Many years ago we read a fascinating article by an atomic researcher named J. Rand McNally Jr. of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who also happened to be Catholic with a special interest in Our Lady of Fatima -- Our Lady of the Rosary -- whose anniversary we celebrate this month on May 13. We were reminded of him recently by a friend, and so perhaps should revisit McNally's fascinating insight.
That had to do with the "great sign" predicted by the Blessed Mother at Fatima to two of the three visionaries in 1917, a sign that -- to quote Mary -- would forerun the beginning of a great war. "When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given by God that He is about to punish the world for its crimes..." Isn't it interesting how many in our Church deny -- and even preach -- that God does not chastise? Here is the Blessed Mother, in what is perhaps the world's best known apparition, saying that He does exactly this.
Be that as it may, when, in January of 1938 (just before Hitler annexed Austria, which set the conflict in motion), there was a tremendous, headline-making display of the aurora borealis, or "northern lights" -- seen from England to Morocco, from Europe (including Spain, where Fatima seer Sister Lucia dos Santos was at the time cloistered) to Canada and the Midwest, even seen in San Diego! -- described by pilots as like curtains of fire, and even making the front pages of newspapers such as The New York Times -- Lucia wrote that "if scientists would investigate, they would find that it was not an aurora, in the form in which it appeared, but the 'great sign.'"
That's precisely what McNally did, noting that besides its great length, brightness, and breadth -- truly extraordinary luminosity -- "was the appearance for about ten minutes of two giant red spots."
In querying an astrophysicist, McNally learned that such spots are not normally associated with the aurora borealis -- but they are associated, as McNally, a nuclear scientist knew, with nuclear blasts; one example was as a six-hundred-mile-wide red spot that with the detonation in the upper atmosphere in 1958 of a U.S. TEAK megaton bomb above Johnston Island in the beleaguered Pacific (many were the islanders who suffered from radiation).
Moreover, McNally noted that an administrator at the Fatima shrine in Portugal had himself seen the red spot -- from Fatima -- during eruption of the 1938 aurora (the widest one, reckoned astronomers, since 1709).
This in its turns seemed to link directly with what was much later revealed as the third secret of Fatima: a vision of an angel ready to torch the world -- chastise it (with fire) -- for its sin. A warning of nuclear holocaust if mankind continued to stray?
McNally worried that a massive atmospheric nuclear blast would one day eat up our atmosphere, creating a magnetic dynamo that set off fusion of air particles ("annihilating nations"), or would take down electronics. The 1938 aurora created local effects on the earth's magnetic field, and disrupted radio-telegram communications. Imagine today!
Meanwhile, one should note that in 2001, right after 9/11, and not long after the Vatican had released the third secret, unusual auroras -- if not quite on the scale of 1938 -- flared again.
This time the conflict recalled Lepanto: perhaps a new, slow-grinding kind of war between believing Christians and radical Muslims (the name "Fatima" came from Mohammed's daughter), a war that in our time gains flare and momentum.