Rome, Italy, May 12, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- While a lot has changed since Mary’s appearances at Fatima 100 years ago, we can’t stop heeding Our Lady’s request to pray and offer sacrifices for the world, an expert on Marian theology has said.

“Fatima is a stepping-stone. But we shouldn't be complacent. We have a very, very long way to go — in God's time — and we do need to consecrate ourselves daily to this goal,” Fr. Paul Haffner told CNA May 8. “This 100th anniversary of the apparitions teaches us that there has been a victory of Christ over sin and death, there has been a victory of his Mother within the Church, but we still have a very long way to go.” A theology professor and author of more than 30 books, Fr. Haffner has also been a member of the Pontifical Academy of Mary since 2012.

One hundred years ago on May 13, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children in a field in Fatima, Portugal. She brought with her requests for the recitation of the rosary, for sacrifices on behalf of sinners, and a secret regarding the fate of the world. Every local bishop since has approved the apparitions and deemed them worthy of belief, the highest recognition a Marian apparition can receive from the Church.

In her third apparition, Mary revealed to the shepherd children what came to be known as The Great Secret of Fatima. The first secret was a vision of hell which Mary allowed the children to see. The second was a statement that World War I would end, and a prediction of another war that would start during the reign of Pius XI, if people continued to offend God and if Russia were not consecrated to her Immaculate Heart.         

According to Sr. Lucia, one of the visionaries who lived until 2005, the consecration was completed during the pontificate of St. John Paul II, who several times attempted to fulfill the requirements of the Russia consecration. It was finally considered fully complete after the consecration he made on March 25, 1984, as confirmed by Sr. Lucia.

“It's true, the world has been consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Church has made this consecration,” Fr. Haffner said. “However, this must not be a static thing, it must be an ongoing process.” The consecration must continue, he explained, because the world we live in is still filled with many false ideologies and many false gods, all “which tempt women and men away from their true goal.” “Whether these false ideologies are in the political sphere, the social sphere, the family sphere, the personal sphere, or in the educational sphere, they're there,” he said, and we must fight against them.

At the time of Mary’s appearance in Portugal, the country was at war, like most of the rest of the world. In addition to the hardships of war, Catholics in the country were also facing a strong wave of anti-clericalism. Catholic churches and schools were seized by the government, and the wearing of clerics in public, the ringing of church bells, and the celebration of popular religious festivals were banned. From 1911-1916, nearly 2,000 priests, monks and nuns were killed by anti-Christian groups.

In one way, Mary’s appearance in 1917, Fr. Haffner noted, was “a remedy for these terrible evils.” “So in that sense, Our Lady remains, as it says in the Book of Revelation or the Apocolypse, the woman who is fighting against the powers of evil, against the dragon, against Satan.” And we get to be a part of that fight, he said. “She gives her sons and daughters a chance, also, to win that battle through Christ her Son. But they have to be dedicated to her, to the Church, and to Christ. And the way of dedication is the way of prayer and sacrifice.”

Throughout salvation history, Mary’s role is often “unfolded” in the history of mankind, Fr. Haffner pointed out. “In the history of mankind her role is unfolded in the various quiet little miracles and in the big revelations, like Lourdes, Fatima and La Salette, Our Lady of Walsingham,” he said, naming several other Marian apparitions affirmed as worthy of belief by the Church.

“All these different revelations and apparitions teach us of her maternal presence. Mary is a mother to us, she cares for us very tenderly, especially when things seem to go wrong.” “Now things seem often to not go very well for humanity, so Mary is there to pick us up. As Pope Francis often says, ‘you know when you fall, try to get up immediately,’ but sometimes you can't get up! You have to have a motherly hand, a motherly arm, to help you up.”

“And so often in history that hand is found in Mary, he explained. “And that is the link between the apparitions of Our Lady: Mary's motherly hand helping us along the way — a pilgrim way.”