Ti ti: THIRD PART of the secret of Fatima has been published with a considerable body of accompanying documentation, including photographic copies of the original manuscript — this last, presumably, is to forestall suggestions that some part of the revelation has still been kept secret, too terrifying for the faithful to cope with. This is all there is: and it is quite sensational enough in itself to explain the reluctance of previous popes to publish it.
The principal difficulty of such a document for the modern secular mind is in understanding what kind of text it is dealing with. It is "prophetic" in more than one way — in the simplest sense of the word, it is prophetic because it deals with future events (which the present Holy Father believes now belong to the past). But this is not prophecy which deals with such events as though they were immutably fixed, nor does it present them in any simply representational way — the document, as Cardinal Ratzingcr puts it, "is in no way a film preview of a future in which nothing can be changed".
This is a short but complex document, written in highly charged symbolic language. The Pope himself clearly takes it very seriously indeed: he sent for the text after the failed assassination attempt in St Peter's Square, and took it as confirmation of his intuition that he had been protected by the Mother of God from the death it seems to predict. This explains his clear understanding — articulated this week by Cardinal Ratzinger's accompanying commentary — that this is no message of unavoidable doom, but on the contrary a sign that "the whole point of the vision is to bring freedom on to the scene and to steer freedom in a positive direction". It also explains certain emphases of this pontificate: the angel with the flaming sword (flames which are quenched by Our Lady's radiance) who cries out "Penance! Penance! Penance! are, for instance, consistent with both his passionate faith in Our Lady's protection and his revolutionary insistence on the Church's penitence for the sins committed in her name in previous ages. Certain poetic images powerfully evoke events in his own papal ministry — it is hard not to think of his visit to Israel as, tired but indomitable, shaking with Parkinson's disease but determined to pray at the holocaust memorial to those torn from the shattered cities of wartime Europe, when we read in the vision of "the Holy Father [passing] through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, [praying] for the souls of the corpses he met on the way".
This is a difficult document: and those who do not find it helpful to their faith are in no way obliged to receive it; as Cardinal Ratzinger makes it very clear, this is a "private" revelation rather than a "public" one which is binding on the faithful. Its full meaning will probably only become clear after decades of reflection.
What the Pope is clearly anxious to emphasise is that it must not be taken as any kind of encouragement to a morbid and doomladen view of the future: the Pope is publishing the document in the Year of the Great Jubilee, at the end of the bloody and cruel century to which its prophecies refer, as we move into what he believes will be a golden age. Cardinal Ratzingcr quotes St John's Gospel: 'In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world'. The message of Fatima", he concludes, "invites us to trust in this promise".