Since I have started this blog, my greatest source of inspiration for topics to write about has been found in my mailbox. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am on the mailing list for lots of conservative and Religious Right organizations like Concerned Women for America and the American Family Association of New York.
But from an atheist perspective, some of the most interesting pieces of mail that comes to my house are addressed not to me, but to my late father, who was a Catholic. He would donate money occasionally to the Association of Marian Helpers, and from there his name and our address ended up on the mailing list for countless Catholic organizations. For about eight months my parents lived with my wife and kids in our house, as they had sold their house during the summer of 2002 and awaited the building of their new apartment in a senior citizen housing development in the Town of Oyster Bay. What we initially expected to be just a couple of months dragged on into the spring of 2003. As a result of their lengthy stay with us, to this day we still get Catholic groups mailing various solicitations to my father at our address.
A few days ago there arrived in our mail box a solicitation from an organization called America Needs Fatima. Inside was a letter from a Robert Ritchie with a small red candle sealed in the upper right corner of the first page. In the letter, Mr. Ritchie asks that the candle be sent back (along with a suitable donation) so that all of the candles that are returned can be melted into one large candle that will be sent to the exact spot in Portugal where three Portuguese children allegedly had visions of the Virgin Mary for some five months in the year 1917.
I had heard of the Fatima visions though did not know the details. So, like any curious person, I decided to read about it on the Internet. I will not recount the story here in detail. In a nutshell, the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared to three young Portuguese shepherds once a month from May to October of 1917 and instructed them to do penance and pray the Rosary every day. The visions attracted outside attention and thousands of people began to flock to the Fatima, culminating in what is known as the Miracle of the Sun, in which the sun reportedly radiated various colors and danced around the sky. This fantastical event is said to have been witnessed by upwards of 70,000 people.
Catholics, such as the aforesaid Mr. Ritchie, believe that a miracle occurred at Fatima and he proclaims that “America urgently needs the prophetic messages of Our Lady at Fatima. And that’s why the goal of America Needs Fatima is to win the heart and soul of our nation for Mary by spreading Her glorious Fatima message. Our Lady’s admonitions, requests, and warnings - as witnessed at Fatima - can only serve to help America achieve a clear direction and a great purpose.”
In addition to lighting a great candle at Fatima, Mr. Ritchie hopes to use the proceeds from the money raised to send Mary’s picture to some 2,500,000 homes because “friends, neighbors, and loved ones will view the beautiful photograph of the Virgin Mary and their hearts will be softened.”
Ritchie provides the following as an example of the miracles that can happen from having a picture of the Virgin Mary in one’s home:
“It happened to a lady whose husband beat her, refused to go to confession, and lived openly in sin.
This good lady did everything to get her husband to go to confession. Yet one day, as she again entreated him to go to confession, she gave him a picture of Our Lady.”
The next day, Ritchie reports, the wife beater went to confession. Proof, he claims, of how important it is to have a picture of the Virgin Mary in everyone’s home. Of course, there is no mention of whether or not the remorseful husband reverted to his wife beating ways afterwards.
As a skeptic, I of course deny that the Virgin Mary ever appeared to three Portuguese children in 1917. With respect to the “Miracle of the Sun” allegedly witnessed by some 70,000 people, I do not have the background to explain what could cause such an event. But what I find strange about this so-called miraculous event is that Catholics who believe in the Fatima visions are apparently untroubled that the Virgin Mary would appear to three children in the Portuguese countryside in order to spread her message of peace instead of directly addressing the leaders of the Allied and Central powers that were engaged at the time in the bloody conflict known to us today as World War One.