In a little-noticed meeting at this week’s Tory conference, Theresa May addressed a group of Marian activists. She entrusted to the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart “my Government with all its workers and citizens who are under my responsibility”.

The Prime Minister added: “I offer to Almighty God my thoughts and decisions so that he may use them for the good of our country, and always bearing in mind the Ten Commandments in governing it.”

Well, no, that didn’t actually happen. But the quotation itself is a real one – from Peruvian president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, at a ceremony of consecration last October. The consecration, at which President Kuczynski also asked forgiveness for his own sins and those of the nation, was the first of a trend. In the last 12 months several countries, not to mention many dioceses, have been consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary: Ukraine (along with Eastern Europe), Poland, Scotland, Lebanon (along with the Middle East), Canada, Syria and, yes, England and Wales, carried out by Cardinal Nichols in February. Next week Nigeria will join the list.

The simple reason – though not the only one – for the trend is that 2017 is the centenary of the Fatima apparitions, when Our Lady told the little seers: “You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to My Immaculate Heart.” After all the terrible trials of the Church, her Immaculate Heart would triumph, she said.

There is a major, and ongoing, controversy, about whether Our Lady’s request for Russia to be consecrated to the Immaculate Heart has been obeyed. But leaving that aside, bishops around the world have certainly promoted the devotion within their own jurisdictions. Portugal was consecrated to the Immaculate Heart in 1931, 14 years after the apparitions. Five years later, the author Donal Foley points out, the Portuguese bishops “made a vow to organise a national pilgrimage to Fatima if Portugal was spared involvement in the Spanish civil war. Their country was preserved from this, and as a result they were able to return in May 1938 to fulfil their vow and renew the previous consecration, being joined by half a million Portuguese.” Other countries followed suit: England and Wales, for instance, were consecrated in 1948.

But Fatima is not the only reason that 2017 has been a year of consecrations: in many countries there is a sense of multiple political and cultural crises, a wish for speedy intervention from heaven. At the consecration of Lebanon and the Middle East, for instance, Cardinal Bechara al-Rahi alluded to “conflicts and wars, death and displacement, the language of arms, fanaticism, violence and terrorism”.

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