guest of honor was Our Lady of Fatima, represented by one of the four original Pilgrim Virgin statues blessed by Pope Pius XII on the thirtieth anniversary of the apparitions in 1947. On December 8, 1952, the Statue came to the United Nations for the first time, brought by Msgr. Harold Colgan, founder of the Blue Army (now the World Apostolate of Fatima) into the Meditation Room in the UN where he led the Rosary in prayer for peace in the world and particular on the Korean Peninsula. Since then this particular image has traveled the world dubbed the "United Nations" International Pilgrim Statue.

It was overwhelmingly moving, before and after the Conference, to see how Ambassadors, UN Staff and Security, and so many others lined up devoutly to touch the statue, to pray, to have a photo taken in the midst of tears.

Ambassador Álvaro Mendonça e Moura of Portugal commented in his introductory remarks, "The image of Our Lady of Fatima here present [is not one] that simply waits for the devotion of a few. ... The whole purpose of this Pilgrim Virgin is to accompany our whole voyage in life. It does not merely indicate the way; it walks alongside along side of us, transforming our physical walk into a spiritual one."

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Papal Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, added that since the statue's first visit to the UN in 1952, "prayers for peace have been made before the image by literally millions of people throughout the United States, Canada and various other countries" and he urged that we implore Mary's help to bring an end to the violence in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eastern Ukraine and North Korea, and to the scourge of "terrorism, religious, ethnic and racial persecution, totalitarian crackdowns, murderous drug cartels and organized crime, trafficking in persons and other forms of modern slavery, and various national insurgencies that have stained the world with blood and hatred."

The main purpose of the event, however, was not prayer or veneration -- which took place afterward in the Church of the Holy Family across from the UN and the following day at St. Patrick's Cathedral -- but a study of what all people can learn from "peace plan" Archbishop Auza said the "maternal Ambassador of Peace" announced to the young shepherds.

"Today, the Missions of Portugal and the Holy See to the UN are hosting this event inside a secular institution to discuss the message of Fatima," noted one of the panelists, Anna Halpine, the Founder of the World Youth Alliance. "This is a clear sign that they believe that Fatima has something important to say to us, regardless of our religious status, and to say to the nations of the world. It has something in particular to say about peace in this institution dedicated to preventing the scourge of war."

Ambassador Mendonça e Moura underlined that Mary appeared in Fatima dressed in white because white is the color of peace. "History's last word cannot be war. Our world's destination cannot be separation but unity," he added. "In Fatima there is no question of just wars, no delimitation of acceptable violence. The message is much more powerful: The idea that peace as such is possible, and that it is incumbent upon us to make it happen."

Archbishop Auza said that Mary's "peace plan" involves four "universal lessons."

The first is the need for conversion, "to turn around, to change one's way of thinking and living, to examine one's thoughts, words, actions and inactions and see how, rather than building peace, fraternity and solidarity, they are dividing, or harming, or destroying." Without conversion, he said, "peace will always remain an illusion."

The second is that "peace begins in the heart," something seen in Mary's call for consecration to her Immaculate Heart, a heart the future Pope Benedict once described as "stronger than guns and weapons" and "capable of changing history." If the heart has no peace, the Nuncio commented, "it's going to be very hard to be a peacemaker, builder and keeper. The person must be transformed. And it's from that transformation that the revolution of peace flows."

The third universal lesson is about prayer, as we see in Mary's summons of the shepherd children to pray and sacrifice for the conversion of others and specifically for Russia, which earlier in 1917 had begun to suffer the Bolshevik revolution. "Prayer," said Archbishop Auza, "is an instrument of peace," not just because "prayer transforms the one praying," but because it also can "change the world outside," as we see, for example, in the fruitfulness of the pastorinhos' prayers for the conversion of Russia and for the survival of the "bishop in white" whom in the third vision of Fatima they saw would be shot. In these apparitions, Mary teaches that "in peace work, before action, as indispensable as that is, prayer and sacrifice must come first," he said.

The fourth and final lesson is about the need for the involvement of all in the work of peacemaking. "It's astonishing," said the Filipino prelate, "that Mary would preferentially come, not to heads of state or diplomats or religious leaders directly but to three simple children without much education and entrust them with a message, secrets and a special task for the cause of peace and for the good of souls and the world. The selection criteria shown by Mary reveals that everyone has a role, even those whom the world considers insignificant, incapable or too young. If the shepherd children could be chosen, and they could respond as wholeheartedly as they did, it's a sign of what is possible for everyone."

Halpine underlined that point in her talk. "The little shepherds of Fatima remind us that peace is the task of each of us, and that none of us is too small or insignificant to contribute." She continued, "Not much more than infants, in humble homespun clothes, without wit or wisdom or power, these children have instructed us in the ways of peace. And they have achieved them. Their approach is radically different from the approaches normally taken in the halls of the UN, but few, if any, here, can boast the successes in building peace that these three children have had."

Author Johnnette Benkovic, founder of Women of Grace, focused in the crucial role of women in making, building and keeping peace. She pondered the striking words with which Blessed Pope Paul VI concluded his "Address to Women" at the close of the Second Vatican Council: "Women of the entire universe, ... you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world." That mission comes from woman's "feminine genius," Benkovic said, from woman's capacity to give birth to and nurture persons and peacemakers, a practical wisdom seen par excellence in the life of Our Lady. "Human life, its safekeeping, its protection, its nurturing, its flourishing -- while the responsibility of both the masculine and the feminine person -- is uniquely the province of the feminine," she said. "It could be said that there will be no peace in the world unless [woman's truly maternal] characteristics assume a greater influence in the day to day work of peace."

Archbishop Auza said at the end of his remarks that the centenary of Fatima is not principally about marking a series of events from the past, but on responding to its lessons in the present and future. "The message of peace that the shepherd children said the Lady from heaven brought, and the practices of conversion, transformation of heart, prayer and commitment she indicated," he said, "are as important today for peace in the world as they were a century ago."

Let's pray the peace plan brought by the maternal Ambassador of Peace to Fatima in 1917 echoes at the United Nations, and across the world, for many years to come.

- Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.