FATIMA, PORTUGAL -- "It was kind of heartbreaking to see this lonely little figure, who was just suffering on his own." In his first hours into a pilgrimage to Fatima, Bishop David O'Connell, born in Ireland and serving in Los Angeles, told the story of his recent trip to Honduras, where he met a young boy named Gabriel, who he had just watched being bullied by an older boy.
"The Archangel Gabriel has a special love for you," the bishop told the archangel's namesake, explaining the great messengers and protectors who are God's angels. The bishop urged the boy to talk to the Angel Gabriel, making clear what a part of the boy's life he could be.
"In both rich and poor areas, there are so many children growing up, and they don't know that they are loved -- that the Lord loves them -- and they are connected. They are connected to unseen, benevolent angels and the Blessed Mother," the bishop tells me.
The bishop quoted the Gospel: "To welcome children, to love them, to guide them, is a beautiful way of welcoming and serving Jesus himself."
"Something terrible has gone wrong in our world -- and probably in our generation more than any other generation -- we have become more interested in our own fulfillment, our own meaning, our own rights and somehow we have neglected to focus on the next generation and helping our children know that they are precious," O'Connell said. "And that they are guided and blessed."
O'Connell talked about his work in South Los Angeles with violence, drugs, gangs, and bringing children surrounded by these things together to encourage them to talk to Jesus and Mary. "For many children, their relationship with Mary and with Jesus is the only loving relationship in their lives."
Traumatized, in broken homes, they find "strength and consolation" in religious faith and the community it makes. "We have to teach children to know Jesus and to love Jesus."
I asked him later, playing devil's advocate: Surely this doesn't always work? Surely there's an age cut-off point where this sort of piety loses effectiveness?
He shared that never had he found anyone who, presented with the invitation to come to know Jesus in his or her heart, wasn't intrigued, and didn't find some joy in the possibility. People find strength and consolation there, he explains.
As O'Connell thanks the pilgrims present for their love of Mary, I think back to the last time I was here. Pope Benedict XVI was celebrating Mass and he said, among other things, "At a time when the human family was ready to sacrifice all that was most sacred on the altar of the petty and selfish interests of nations, races, ideologies, groups and individuals, our Blessed Mother came from heaven, offering to implant in the hearts of all those who trust in her the love of God burning in her own heart."
I thought, too, of my own closer encounter with "B16," when he handed me a message, originally written by Pope Paul VI in 1965, intended for every woman in the world, which read, in part: "Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing, you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world."
Fatima is a pilgrimage site because, 100 years ago, three shepherd children reported seeing Mary, the mother of Jesus, on multiple occasions.
In Fatima, you encounter innocence -- it's a place where people demonstrate a childlike faith. It's a tradition that I feel very much at home with as a longtime editor at National Review, where William F. Buckley Jr. once wrote a cover story on his pilgrimage to Lourdes, the site in France that so many flock to for healing. And for those skeptical or too sophisticated for such devotion, Bill also once wrote: "What disturbs me most about the opposition to Mary is that it is so unchivalrous." To not notice that there is something renewing happening here, something that the world needs, would be to be dangerously wedded to cynicism.
In the wake of the carnage in Las Vegas and so much unnecessary violence and heartache in the world today, it would be best to embrace the hope in this place and better appreciate how motherhood can change the world.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at email@example.com