We are here today, in the Chapel of the Apparitions, one hundred years after the three children of Fatima were given the great gift of seeing Our Blessed Lady, on this very spot.
We have to use our imagination to visualise the scene. This was a place of rough land, full of stones, with trees, like the one we see just here. It was a place that was good only for grazing sheep. And that was why they came. It was here that Mary chose to appear to them, in a pattern of appearances about which you will have read.
The children’s names were Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, two of whom are already beatified. Now, Francisco and Jacinta will be declared saints of God, on May 13th, by Pope Francis, here in this place. Lucia's life, which was much longer, is now being studied for her possible beatification, too.
When, in 2000, Pope St John Paul II declared Francisco and Jacinta to be blessed he said that they were 'two candles whom God had set burning to illuminate humanity.'
What can we learn from the shining light of these two young lives?
Firstly, we learn that God chooses us because of our love for him. God does not choose us for the gift of faith because we are clever, or attractive of personality, or successful in what we do. No. He chooses us because we are ready to give him our love. He chooses us because of the simplicity and openness of our hearts.
Secondly, we learn that with that choice of God, hardship will enter our lives. When God chose these three children to be blessed in this remarkable way, they entered into a pathway of suffering. No one believed what they had to say about what had happened. They were isolated and punished. They were rejected. They were not believed.
This can happen to us too. In our society, those who believe in God, who trust in God, who live by God's word will often be ridiculed, or mocked, or treated with contempt. We don't mind. It doesn't matter. We know what is important: that our hearts remain open and trusting of God. That God remains the centre of our lives and of how we try to live.
Thirdly, from these three children, we learn how best to respond to the choice of God, to the gift of a loving faith. We learn from them that our response is to be that of prayer, penance and self-offering. We learn that the best way to begin each day, and to end each day, is with a time of prayer: a morning offering, an evening prayer of thanksgiving and praise. We learn to be ready not to seek always our own comfort or ease, but to deny ourselves and put the needs of others before our own. We learn also to see our lives as an offering to be made to others. We understand that all that is best in our lives comes to us as a gift and that the best way to use our lives is to make of them a gift, a self-offering, in imitation of Jesus.
Then there is a fourth lesson we learn. It is this. In the hearts of these three children was a longing for God, a longing to be with God, a longing for heaven. They experienced this as a burning desire. They wanted so much to be fully with God. Indeed, Francisco and Jacinta asked Our Blessed Lady if they could go to heaven soon. She said that they would and indeed both of them died at a very young age. When she heard this, Lucia cried out: 'Am I to stay here alone?' Mary answered her: 'Don't lose heart. I will never forsake you!'
In our lives too there is to be a longing for heaven, a longing to be in our heavenly home, in the presence of God forever! And there is also to be a quiet confidence that even when those we love have died and gone before us, we are never forsaken. Mary is with us always, guiding us home too.
Mary's message here in Fatima addresses directly our quest for peace, our longing for peace, and for peace in our troubled world. She tells us repeatedly that the part we are to play includes constant prayer for peace, a prayer in which we seek to unite ourselves to her Immaculate Heart. This is important because, as Pope Benedict explained, the Immaculate Heart of Mary is 'nearest to the Sacred Heart of Jesus'. This is our pathway of prayer, especially here in Fatima, prayer united with the Immaculate Heart of Mary because she is nearest to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And today, as we pray, we think especially of all those who are persecuted for their faith, who are killed because of their faith in the love of that Sacred Heart of Jesus, a faith which they treasure more than life itself.
Today, here in this place made holy by the presence of Our Blessed Lady, we consecrate ourselves again to her. In doing so we use the words first used by Pope St John Paul II here on 13 May 1982:
'Therefore, O Mother of individuals and peoples, you who "know all their sufferings and their hopes", you who have a mother's knowledge of all the struggles between good and evil, between light and darkness, which afflict the modern world, accept the cry which we, as though moved by the Holy Spirit, address directly to your Heart. Embrace, with the love of the Mother and Handmaid, this human world of ours, which we entrust and consecrate to you, for we are full of disquiet for the earthly and eternal destiny of individuals and peoples.
'In a special way we entrust and consecrate to you those individuals and nations which particularly need to be entrusted and consecrated.
'We have recourse to your protection, holy Mother of God: reject not the prayers we send up to you in our need. Reject them not. Accept our humble trust and our act of entrusting.'
The Holy Father continued with a litany of intercession, which we repeat today:
'From famine and war, deliver us.
From nuclear war, from incalculable self-destruction, from every kind of war, deliver us.
From the sins against the life of man from its very beginnings, deliver us.
From hatred and from the demeaning of the dignity of the children of God, deliver us.
From every kind of injustice in the life of society, both national and international, deliver us.
From the readiness to trample the commandments of God, deliver us.
From attempts to stifle in human hearts the very trust of God, deliver us.
From sins against the Holy Spirit, deliver us.
'Accept, O Mother of Christ, this cry laden with the sufferings of all individual human beings, laden with the sufferings of whole societies.
'Let there be revealed, once more, in the history of the world your infinite power of merciful Love. May it put a stop to evil. May it transform consciences. May your Immaculate Heart reveal for all the light of true hope.'