National Catholic Register


May 13

Benedict and John Paul II on Our Lady’s Plea

BY John Lilly

May 7-13, 2006 Issue | Posted 5/8/06 at 11:00 AM


Benedict and John Paul II on Our Lady’s Plea

In a recent homily, Pope Benedict reminded the world’s cardinals in Rome how closely May 13, 1917 — the feast of Our Lady of Fatima — and May 13, 1981 are linked.

In John Paul II’s “spirituality and in his tireless ministry, the presence of Mary as Mother and Queen of the Church was made manifest to the eyes of all,” said Pope Benedict. “More than ever he referred to her maternal presence in the assassination attempt of May 13, 1981 in St. Peter’s Square. In memory of that tragic event, he had a mosaic of the Virgin placed high up in the Apostolic Palace looking down over St. Peter’s Square, so as to accompany the key moments and the daily unfolding of his long papacy.”

Pope John Paul often remarked about the importance of Fatima to his survival that day. The Vatican released the Pope’s last testament shortly after his death. In it were words he wrote in the year 2000 spelling out the significance of the event.

“On May 13, 1981, the day of the attack on the Pope during the general audience in St. Peter’s Square, divine providence miraculously saved me from death,” he wrote.

The visions of Fatima were reported by three Portuguese shepherd children: Lucia dos Santos, and Jacinta and Francesco Marto. On the 13th of the month for several months in 1917, the children reported seeing a “beautiful lady” who asked that they tell the world to pray for peace by saying the Rosary every day. The children were able to predict the wars and “errors” of the 20th century after the visions.

They refused to tell a third aspect of the visions, however. This “third secret of Fatima” had to do with the assassination of a pope, and it was finally revealed in the year 2000 (right). Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger commented on the vision six years before he became Pope Benedict XVI (below).

Jacinta and Francesco died shortly after the visions. The connection between the two events was underlined even more strongly for some when Lucia, the oldest of the visionaries, died shortly before the Pope.

Benedict on John Paul on Fatima

The Message of Fatima was published June 21, 2000, by the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. After carefully distinguishing between private revelations, which need not be believed by the faithful, and public Revelation, which is complete and not subject to addition or subtraction, he gives this interpretation of the third secret of Fatima.

“Let us now examine more closely each image. The angel with the flaming sword on the left of the Mother of God recalls similar images in the Book of Revelation. This represents the threat of judgment that looms over the world.

“Today the prospect that the world might be reduced to ashes by a sea of fire no longer seems pure fantasy: Man himself, with his inventions, has forged the flaming sword. The vision then shows the power that stands opposed to the force of destruction — the splendor of the Mother of God and, stemming from this in a certain way, the summons to penance. In this way, the importance of human freedom is underlined: The future is not in fact unchangeably set, and the image that the children saw is in no way a film preview of a future in which nothing can be changed. Indeed, the whole point of the vision is to bring freedom onto the scene and to steer freedom in a positive direction.

“The purpose of the vision is not to show a film of an irrevocably fixed future. Its meaning is exactly the opposite: It is meant to mobilize the forces of change in the right direction. Therefore we must totally discount fatalistic explanations of the ‘secret,’ such as, for example, the claim that the would-be assassin of May 13, 1981, was merely an instrument of the divine plan guided by providence and could not therefore have acted freely, or other similar ideas in circulation. Rather, the vision speaks of dangers and how we might be saved from them. ...

“Let us now consider the individual images that follow in the text of the ‘secret.’ The place of the action is described in three symbols: a steep mountain, a great city reduced to ruins and finally a large, rough-hewn cross. The mountain and city symbolize the arena of human history: history as an arduous ascent to the summit, history as the arena of human creativity and social harmony. … On the mountain stands the cross — the goal and guide of history. The cross transforms destruction into salvation; it stands as a sign of history’s misery but also as a promise for history.

“At this point human persons appear: the bishop dressed in white (‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father’), and other bishops, priests, men and women religious, and men and women of different ranks and social positions. The Pope seems to precede the others, trembling and suffering because of all the horrors around him. Not only do the houses of the city lie half in ruins, but he makes his way among the corpses of the dead.

“The Church’s path is thus described as a Via Crucis, as a journey through a time of violence, destruction and persecution. The history of an entire century can be seen represented in this image. Just as the places of the earth are synthetically described in the two images of the mountain and the city, and are directed toward the cross, so too time is presented in a compressed way. In the vision we can recognize the last century as a century of martyrs, a century of suffering and persecution for the Church, a century of world wars and the many local wars that filled the last 50 years and have inflicted unprecedented forms of cruelty. In the ‘mirror’ of this vision we see passing before us the witnesses of the faith decade by decade. ...

“In the Via Crucis of an entire century, the figure of the Pope has a special role. In his arduous ascent of the mountain we can undoubtedly see a convergence of different popes. Beginning from Pius X up to the present Pope, they all shared the sufferings of the century and strove to go forward through all the anguish along the path that leads to the cross. In the vision, the Pope too is killed along with the martyrs. When, after the attempted assassination on May 13, 1981, the Holy Father had the text of the third part of the ‘secret’ brought to him, was it not inevitable that he should see in it his own fate?

“He had been very close to death, and he himself explained his survival in the following words: ‘It was a mother’s hand that guided the bullet’s path and in his throes the Pope halted at the threshold of death’ (May 13, 1994). That here ‘a mother’s hand’ had deflected the fateful bullet only shows once more that there is no immutable destiny, that faith and prayer are forces that can influence history, and that in the end prayer is more powerful than bullets and faith more powerful than armies. …

“Since God himself took a human heart and has thus steered human freedom toward what is good, the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word. From that time forth, the word that prevails is this: ‘In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). The message of Fatima invites us to trust in this promise.”

— Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

In Lucia’s Words

The “Third Secret of Fatima,” according to Lucia dos Santos:

“I write in obedience to you, my God, who command me to do so through His Excellency the bishop of Leiria and through your Most Holy Mother and mine.

“After the two parts that I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated toward him from her right hand: Pointing to the earth with his right hand, the angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!’

“And we saw in an immense light that is God — something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it — a bishop dressed in white, we had the impression that it was the Holy Father and other bishops, priests, men and women religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark.

“Before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting steps, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way. Having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other bishops, priests, men and women religious, and various laypeople of different ranks and positions.

“Beneath the two arms of the cross there were two angels each with a crystal sprinkler in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.”

— Lucia dos Santos