The year of the Lord 1917 was perhaps one of the most consequential years in human history, and the events of this year have affected the history of the world ever since. The so-called “Great War,” World War I, was in its third year and had already costs millions of lives (by the end costing about 16 million dead and another 24 million wounded). The United States had entered the war early in April of 1917 in response to Germany’s practice of unrestricted submarine warfare, which lead to the death of American civilians. Austria, under the newly corronated Emperor Charles, was trying to reach a peace agreement with the Entente powers through secret negotiations. All of the countries involved in the war were approaching the breaking point.
Russia reached the breaking point first. Czar Nicholas II had releaved Grand Duke Nicholas of command of the army and gone to the front to take command personally. Unforturnately, the government left behind were as ineffective as they were incompetent. In March food shortages in Petrograd and Moscow lead to riots. The first shots were fired in Petrograd as soldiers were ordered in to disperse the crowds, but the soldiers were starving, too, and they didn’t want to fire on civillians who just wanted food. More and more soldiers and even entire units went over to the rioters side, which soon became a revolution. Within days the Czarist governement fell, Czar Nicholas abdicated, and the struggle for the fate of Russia commenced. Almost no one was fighting to keep the old emperial system. Some wanted to form a new, representative government as a democratic or republican model. Others, like the socialists and Marxists, wanted to go further. In the midst of it all, three key figures leapt into the fight: from New York City, Leon Trotsky boarded a ship for Russia, from Siberia, Joseph Stalin returned from political exile, and in Zurich, where he’d been planning for revolution for years, Vladimir Lenin realized this was the opportunity to put his plans into action.
World War I began because of grudges and national hatreds both ancient and recent. People in every country wanted peace, and nearly everyone wanted the war to end, but no one could stand the thought of giving in and letting the horific sacrifices and suffering of three years of war be for nothing, but they would be for nothing. There were no true victors in the Great War; there were those who lost, and those who lost more. Nearly everyone person, every family in Europe lost someone in the war. Their culture and civilizations were torn apart, and it would all start over in just a few decades. Meanwhile, the revolution in Russia would lead to the rise of the Soviet Union, a dark cloud settling over every nation under its influence, and decades of Cold War.
While it is true that Satan never tires of feeding the fires of hatred, it’s also true that the Lord never abandons His people. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Where sin abounded, grace did more abound.” Pope Benedict XV called for an end to the war and death. Since appeals to the leaders and kings of Europe had failed, he launched a prayer campaign in Holy Week of 1915, saying, “Thou Who didst shed Thy Precious Blood that they might live as brothers, bring men together once more in loving harmony. And as once before the cry of the Apostle Peter: Save us, Lord, we perish, Thou didst answer with words of mercy and didst still the raging waves, so now deign to hear our trustful prayer, and give back to the world peace and tranquility. And do thou, O most holy Virgin, as in other times of sore distress, be noew our help, our protection and our safeguard.” Then, on May 5, of 1917, he directed the Christian world to pray for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, writing, “To Mary, then, who is the Mother of Mercy and omnipotent by grace, let loving and decout appeal go up from every corner of earth... Let it bear to her the anguished cry of mothers and wives, the wailing of innocent little ones, the sighs of every generous heart: that her most tender and benign dolicitude may be moved and the peace we ask for be obtained for our agitated world.” 8 days later, on the 13thof May, 1917, as war and revolution raged on, in a field outside the little town of Fatima, Portugal, to three children, Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco, she came herself, the Queen of Peace, to deliver a message of peace.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.