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"The Gipper" and Fatima

by Christopher A. Ferrara
May 16, 2017

Who knew that Ronald Reagan was knowledgeable about the Message of Fatima and that he took the Fatima event very seriously after meeting with John Paul II in 1982, shortly after the May 13th assassination attempt the pontiff survived thanks to the intervention of Our Lady of Fatima, as he himself declared?

I certainly didn’t know this before an article was published in Crisis magazine by Paul Kengor, an historian and expert on the Reagan era. Kengor has excavated from the sediments of forgotten history the relationship between Reagan and the Pontiff that included two meetings in Rome — in 1982 and 1987.

As Kengor recounts, during the 1982 meeting “the two men shared their mutual convictions that they believed God had spared their lives from assassination attempts the previous year for a special purpose — to defeat atheistic Soviet communism.” In fact, the failed attempt on Reagan’s life occurred less than two months before the attempt on John Paul II: March 30, 1981.

Reagan’s ambassador to the Vatican, Frank Shakespeare, a devout Catholic and devotée of Fatima, is quite certain that John Paul II must have “briefed” Reagan on the significance of the Fatima event. Shakespeare himself did so during Reagan’s 1987 foreign trip, and he told Kengor that Reagan “listened very, very carefully — very intently. He was very interested.”

Even before then, however, Reagan had Fatima on his mind. This was stunningly apparent during his historic 1985 speech (the video is here) before the Assembly of the Republic of Portugal — an appearance boycotted by the communists in the chamber.

On this occasion — to tumultuous applause from the assembled legislators — “the Great Communicator” paid tribute to Mary, the Fatima event and the Portuguese people, whose faith had been rewarded with a world-altering visit from the Mother of God:

“No one has done more to remind the world of the truth of human dignity, as well as the truth that peace and justice begins with each of us, than the special man who came to Portugal a few years ago after a terrible attempt on his life. He came here to Fatima, the site of your great religious shrine, to fulfill his special devotion to Mary, to plead for forgiveness and compassion among men, to pray for peace and the recognition of human dignity throughout the world.

“When I met Pope John Paul II a year ago in Alaska, I thanked him for his life and his apostolate. And I dared to suggest to him the example of men like himself and in the prayers of simple people everywhere, simple people like the children of Fatima, there resides more power than in all the great armies and statesmen of the world.

“This, too, is something the Portuguese can teach the world. For your nation's greatness, like that of any nation, is found in your people. It can be seen in their daily lives, in their communities and towns, and especially in those simple churches that dot your countryside and speak of a faith that justifies all of humanity's claims to dignity, to freedom.

“I would suggest to you that here is power, here is the final realization of life's meaning and history’s purpose, and here is the foundation for a revolutionary idea — the idea that human beings have a right to determine their own destiny.”

Did Reagan die a Catholic? We do not know, but there is reason to hope that he did. As Kengor notes, “Reagan had had a Catholic father and had a devoutly Catholic brother and sister-in-law, both of them daily communicants and virulent anti-communists well aware of Our Lady of Fatima. Reagan was surrounded by such Catholics even on his own staff — from the likes of Bill Casey to Bill Clark. If all of that wasn’t enough, Reagan would’ve heard about Fatima even in Hollywood, when a major film on the apparitions was done while he was president of the Screen Actors Guild.”

To which I would add that Jane Wyman, who invalidly “married” Reagan in 1940 after two prior divorces (she would marry twice more after divorcing Reagan) returned to the Faith late in life, became a Third Order Dominican and was buried in her habit.

In my view, whatever one thinks of his policies, his religion or his personal life, Reagan was the last great man in American presidential politics. That the charismatic leader of the world’s most powerful nation-state, a former Hollywood actor, would be mindful and respectful of the Message of Fatima is yet another tribute to its inextinguishable relevance to the whole of humanity.

If only Catholic churchmen would take Fatima as seriously as “the Gipper” did. But such is the ecclesial crisis the Third Secret foretells: prelates many of whom are worldlier in their outlook on the human scene than the late President of the United States.