Will 2017 see a Divine Judgement of apocalyptic proportions? Some Catholics believe so.

Here’s their theory: In May of this year Catholics will celebrate the anniversary of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to three shepherd children in the Portuguese village of Fatima in 1917.

These extraordinary events can be seen as ushering in the catastrophic twentieth century. By 1917, the first World War was grinding on with horrors never before imagined by the human race. The lady of Fatima predicted another war if mankind did not repent. This war would be presaged by a heavenly sign.

Prophecy-watchers say this took place with an amazing display in the night sky across Europe on January 25, 1938 – just before Europe was plunged into another war.

The rest of the century would witness untold misery and bloodshed in genocide, atomic warfare, terrorism, famine, natural disaster and the rise of technologies that would poison nature, destroy the family and set humanity on a course of self destruction.

The miraculous nature of the events at Fatima have been affirmed by the church and most of the popes of the last century have had a strong personal association with the prophecies given to the three children. The coincidence of the dates of May 13 (when the apparitions began) and October 13 (when the apparitions ended with the miracle of the sun) are interesting.

Pope Piux XII was consecrated bishop on May 13, 1917 – the day of the first apparition and became known as the Fatima Pope. He consecrated the world to Our Lady of Fatima and made repeated references to the prophecies.

Paul VI met the visionary Sister Lucia and prayed with her on May 13, 1967–on the fiftieth anniversary of the visions. John Paul II was almost killed by an assassin’s bullet on May 13, 1981, and six years later on the seventieth anniversary of the visions went to Fatima to give thanks to the Virgin for saving his life.

Benedict XVI affirmed his belief in the supernatural origin of the visions, visited Sister Lucia, went to Fatima and said “the prophecies of Fatima are by no means completed.”

Pope Francis had his papacy dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima on May 13, 2013 and consecrated the world in a public ceremony on October 13, 2013. He plans to visit Fatima this year for the centenary of the events.

Seeing that it is one hundred years since the events makes one wonder how significant this anniversary is for world history. Because the events of 1917 opened up an unprecedented century of evil in the world, one is reminded of the vision of Pope Leo XIII in which Satan would be given one hundred years to attempt to destroy the church.

In 1884, after saying Mass on the morning of, according to at least one source, October 13th, as he was leaving the Altar, the 74 year old frail Pope Leo XIII fell to the ground as if dead. One version has it that those around him thought for a few moments that he may have passed away. According to this version, a few minutes later, his breathing returned to normal and he revived.

Another version has it that as he was leaving the altar after a weekday low Mass, he paused as if in a trance for about 10 minutes, turning ashen white. And yet another states that Pope Leo went into this trance while kneeling in attendance of a mass of thanksgiving after his own Mass that morning.

According to the most common and popular version, he had experienced a sort of vision, in which he heard two voices, one of which he took to be that of Christ, gentle and kind, and the other that of Satan, guttural and harsh.

Satan said, “I could destroy Your Church if I had the time, and more power over those who give themselves over to my service.” And then Pope Leo heard Christ answer, “You have the power, you have the time: 100 years.”

If the visions of Fatima were the beginning of a hell-inspired century, it means we are approaching the end of this time.

Seeing that we have just completed the Year of Mercy, another interesting stream of Catholic prophecy comes through St. Faustina Kowalska. Her diary says that the message of divine mercy has a time of mercy and preparation for the ushering in of God’s just wrath and the final judgment. She recorded in her diary Jesus saying:

You will prepare the world for My final coming. … Speak to the world about My mercy … It is a sign for the end times. After it will come the Day of Justice. While there is still time, let them have recourse to the fountain of My mercy … Tell souls about this great mercy of Mine, because the awful day, the day of My justice, is near … I am prolonging the time of mercy for the sake of sinners. But woe to them if they do not recognize this time of My visitation. … Before the Day of Justice, I am sending the Day of Mercy. (Diary 1588)

What should a Catholic’s response be to prophetic uttering, supernatural signs, apparitions and warnings from heaven?

On the one hand, we take them with a pinch of salt. The world is full of apocalyptic worriers. It always has been. Every year false prophets, deluded visionaries, fraudsters and fanatics churn out their “End Times” theories. They search the Bible, Nostrodamus or some other visionary to predict doomsday.

On the other hand, if the popes are convinced of the supernatural aspect of the Fatima prophecies and endorse Sister Faustina’s visions, should we dismiss them completely? The fact that such venerable popes as Pius XII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis take such things seriously is enough for me to perk up my ears.

When we look at the state of the world today–the pace of moral decay, the uncertainty and insecurity of the world political and economic systems, the threat of war, terrorism and the rapid disintegration and persecution of the church, some pessimism is understandable.

On the other hand, optimists remind us that things have never been better. More people are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. World poverty is decreasing, educational opportunities and health care are improving globally and new technologies promise to solve the threat of water shortages, environmental pollution, the challenge of poverty and the curse of disease and famine.

As we enter a new year, the common sense advice is the same as it has always been: No one knows the date and time of the end, and you can’t do much about global or cosmic events anyway.

Therefore, in good times and in bad, Catholics are called to be faithful. We are called to live local and love local—to do what we can where we are, with what we have…

…and let God be in charge of the big stuff.