On Friday 25 March, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, Pope Francis will consecrate Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in an act that American journalist John Allen Jr has described as ‘poking the Russian bear’. The pontiff’s consecration is taking place in response to a direct request from the Ukrainian bishops.

Pope Francis will perform the consecration during a penitential prayer service at St Peter’s Basilica. At the same time, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, will perform the consecration at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal. Bishops from around the world have been invited to join Pope Francis in this act of consecration. Indeed, Archbishop Peter A Comensoli will do so this Friday at the 7am Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral.

If you’re a bit confused by the consecration, and why people have been requesting it so ardently, there’s a bit of history there (and controversy, too).

The consecration controversy

The history of Russian consecration is riddled with controversy, and, with enough free time, will take you down rabbit holes you didn’t know existed.

The controversy swirls around a request made by Our Lady to one of the seers at Fatima, Sr Lucia, to consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart. She made the request on 13 June 1929, having warned them the request was coming twelve years earlier. She warned them with these words:

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, and various nations will be annihilated.’

When the request came through, there were three conditions:

  1. That the Holy Father make the consecration;
  2. That he do so in union with the bishops of the world;
  3. That Russia be consecrated to Mary’s Immaculate Heart.

At the time, the Holy Father was Pope Pius XI, who reigned as pontiff from 1922–1939. The warning from the visionaries at Fatima was that unless this consecration take place, another world war would break out during the pope’s lifetime.

For whatever reason – and many are speculated – Pope Pius XI did not consecrate Russia.

His successor was Pope Pius XII, a deeply Marian pope who felt a special connection to Fatima because his ordination as a bishop occurred on the same day as the very first apparition: 13 May 1917.

In 1940, towards the beginning of World War II, Sr Lucia wrote to Pius XII to make a consecration of the whole world to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, making special mention of Russia. Pope Pius actually performed the consecration three times: twice in 1942, and then ten years later in 1952. He made veiled references to Russia for diplomatic reasons, but they were not considered valid because they were not done with all the bishops of the world.

Pope Paul VI, reigning 1963–1978, renewed the consecration of Pope Pius XII in 1964, though again without the union of bishops.

On 25 March 1984, in St Peter’s Square, Pope John Paul II made another consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with the bishops who were present and those around the world he had requested to undertake it. Although the collegial condition had been fulfilled, people were still doubtful about this one since, once again, the pope did not single out Russia explicitly, but did so using a veiled reference for fear of Soviet reprisal:

In a special way we entrust and consecrate to you those individuals and nations [read: Russia] that particularly need to be thus entrusted and consecrated . . .’
Childrensof Fatima
The Children of Fatima: Lúcia Santos, Jacinta and Francisco Marto (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

The controversy deepens

Despite reports that Sr Lucia was unhappy with the consecrations, letters written by her in 1989 and 1999 seemed to confirm the opposite, that it was valid. Quoting these letters, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) said this in their document The Message of Fatima (2000):

Sister Lucia personally confirmed that this solemn and universal act of consecration corresponded to what Our Lady wished («Sim, està feita, tal como Nossa Senhora a pediu, desde o dia 25 de Março de 1984»‌: «Yes it has been done just as Our Lady asked, on 25 March 1984»‌: Letter of 8 November 1989). Hence any further discussion or request is without basis’ (emphasis added).

And in 2001, at a meeting between Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone (then-secretary of the CDF), Fr Luis Kondor (the editor of Sr Lucia’s memoirs) and Sr Lucia herself, she was asked directly about those who kept petitioning for Russia to be consecrated again. She reportedly said this:

I’ve already said that the consecration Our Lady wished for was performed in 1984, and that it was accepted by Heaven.’

This is the position taken by Fr Andrew Apostoli, C.F.R., one of the world’s foremost experts on the Fatima apparitions. In his book Fatima for Today (2010), he amassed the evidence and argued that all of the objections to Pope John Paul II’s consecration risk imposing conditions on Our Lady’s request that were not present.

For example: If only a few bishops around the world did not participate in the consecration, would this invalidate it? If so, how then would it ever be possible to fulfil that condition? It is impossible for the pope to control the doings of bishops everywhere. The only thing he could possibly do is invite the bishops to perform the consecration with him.

Plus, there is no reason to think that a veiled, though intentional, consecration to Russia would invalidate it. In fact, Fr Apostoli says that during the consecration, Pope John Paul II made lengthy pauses throughout, leading some to believe that he did explicitly mention Russia, just not for the world to hear. The pope was also very defensive against those who claimed it was invalid – with two years of preparation, and being miraculously saved from an assassination attempt by Our Lady of Fatima herself, it’s almost implausible to think he would have done anything to risk a genuine consecration taking place.

Still, the doubts go on, resurfacing once again when a high-profile Vatican exorcist, Fr Gabriel Amorth, stated (in an interview published after his death) that he did not believe the consecration had been done correctly. In fact, he outright challenged the very existence of Sr Lucia’s letters in which she says it was performed properly. People’s doubts are only deepened by the fact that Russia does not display any signs of conversion, as Our Lady promised.

Nevertheless, the Holy See adamantly says that the true and proper consecration, as requested by Our Lady at Fatima, was indeed fulfilled already in 1984 by St Pope John Paul the Great.

Who to trust?

The nature of a rabbit hole – if Alice is any indication – is that you reach a point where you forget where reality ends and speculation begins. You forget which judgments can be surmised based upon the available information, and which can’t. The consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a stand-out example of this. Added to this the complex media ecosystem of the twenty-first century, it’s easy to become tangled in a web of the devil’s devising.

Secrets. Mysteries. Prophecies. Conspiracies. We thrive on this. The only healthy thing to do at the end of the day is step back and say: Who knows? The side we land on depends largely on who we do or do not trust, and right now that's all there is to it.

Besides, what we are dealing with here are prophecies: God promising a response based upon our actions. What happens when (as with Pope Pius XI) those actions are not undertaken? How are we to judge how human history has been affected by that? We can’t.

What we do know is that the Ukrainian bishops have requested the consecration, and that Pope Francis has chosen to honour that request. Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is always a good thing and, as Archbishop Comensoli has said, we do it as a spiritual work of mercy for the sake of Ukrainians and Russians alike.

Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
'Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary' (Mosaic from the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC.) Fr Lawrence Lew O.P.

‘My Immaculate Heart will triumph’

In quoting Our Lady’s request, we often miss the very next words:

In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.’

It will happen. Her Immaculate Heart will triumph. For those of us not in control of the situation, why do we let it occupy our hearts in a way that is spiritually unhealthy? Why do we let it ruin our peace? We have been told that it will happen – why is that not enough?

Prayer is not a magical spell. Consecration is not an incantation. The only thing we can really do, alongside consecrating ourselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, is to pray that God’s will be done. What else is there?