During the time of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, the two seers, Lucy and her cousin Jacinta, would often converse about the visions. One day, Lucy visited her cousin as she was deep in thought. When Lucy asked her what she was thinking about, Jacinta said, “About the war that is going to come. So many will die! And almost all will go to hell!”
That statement is very sobering since she was referring to World War II that Our Lady foretold would come if men did not repent. Many people today, even those who are devoted to Our Lady, do not see how it would be possible for so many to go to hell since people at that time were not as sinful as today.
Indeed, abortion on demand did not exist back then. Immoral fashions, fornication and unnatural vice were not as common as today. The allure of impure images on television and the Internet did not exist. Despite all this, Jacinta said that the majority who would die in the war would go to Hell.
However, there are many reasons why her statement makes sense considering the context of World War II.
Pagan and Atheistic Nations
One major reason for the great number of condemned is that many of the nations that fought in the war were officially anti-religious, atheistic or pagan. Their ideologies and governments did not favor the Church and made it difficult for their people to fully make use of the means of salvation.
The Nazis, for example, were officially opposed to Christianity in its teachings and practice. Joseph Goebbels, one of Hitler’s closest associates, wrote in his diary, “He [Hitler] hates Christianity, because it has crippled all that is noble in humanity.”
The Soviet Union, an early ally and later enemy of the Nazi regime, was a communist and officially atheistic regime that had long persecuted the Church.
Italy was a fascist regime and shared a strong anti-Catholic position. Its dictator, Benito Mussolini, stated in Time magazine in 1924, “God does not exist—religion in science is an absurdity, in practice an immorality and in men a disease.”
These regimes officially rejected God, persecuted and even murdered the faithful. This happened not only in their own countries, but also in the Catholic countries they invaded and occupied. Many Catholics perished in the concentration camps and executions that took place under these totalitarian regimes.
Japan was a pagan regime, which had never lived under the light of the Faith. The Japanese were merciless to those whom they conquered or captured. This made salvation difficult for those under this regime.
Thus, those nations with ideologically anti-religious, pagan and atheistic regimes created great obstacles to the practice of the Ten Commandments and the worship of the one true God. No doubt some maintained the Faith with great difficulty, but these were a small minority. Thus, it is logical that in these nations, many souls did go to hell as Jacinta said.
What About the Allies?
The question is now turned toward the Allies: America, the United Kingdom, France and others. These nations did not persecute the Church or follow ideologies that would make it difficult to practice religion. Moreover, they fought and defeated the totalitarian regimes that terrorized Europe, North Africa and Asia.
However, while the cause against these ideologies was just, the war created conditions that made it difficult for soldiers involved in the fighting to persevere in virtue.
War brings out the best and worst in people. It also interrupts the regular rhythms of the practice of religion and the moral restraints in society. When a country is hit by war, order breaks down. Churches are closed if not destroyed. Priests are killed and exiled. Soldiers are exposed to opportunities to sin not found in peacetime. Thus, the following of the Ten Commandments wanes. Sacrilege, blasphemy and immoral language become common.
The Brutality of War
War brutalizes people. To one who is not virtuous, life becomes cheap and disposable during battle. Respect for non-combatants like the elderly, women, or the weak, can easily disappear. As a result of cowardice, soldiers can flee or neglect their duties thus contributing to defeat and the culpable loss of lives of others.
The occasions of sin against purity are sadly common during war. Innumerable accounts of war chronicle the lax morals practiced by both combatants and non-combatants. The devil tempts people to sin suggesting that, since they might die tomorrow, they might as well engage in sinful pleasures today.
Private property is also disrespected during war with theft and uncompensated confiscation common. Good commanders do what they can to keep order but in the fog of war, it becomes impossible to oversee everything. Lying and drunkenness also are frequent occurrences.
Finally, while the daily danger of death can strengthen faith and repentance, it can also provoke cynicism, fatalism, or even despair.
Grave Dangers Threaten Salvation
Thus, war exposes soldiers to many dangers that threaten their salvation. This is especially true in secular armed forces in which the notion of sin is not considered. Military biographies from World War II reveal a general climate of immorality with little mention of God.
It is safe to say that truly only a minority of the soldiers have that profound prayer life that is needed to persevere in those difficult situations. This is truly lamentable since while the cause of the war may be just, it does not guarantee that those who fight will be saved.
Preparing for the Final Battle
There is one final danger that threatens the souls of soldiers during war. When a soldier sins mortally, confession is often difficult. Chaplains are not always readily available in the heat of battle. Many soldiers have lost their souls for lack of a confessor.
Others have been saved by the fortunate presence of brave chaplains who went to the battlefield in search of souls. Many times, soldiers received general absolution and Communion before battle. However, even then, it is not always certain that they persevered in their good intentions.
Indeed, soldiers face their final battle in death. So many things can happen at this time. Instant death leaves the solider without an opportunity to repent. Others can have recourse to a perfect act of contrition when slowly dying on the field. Suffering and despair can also lead the hardened sinner to cursing and blasphemy against God.
Thus, the words of Saint Jacinta of so many dying in the war and going to hell ring true. The soldiers were certainly exposed to so many occasions of sin. If at that time, those dangers existed, how much more so can be said for the present.