By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The obsession of an ex-Trappist monk with the so-called third secret of Fatima led him to stage Ireland’s first plane hijack nearly 18 years ago when he threatened to set himself on fire and took over an Aer Lingus flight to London.
Australian-born Laurence James Downey, now 72, disclosed in an RTE TV documentary aired Monday what drove him to terrorize 113 passengers and force the plane to divert to France.
He brandished a lighter and pretended he was a gas-soaked firebomb.
It was Downey’s fixation with the Fatima secret that led him to abandon his new life in the Shannon area in 1981 and stage the hijack, for which he served five years in a French prison. He believed it would force the Vatican to reveal the secret.
Downey is penitent today about the trauma he caused — but he still wants the world to know the secret.
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Since the age of 8 he believed he had a sense of destiny. During his novitiate in France and his five years as a monk in Rome he became obsessed with apparitions and visions.
In particular, Downey was fascinated by stories surrounding the happenings near Fatima, in Portugal, 82 years ago. Three girls, ages 7 to 10, were minding sheep when they said the Virgin Mary appeared to them. They claimed they were given messages and warnings or secrets. The apparitions happened on the 13th day of six consecutive months.
By the time of the last appearance word had spread. About 70,000 people were gathered and strange paranormal events were reported.
Fatima has since developed into a major Marian pilgrimage site, with millions of pilgrims visiting the shrine every year. There have been many claims of miracle cures.
Over the years there has been global fascination with the secrets. Two were revealed involving a vision of hell and the conversion of godless Russia and the banishment of communism.
The third prophecy remains secret, apparently only known to 91-year-old nun Sister Lucia — the only surviving member of the trio who claimed to have the visions — and the pope.
The third secret has been the subject of speculation since it’s claimed existence in a sealed envelope was first revealed in Time Magazine in the late 1940s. Various theories have predicted it involves the end of the world, nuclear holocaust or a variety of other apocalyptic events.
Downey, who now lives in Perth Australia, was convinced he could be the instrument to force a Vatican disclosure. As the Dublin flight approached London on May 2, 1981 he doused his hands in gasoline and poured water on his clothes to give the impression that they were flammable.
He ordered the pilot to land at Heathrow, but instead it touched down at the quiet Le Touquet airport in Northern France. At first rumors spread that an Iranian had hijacked the plane and wanted to be flown to Teheran. The real reason emerged when former Taoiseach and then Transport Minister Albert Reynolds was interviewed during the eight-hour hijack. He explained Downey wanted publication of the third secret of Fatima.
On Flight EI 164, Downey carried a briefcase containing a text he believes may be the third secret. It predicts devil-inspired catastrophes and damnation.
"The third secret of Fatima is many things," Downey said. "Basically, it concerns the third millennium and the second coming of Christ."
His text says a "great chastisement" will fall on humanity in the second part of this century the like of which has not been seen since the deluge.
It reveals, he says, that Satan infiltrate the top of the church. The great and the powerful will perish with the little and the weak. The Catholic Church will split and the corrupt in Rome will fall. Millions and millions will perish by the hour and those still living will envy those who are dead.