Something About Mary


A Special Media Moment

Who wouldn't raise an eyebrow over an organization featuring victim newsgroups like, and whose members' home pages feature passages such as "We see the bride-to-be tonight wearing a wide-brim sombrero and sunglasses, a shredded shirt with the words on it WHO FARTED?, and a pair of Dingo cowboy boots."
Five years ago today in Suck.

In 1986, Charles Keating Jr., the bank-busting, free-spending friend of Johns McCain and Glenn and other US Senators, paid $100,000 for a treatment of The Third Secret, a movie script tying the Fatima prophecies into the Kremlin's alleged plot to kill John Paul II. Keating's Lincoln Savings and Loan collapsed in a swamp of jail terms and taxpayer-funded bailouts before the project could get off the ground, saving the devout financier some $20 million in projected production costs. But even if this movie had been made, it would not have been Hollywood's first foray into the Fatima universe.

Unfortunately, none of the histories of Warner Bros. Studios consulted for this article mention the circumstances under which 1952's The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima got made. But an episode from the life of Jack Warner sheds some light on the production chief's mood at the time. During World War II, Warner, then an honorary colonel in the Army Signal Corps, was asked by President Roosevelt to make a film version of Ambassador Joe Davies's book Mission to Moscow — a rosy view of the Moscow show trials of the 1930s and a story that would, in Warner's words, "make a case for him [Stalin] with the American people." Warner did his part for the war effort, and the result, he said later "caused me more trouble than I care to admit." From Warner's My First Hundred Years In Hollywood:

[T]he enemy began screaming about my so-called Communist sympathies. It was certainly a well-established fact ... that I was and am today and always will be against communism or any other dangerous ism. We had taken on Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito, Tojo, and the rest of the totalitarian mob in one gutty picture after another...

Nevertheless, when the House Un-American Affairs Committee went looking for real evidence of Bolshevik influence in Hollywood, Jack Warner's Mission to Moscow was the most egregious specimen of comsympathy they could find. Warner was raked over the coals in a closed Congressional hearing, and he spent the late 1940s and early 1950s clearing his name with red-bashing thrillers like I Was A Communist For the FBI (penned by Miracle co-writer Crane Wilbur). It was in this atmosphere that the Fatima movie was born, and as an historical document, it's a true rarity: a picture that stirs a thin pro-Catholic flavoring into a generally anti-Communist stew. (Interestingly, tireless Catholic-basher Jack Chick explains the entire Fatima phenomenon in terms analogous to the Warner situation — as an attempt by Rome to cover up a history of conspiring with the Kremlin.)

A full clip ( 1.6 MB)of the film's "miracle of the sun" sequence indicates how intimately the film played on arms-race-era terrors, and more particularly on Mary's efficacy in keeping the Free World safe from Soviet attack. Following the historical storyline, the Madonna fulfills her promise to young Lucia by bringing the sun out in the middle of a rainstorm, then making it "fall" from its place in the sky. While we have never actually seen the sun fall, the solar event in this clip looks distinctly like an event everybody has seen, at least in pictures: the nuclear tests that had been going on in the South Pacific since 1946. In stark contrast to, for example, The Day the Sun Danced, a children's video available from the Blue Army catalogue, this film depicts the Miracle of the Sun as a terrifying event, with group panic breaking out, spectators screaming and running for shelter, and the film's villain (based on the actual government administrator Artur Santos) cowering in his car. The righteous, however, have nothing to fear from the disaster — a beatific two-shot of the young seers Jacinta and Lucia marks a turning point within the scene, as Mary sets the power of the sun right, and the moment of peril is punctuated by an outbreak of miracle cures of the blind, lame and halt. (Set to a musical score by the great Max Steiner, Miracle is still available from Warner Home Video; Mission to Moscow is not.)

This trope of the Virgin Mary as nuke-proof has a pedigree dating back to Fr. Hubert Schiffer, a Hiroshima-based Jesuit who attributed his survival of the atomic bombing to his daily Fatima rosaries: "Indeed, Our Lady and her Rosary are more powerful than even the atomic bomb," writes Mrs. Deirdre Manifold; in an interview with Soul magazine, the current bishop of Leiria-Fatima declares that the "interior force" of Marians is "more potent, more powerful than an atomic bomb."

Far-fetched claims, perhaps. But when the belief that Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative played a major role in toppling the Soviet Union is still prevalent, is it really so hard to believe that the Virgin Mary can stop missiles?

Indeed, unlike SDI and its legacy initiatives, which have a success rate hovering around zero percent, Mary, in the only serious test of her anti-ballistic capabilities, succeeded with flying colors. As it turns out, the assassination attempt on John Paul II didn't take place on any old day. It happened on May 13, 1981, the 64th anniversary of Mary's first appearance to the three children in Fatima. The coincidence was not lost on the Pontiff, who cried out for Mary's help as he was piled into the ambulance, acknowledged the Patroness of Portugal's help in a later interview, and in a broadcast from his hospital bed declared, "To you Mary, I say again, Totus tuus ego sum" — "I am wholly yours." In an audience with his would-be assassin, John Paul declared that a "mother's hand" had guided the bullet's path. One year after the shooting, the Holy Father traveled to Fatima and had the bullet mounted in the crown of Our Lady's statue.

Attempted assassin Mehmet Ali Agca claimed at his trial that he had been set up by Bulgarian secret agents, urging the Vatican to back up his story by releasing the Third Secret. Throughout the 1980s, investigators, eager journalists and concerned citizens like Charles Keating attempted to expand the Bulgarian connection into a pan-Soviet plot against the Catholic Church — a legend that has never fully died off despite a dearth of evidence. But we need no conspiracy theory to understand why Our Lady of Fatima would choose to keep John Paul alive as her agent in the last round of the anti-communist struggle. In addition to being a lifelong Marian and devotee of Our Lady of Czestochowa, the Pontiff hailed from a Soviet-bloc country with a strong Catholic profile and a particularly strong Mary cult.

When the Gdansk shipyard strikes began in 1980, what was not immediately clear was the degree to which Solidarity leader Lech Walesa viewed his effort as not merely a labor movement but a religious struggle.

"If you choose the example of what we Poles have in our pockets," Walesa said at the time, "then ... communism has done very little for us. But if you choose the example of what is in our souls, I answer that communism has done very much for us. In fact, our souls contain exactly the opposite of what they wanted. They wanted us not to believe in God, and our churches are full. They wanted us to be materialistic ... They wanted us to be afraid of tanks, of the guns, and instead we don't fear them at all."

The Gdansk strike, of course, was the first visible fissure in a Soviet bloc that at the time still appeared vast and terrible, the first shot in the decade-long collapse of the Communist Integral.

It's a commonplace to note the great contribution of the Polish pope in dealing the USSR its death blow. No less a figure than Carl Bernstein, the pockmarked pressman renowned for breaking Watergate, contends as much in the 1996 book His Holiness; John Paul II and the Hidden History of Our Time. But these papal plaudits are just another attempt to avoid giving credit to a woman — in this case the woman who even before the October Revolution was working, behind the scenes and when necessary at center stage, to end the scourge of Bolshevism. It wasn't John Paul II who finished off the Soviet Union. It wasn't Ronald Reagan. It was the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Fatima.

Three weeks ago, a 50-person House-Senate delegatation led by House Speaker Dennis Hastert traveled to Rome to award His Holiness John Paul II the "Congressional Gold Medal," the highest honor the US House of Representatives can bestow on a civilian. The citation praised the Pontiff for "using his moral authority to hasten the fall of Godless totalitarian regimes."


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