Pope Francis will consecrate Russia and Ukraine. What's that mean?
A Pillar Explainer
The Vatican announced Tuesday that Pope Francis will consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary March 25, and that a papal envoy will conduct the same consecration in Fatima.
The consecrations - performed by Pope Francis and papal almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski - come after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and are connected to the 1917 apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima urging that Russia be consecrated to Mary’s Immaculate Heart.
Not sure what this is all about? Here’s what you need to know.
What’s a consecration?
Consecration means setting something apart, dedicating it to a sacred purpose.
The word is used often in Catholicism: churches are consecrated, sacred vessels are consecrated, women can become consecrated virgins, men and women’s religious orders are called “consecrated life,” and “consecration” is used to describe the sacramental confection of the Eucharist.
There is also a Catholic devotional custom of private consecration to Christ through Mary, by a set of devotional prayers. The practice of personal consecration to Mary has roots in the early centuries of Christianity, and was popular in many parts of the Church by the ninth century.
In recent centuries, St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and Pope St. John Paul II have encouraged personal devotional consecration to Mary. In fact, Pope St. John Paul II’s motto, Totus Tuus, evoke the words of his own consecration to Christ through Mary: “Totally yours, Mary.”
As early as the ninth century, bishops and priests began to consecrate cities to the Blessed Virgin Mary as well, as a way of asking for her intercessory protection. Louis XIII consecrated France to Mary in 1638, and other countries have done the same.
Ok, but Russia? And what does this have to do with Fatima?
Three Portuguese children in 1917 had visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, during which Mary is said to have given messages to the visionary children about the state of the world.
Three of those messages became known as the secrets of Fatima, because they were not revealed to the public for a long time. But one of the visionaries, Sr. Lucia dos Santos, revealed two of the messages in her 1941 memoir.
The first secret was a vision of hell the children say Mary allowed them to see.
The second was that World War I would end, and another war would begin during the reign of Pius XI, “if people do not cease offending God.”
To prevent war, the children say that Mary requested:
“The consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.”
Pius XI died on the eve of World War II, months before Germany invaded Poland, which is generally regarded as the start of the war.
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So has Russia been consecrated to Mary?
In 1942, Pope Pius XII consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, joined by the bishops of Portugal. The pope said that only Mary, the queen of peace, could bring an end to the war ravaging Europe, Asia, and North Africa, and he dedicated the human race to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In 1952, Pius XII issued an apostolic letter entrusting the Russian people to the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In 1964, Pope St. Paul VI offered a public prayer entrusting the whole human race to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Pope St. John Paul II offered several consecration prayers to the Immaculate Heart of Mary; the most well-known and public was in 1984.
On March 25, 1984, he offered prayers of solemn consecration, which dedicated the world to Mary. While the pope’s text did not specifically mention Russia, some historians say that John Paul II privately added the words in his prayer. Bishops from around the world had been invited to join the consecration, and many did.
According to some accounts, the pope was urged not to mention Russia by name in the public prayers of the 1984 consecration, because it would anger the Russian Orthodox hierarchy, who opposed the notion of Catholics consecrating their country to Mary, and because of Vatican efforts at political diplomacy with the USSR.
Because of that omission, some Catholics have argued that Pope John Paul II did not actually consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary — and some Catholics continue to raise that objection.
But after the consecration, Sr. Lucia - the visionary who recorded the message from Mary - said several times that she believed the consecration request had been fulfilled. And in 2000, the Holy See said the consecration “has been done just as Our Lady asked.”
Then why is Pope Francis reconsecrating Russia? Didn’t the first one take?
The consecration of sacred objects, including churches is not usually repeated, unless some grave act of blasphemy or desecration has occurred within them. Archbishop Gregory Aymond, for example, reconsecrated in 2020 a church where a priest had engaged in grave sexual acts on the altar.
But personal consecrations can be renewed as an act of faith and devotion, and often are. And in early March, the Latin Catholic bishops of Ukraine asked Pope Francis to “publicly perform the act of consecration to the Sacred Immaculate Heart of Mary of Ukraine and Russia, as requested by the Blessed Virgin in Fatima.”
The new consecration is not a concession from the Holy See that the 1984 consecration was in some way insufficient, but this act will be more explicit, presumably naming Russia and Ukraine in the prayers themselves. That may well spark new rounds of conspiracy theories about past consecrations, or be taken as a sign that Pope St. John Paul II did not really complete the consecration.
But more likely, Pope Francis intends his prayers to be acts of renewal — pleas to God, and the Blessed Virgin Mary — in a time of great hardship, rather than making up for previous acts called into question.
A lot of this is kind of strange to me. Do I have to believe it?
No. The messages of Fatima fall into the category of “private revelation,” and are not required to be believed by Catholics. They are not doctrine or dogma. When the Church approves an apparition, as she has for Fatima, the vision and its messages are deemed to be appropriate for belief, but not required.