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In which the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima causes our columnist to flashback to the one that got away...
Eamonn McCann, 30 May 2006
Last Saturday being the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, dread thoughts of my worst day in journalism flooded back.
Regular readers will know that it was on May 13th 1917 that Our Lady of Fatima made her debut appearance to three pious Portuguese urchins, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco; that it was on May 13th 1970 that the Beatles film ‘Let It Be’ was released; and that it was on May 13th 1981 that Mehmet Ali Agca shot and wounded Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square.
John Paul believed that his life had been saved by divine intervention prompted by the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima.
The dread moment in journalism which I refer to occurred one morning about 10 days before the attempted assassination of the pontiff.
I was sitting at my news editor’s desk at the Sunday World when word came from reception that there was a fellow wanted to talk to a reporter. As a high-flying journalistic executive, this wasn’t the sort of mundane chore I cared to undertake personally. I glanced around the newsroom for a candidate. There was Judith Elmes, giving some pedantic nit-picker with a silly complaint about being misquoted a bit of her mind in tones which brooked no interruption. Cathal O’Shea was up to his eyes trying to coax the estranged wife of a Fianna Fail TD to agree that her husband had behaved like a ‘monster’ so we could run a picture of him on the front-page with a splash headline – ‘I married a monster, says TD’s wife.’ (We did it, too.) Sam Smyth was working flat out on his major project of the period, a five-part ‘Where are they now?’ series on Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich. And, since it was before noon, John Keane wasn’t in yet. Wearily, I agreed to have a word with the fellow myself.
His story was that if the pope didn’t reveal the Third Secret of Fatima pronto, he’d do something drastic. What, he wouldn’t say.
Where I came from, we not only knew about the Third Secret of Fatima – passed to the three visionaries by the BVM and subsequently consigned to the care of the Vatican – we knew what it was (the date of the end of the world) and why successive popes had refused to divulge its content (fear of spreading panic across the earth.) So I had the measure of this chap immediately. ‘Man demands pope reveal Fatima secret,’ didn’t set my journalistic blood racing. I told him sorry, I couldn’t help. ‘Alright, so,’ he replied, agreeably enough. ‘I’ll just try somewhere else.’