By Charles E. Schaffer
Vienna—A grave degeneration of faith and morals was already amply evident at the beginning of this troubled century.
In 1917, the Mother of God appeared to three small Portuguese children, humble shepherds tending their flocks in the Cova da Iria less than two miles from Fatima.
She asked us to show contrition for our sins—and for the sins of others—by prayer and penance, and by amending our lives.
In May 1955, the Crusade of Reparation of the Holy Rosary,
Through the intercession of its Patron, Our Lady of Fatima,
was graced with a miracle: the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Austrian soil.
Mankind, which had just suffered the horrors of the World War I, would have peace, Our Lady promised, if it heeded her words. If not, she warned, even more terrible conflagrations would ensue with entire nations vanishing from the face of the earth; the Church, founded by her Divine Son, would suffer persecution; and the Holy Father, Christ’s Vicar on earth, would be subjected to many trials.
So that men might more readily believe her message, the Blessed Mother performed a miracle during her last appearance at Fatima in October 1917. As witnessed by thousands of onlookers—believers and skeptics alike—the sun danced repeatedly in the sky, then plunged ominously earthward, as though it would fall upon the crowd below.
The cancer consuming what was once called Christian civilization is progressing at a deadly rate. Symptoms of its metastasis are everywhere. The faithful have forgotten God’s commandments. The crisis within the Church portends an apostasy that could dwarf the heresies of the sixteenth-century Protestant revolution, as a scandalous and growing number of priests and bishops openly defy the Magisterium.
Since the end of the World War II, the world has been engulfed in ceaseless conflicts on all five continents. Revolutions alone have already claimed more than five times the victims of the last Great War.
The persecution of the Church in Moslem lands has shed the blood of thousands of martyrs. Across Europe, Islamic fanatics are gaining ground, threatening to reoccupy Spain and to conquer such former bastions of Christendom as France, Germany, and Italy, which appear more likely to fall with a whimper than with a bang.
Not a few analysts have read the dark clouds gathering on the horizon to forecast a World War III, arising from the endless crises in the Middle East or, perhaps, from the reaction of inveterate Russian communists entrenched in positions of power to the degenerating influence of such Western imports as Playboy and MTV. Indeed, given the chaotic course of daily events, the next global conflict could arise at any moment in any part of the world.
Past or prologue?
This is the sad state of the world in which we live, but what might it have been if we had listened to Our Lady and honoured Her requests at Fatima? The brief history that follows may provide some idea.
With the annexation of Austria by Germany in March 1938, the destinies of the two nations were inseparably entwined. Naturally, the devastation wrought by the Nazi aggressors was imputed to Austria as well as Germany.
As early as 1943, the Allies began to contemplate the sanctions they would impose on the Axis powers once they had defeated them. They considered dismantling Austria and awarding its territories to countries victimised by the Nazis, but, in the end, they decided to preserve the Austrian state, while placing it under Allied occupation.
Like Germany, Austria was divided into four occupational zones to be administered by the United States, England, France and the Soviet Union. The last was assigned Lower Austria. With its oil fields, agriculture, and industry, Lower Austria was the nation’s richest sector and encircled its capital, Vienna, which was also divided into four zones.
Within less than two years, Germany was allowed to regain a considerable degree of political independence in the American, English and French zones. From the ashes of the war unleashed by its predecessor, the Third Reich, the Federal Republic of Germany arose. However, the years went by in Austria without her being granted even reduced autonomy.
The Soviets favoured territorial claims levied against Austria by Tito, the dictator of Yugoslavia, awarding that communist state lands inhabited by Croatian minorities. The Russians also backed a communist putsch in Vienna, which tried to seize power over the whole of Austria.
In the middle of the twentieth century, as the Cold War iced in, it became evident that the Soviet Union had no intention of abandoning the territory it occupied in East Germany or in Lower Austria, any more than it intended to loosen its hold on its Eastern European satellites. Today we know that until its dismantling under Gorbachev in the late 1980’s, the Soviet Union never lost a single nation it had subjugated. Nor did it renounce its domination of occupied territories short of force of arms, as in the defeat of the Red republic in the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939.
“Do as I say”
Consoled by the prayers of holy nuns, a Capuchin priest, Father Petrus Pavlicek, undertook a pilgrimage to Mariazell, Austria’s principal Marian shrine, to seek the Blessed Virgin’s counsel amid the darkening clouds threatening his homeland. On February 2, 1946, the feast of Our Lady of Lights, he was praying ardently before the miraculous image when he perceived an interior voice that advised him, “Do as I say and you will have peace.”
To honour Our Lady’s request, a renewal of her entreaty at Fatima, Father Pavlicek founded the Crusade of Reparation of the Holy Rosary in 1947. Through the Crusade, Austrians joined in a round-the-clock Rosary, imploring the Blessed Virgin for the conversion of sinners, peace in the world, and freedom for Austria.
While his Capuchin superiors sanctioned Father Pavlicek’s initiative, they were unable to support it financially. However, through the good offices of the bishop of Leiria, Portugal, he obtained a statue of Our Lady of Fatima crafted by the sculptor who had created the original Pilgrim Virgin. Accompanying Our Lady in pilgrimage to countless cities and villages, Father Pavlicek reminded the faithful of her ardent desire for the conversion of sinners.
Fervour for souls
Father Pavlicek shared our Blessed Mother’s fervour for souls. He urged sinners to be reconciled to God through the sacrament of Penance. While preaching in 11 villages in the region of Amstetten, Father heard nearly 6,000 confessions. On another occasion, he remained at his post in the confessional day and night for three days straight. Through God’s grace, Father’s apostolic zeal bore fruit in a rich harvest of souls, including the most hardened sinners.
One day, Father Pavlicek came upon a man pulling a heavy cart laden with hay up a steep hill, and immediately came to his aid. As the priest was hidden from the farmer’s view by the heap of hay, it was only when they arrived at the top of the hill that the man discovered what had happened. Turning to his benefactor, he said, “Now I understand why the cart seemed so light.” But that was not the only burden the humble Capuchin was to lighten. After exchanging a few pleasantries, Father heard his new-found friend’s confession on the spot.
One morning when he was about to celebrate Mass, Father Pavlicek observed that there were no men or children in the pews—only women. “Where are your husbands and children?” he asked. Advised that they entered the church after the sermon, he lost no time. Leaving the altar, clothed in his vestments, he strode out the front door. In the town square, this good shepherd presented his lost sheep with a choice. “Either everybody comes inside the church now or I will offer the Mass here.” Thus did the good priest end that bad custom.
In September 1948, Father Pavlicek introduced the Crusade’s Acts of Reparatory Devotion in a Capuchin church in Vienna. Crowned by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Acts included sermons, confessions, blessings of the sick and infirm, and the recitations of the Holy Rosary. Father called these devotions “assaults of prayer,” and a siege could last as long as five days. “Peace is a gift of God, not the work of politicians,” he would remind his countrymen. And the gifts of God are obtained through prayers that storm heaven as soldiers storm a fort – with confidence and determination.
The Crusade’s processions with the statue of Our Lady of Fatima on the thirteenth day of each month grew so large that Father Pavlicek resolved to launch an annual procession inviting all the parishes of Vienna to join in honouring the Queen of Heaven and Earth. He chose September 12, the feast of the Name of Mary, as the day of this grand procession.
Pope Innocent XI had established this feast in 1683 to commemorate the victory of the Christian armies, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, over the Turkish infidels who had surrounded Vienna. The date was symbolic, recalling prayers of gratitude to Our Lady for victory over the Muslims while beseeching her for freedom from communism.
Help from on high
Though Father Pavlicek invited Vienna’s Cardinal Theodor Innitzer to take part in these Marian processions, the Cardinal declined to do so. In fact, the Austrian primate had opposed bringing the Our Lady of Fatima’s statue to the Capuchin church, protesting that there was already an image there. “There is only one Our Lady,” he pointedly reminded Father Pavlicek—who afterward counted 35 different representations of the Most Holy Virgin within the cathedral’s walls.
While Cardinal Innitzer eventually surrendered to public pressure to attend a procession, Austria’s Prime Minister, Leopold Figl, needed no such prompting. When first invited, having learned that the Cardinal had declined his invitation, the Prime Minister assured Father Pavlicek, “Even if just the two of us be present, I will go. My country demands it!” Indeed, on every solemn occasion, he was there—candle and Rosary in hand—accompanied by the members of his cabinet. When Julius Raab succeeded Leopold Figl as Prime Minister in 1953, he also assumed his place in the great processions.
The Crusade continued to expand, spreading throughout Austria and overflowing into neighboring Germany and Switzerland. By 1955, more than a half million Austrians—about one in ten—had pledged to pray daily to Our Lady of Fatima, begging her for the conversion of sinners, peace in the world, and freedom for Austria. An even greater number took part in the Marian processions and in storming heaven with assaults of prayer.
A test of faith
Throughout this time, peace conferences were being held in London between representatives of the victorious Allied nations and a delegation from Austria. In eight years, 260 meetings were held without reaching a concrete conclusion regarding Austria’s fate.
The Cold War intensified, and communism refined its methods of religious persecution in the occupied countries. It seemed that God wanted to test the faith of those who had prayed so zealously for their country’s freedom.
Their faith having been sufficiently tried, the grace was given. On March 24, 1955, their Soviet governors invited the Austrians to a conference. Believing that his nation’s future would be sealed in Moscow, Prime Minister Raab entreated Father Pavlicek before his departure, “Please pray, and ask your people to pray harder than ever.”
To the world’s surprise, the Soviets announced in April that they would withdraw their troops from Austria in just three months. On May 15, the Allied powers that occupied Austria signed a treaty guaranteeing its independence. Austria was free of occupation Soviet occupation, in particular.
On October 26, 1955, the last Russian soldier left Austrian soil, something that could only be said of Germany in 1995.
In Vienna, the multitudes marched in procession—torches and rosaries in hand—gratefully bearing Our Lady of Fatima, their deliverer from communist enslavement. Their overflowing hearts echoed the prayer of thanksgiving offered by their Prime Minister:
“Today, we, whose hearts are full of faith, cry out to Heaven in joyful prayer:
We are free. O Mary, we thank Thee!”
Father Petrus Pavlicek was born in Innsbruck-Wilten, in the Austrian Tyrol, on January 6, 1902. His parents, Augustin Pavlicek, an officer in the Imperial army, and Gabriele Alscher Pavlicek, came from Moravia. As a young boy, he felt called to the religious life, but grew indifferent in later years. In 1935, during a grave illness, he received the grace of conversion resolving once again to embrace his vocation. On December 14, 1941, he was ordained a priest of the Capuchin Order. Serving in the health services of the German army, he was captured by the Allies on August 15, 1944. Released on July 16, 1945, the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, he returned to Austria. There he founded the Crusade of Reparation of the Holy Rosary, to which he dedicated the remainder of his life. He died on December 14, 1982.
(Photos in this article, “Expelled by the Rosary” Courtesy of Rosenkranz-Sühnekreuzzug um den Frieden der Welt, Austria )