Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
Which pope is the first “Fatima pope”?
“Fatima owes its present popularity in the Church very largely to the interest and encouragement of Pope Pius XII,” Servant of God Jesuit Father John Hardon wrote back in 1952. “It was Pius XII among the Popes who first explicitly referred to Fatima in a formal papal document.”
That official public recognition of Fatima came in 1940 from Venerable Pius XII who was elected Holy Father months before in 1939. In his encyclical Saeculo Exeunte Octavo, encouraging the Church in Portugal in its missionary work, he wrote that “when reciting the Rosary so highly commended by the Blessed Virgin at Fatima,” people should implore her intercession so missions will flourish.
Pius XII added, “And the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Rosary, who is venerated at Fatima and is the same great Mother of God who obtained a great victory at Lepanto, will be with you with her powerful protection.”
With this revelation, it wouldn’t be far afield to believe that Pius XII’s link to Fatima was ordained by heaven. The connections date to the apparitions.
“On 13 May 1917, while the Mother of God was appearing in Fatima, announcing to the world her message of peace and conversion and warning humanity about the terrible crises of the 20th century, in the Sistine Chapel in Rome…Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII, was being consecrated Archbishop by Pope Benedict XV,” wrote Emilia Paola Pacelli in L’Osservatore Romano.
From there, the connection grew for this major Marian pope. After receiving a letter from Sister Lucia sent to him on the instructions of her bishop in which she detailed heaven’s requests, on October 31, 1942, at the time of the double Silver Jubilee — the 25th anniversary celebration of Fatima and of his episcopal ordination — speaking in Portuguese over the radio, Pius XII consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
That fit perfectly into the Fatima message on the devotion Our Lord wanted established to the Immaculate Heart.
Earlier that year, on May 13, 1942, the Vatican published the Message of Fatima and the first two of the three Fatima Secrets.
Ten years later, in 1952 and recorded that year in his July 7 apostolic letter Sacro Vergente, Pius XII consecrated Russia to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. However, he did not do it in union with the bishops of the world. Still, it made a difference in the world as Sister Lucia would reveal, saying the Lord was delighted and even though the act was not completed fully as requested, he would “bring an end soon to the war.”
There were more Fatima connections to come with Pius XII. Not surprisingly once we realize he was also a major Marian pope.
Powerful Marian Pope
Pius XII “extended the cultus of the Mother of God in a way almost unparalleled in the history of the papacy,” Father Hardon observed in 1952, with six years still to come in this papacy.
From his early childhood, Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII, was exceptionally devoted to the Blessed Mother. “Indeed, the Blessed Virgin had taken that son by the hand when he was still very young,” the L’Osservatore Romano article noted.
On his way to and from school in Rome, Eugenio would always stop in the church known as the Gesu to pray before the miraculous image of Madonna della Strada.
He chose to say his first Mass as a newly ordained priest at the Basilica of St. Mary Major at the altar enshrining the image of Mary, Salus Populi Romani — Salvation of the Roman People. It was 1899. Would she not come to Fatima 18 years later for the salvation of all people?
After being elected pope on March 2, 1939, as war began to erupt in Europe, Pius XII at once focused on Marian devotion. He began the first of a series of May letters for Mary’s Month asking Our Lady to restore peace among the nations.
He wrote, “As the month of May approaches, when the faithful are accustomed to raise special prayers to the Holy Virgin, it is close to Our heart. . .that during this period public prayers be offered in the dioceses and parishes in the cause (of world peace.)”
He called especially for the powerful prayers of innocent children.
In his 1941 letter he reminded that the war with its griefs was in great part a punishment from God for sins, and people were to seek mercy through God’s Mother Mary. Surely he was aware of what Our Lady of Fatima in 1917 had prophesied about a greater war if men did not turn from their sinful ways. Neither had they followed her directions to avoid this terrible war.
In 1943, in his encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi (On the Mystical Body of Christ), Pius XII extolled Mary “to whose Immaculate Heart We have trustfully consecrated all mankind, and who now reigns in heaven with her Son, her body and soul refulgent with heavenly glory.”
In 1944 this Marian pope put his pontificate under her patronage and extended the feast of the Immaculate Heart to the Universal Church to be celebrated on August 22. (In 1969 Paul VI moved this feast to the Saturday right after the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.)
In 1946, for the anniversary on May 13, Pius XII sent Cardinal Benedetto Masella to Fatima as his personal representative to preside over the canonical coronation of the image of Our Lady of Fatima. This is the same crown that now contains the bullet St. John Paul II suffered and then brought to Fatima in 1982 to place in this crown.
In 1948 after Sister Lucia’s plea to him, Pius XII gave permission for her to join the Carmelites. She thanked him and entered the Carmel in Coimbra.
The same year, in a May encyclical calling for prayers for world peace, Pius XII agaibn highlighted consecration to the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary. “[W]herever the opportunity suggests itself, this consecration be made in the various dioceses as well as in each of the parishes and families. And We are confident that abundant blessings and favors from Heaven will surge forth from this private and public consecration.”
1950s Major Marian Moves
Pius XII continued moving in a very high Marian mode in 1950. He declared this year a Holy Year for the Church as a prelude for what was coming during it.
On November 1, 1950, he defined and proclaimed the Dogma of the Assumption. As he did so, writing in Munificentissimus Deus (Defining the Dogma of the Assumption), he referred to himself, “We who have placed our pontificate under the special patronage of the most holy Virgin, to whom we have had recourse so often in times of grave trouble,” and he again pointed out he “consecrated the entire human race to her Immaculate Heart in public ceremonies” and personally “time and time again experienced her powerful protection…”
A Fatima miracle came into play at the same time. Pius XII saw the Miracle of the Sun not once, not twice, not three times, but four times. Not only did he tell some cardinals and bishops, but he recorded the events in handwritten notes which were on public display years later.
“I have seen the ‘miracle of the sun,’ this is the pure truth,” he wrote. He took it as a divine sign endorsing the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption.
He described what happened at 4pm on Oct. 30, 1950, during his usual walk in the Vatican Gardens: “I was awestruck by a phenomenon that before now I had never seen.”
“The sun, which was still quite high, looked like a pale, opaque sphere, entirely surrounded by a luminous circle,” he recalled, and he could look at it “without the slightest bother. There was a very light little cloud in front of it.”
The Holy Father said the sun “moved outward slightly, either spinning, or moving from left to right and vice versa.”
Pius XII related how he saw the same miracle again on Oct. 31 and on Nov. 1, “the day of the definition of the dogma of the Assumption, and then again Nov. 8…”
Fatima Connections Abound
The Oct. 13, 1951, celebration at Fatima drew more than a million pilgrims to the Cova. Assisting at the celebration was Cardinal Federico Tedeschini, sent personally by Pius XII as his legate for this major event. Speaking over the radio, the pope gave pilgrims a message. In it he said to them, “The Virgin Mother's insistence on the recitation of the family Rosary was meant to teach us that the secret of peace in family life lies in imitating the virtues of the Holy Family.”
This was one of countless occasions when Pius XII spoke about the Rosary. He himself was dedicated to it. On Sept. 15, 1951, the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary, he released his encyclical Ingruentium Malorum (On Reciting the Rosary).
In it, Pius said that ever since becoming pope, he “never ceased, in the face of approaching evils, to entrust to the most powerful protection of the Mother of God the destiny of the human family, and, to this end, as you know, We solemnly proclaimed the Assumption into Heaven of the Virgin Mary, body and soul. He said the recollection encouraged him “to trust firmly in Divine Mercy.”
Sounding very much like today’s events, and what Our Lady warned of at Fatima, Pius continued that the “calamitous” times urge us to “fly with greater confidence to the Mother of God. There, the Christian people have always sought chief refuge in the hour of danger, because ‘she has been constituted the cause of salvation for the whole human race’ (St. Irenaeus).”
Pius XII looked to the coming month of October asking people “to raise their supplications to Mary by means of the Holy Rosary.”
“We well know the Rosary’s powerful efficacy to obtain the maternal aid of the Virgin. By no means is there only one way to pray to obtain this aid. However, We consider the Holy Rosary the most convenient and most fruitful means, as is clearly suggested by the very origin of this practice, heavenly rather than human, and by its nature.”
This pious pope also promoted its major role in family life. “But above all it’s in the heart of “the family that We desire the custom of the Holy Rosary to be everywhere adopted, religiously preserved, and ever more intensely practiced. In vain is a remedy sought for the wavering fate of civil life, if the family, the principle and foundation of the human community, is not fashioned after the pattern of the Gospel.”
He concluded, “We do not hesitate to affirm again publicly that We put great confidence in the Holy Rosary for the healing of evils which afflict our times.”
Isn’t that a major part of Our Lady of Fatima’s message?
Marian Moves Multiply
On Sept. 8, 1953, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pius XII released his encyclical Fulgens Corona (Proclaiming a Marian Year to Commemorate the Centenary of the Definition of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception). It would run December 1954 to December 1955.
This was the first Marian Year ever declared for the Church.
During the Marian Year, on Oct. 11 the venerable pontiff honored Mary again with another title through the encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam (On Proclaiming the Queenship of Mary).
He decreed and established Mary's Queenship as a feast to be celebrated every May 31. (In 1969 it was moved to August 22, the Octave if the Assumption.)
Again came a Fatima connection as he wrote, “We likewise ordain that on the same day the consecration of the human race to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary be renewed, cherishing the hope that through such consecration a new era may begin, joyous in Christian peace and in the triumph of religion.”
And among the directions for the faithful, he instructed that “may the beads of the Rosary be in the hands of all.”
Is this not a major message of Fatima?
Since nothing is by chance with heaven, we see its affirmation of Pius XII as a Marian and Fatima pope. He died in October 1958, the month of the Holy Rosary. And was buried in in Saint Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 13, the anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun and the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima.