The Figure in White


Sister Lucia and Pope John Paul II had such a deep relationship, it began before he was born.

Sister Lucia is one of the three Portuguese shepherd children were visited by Our Lady in the village of Fatima. She described the third secret of Fatima this way:

“[W]e saw an angel with a flaming sword in his left hand … the angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance! Penance! Penance!’”

Then, she says, she saw “a bishop dressed in white.  We had the impression that it was the Holy Father.” He climbed a steep mountain toward a big cross. He walked toward it “with halting step, 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.”

This image provided details to words of Our Lady that Lucia had recounted earlier: “The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”

Sister Lucia received these messages in 1917. She died this month. Imagine what the 20th century must have looked like from her perspective.

She saw two world wars change the face of Europe, just as Our Lady had told her. She saw Pope Paul VI suffer with the rejection of his teaching and the defection of many of his priests after the publication of Humanae Vitae — the kind of persecutions she had been warned about. She saw Pope John Paul II come to the papacy, get shot in St. Peter’s Square, then suffer publicly for the next two decades.

She watched it all, knowing that the things Our Lady had told her were coming true.

And imagine how the events of the papacy of Pope John Paul II have looked to him. He was in a position upon becoming Pope in 1978 to read the Third Secret of Fatima. He would find there the stunning vision of his own profound suffering and attack.

As it turns out, the Pope didn’t die when he was shot. Ali Agca shot the Pope on May 13, 1981, an anniversary of Our Lady’s visit to Lucia and her cousins. The Holy Father has publicly thanked Our Lady of Fatima for “turning aside the bullet” that barely missed his vital organs.

The message that was Sister Lucia’s “mission” to transmit goes a long way toward describing the mission of Pope John Paul II.

Our Lady of Fatima describes a persecuted pope weighed down with the problems of the world. For decades, observers have described Pope John Paul II’s morning hours of prayer, in which he sometimes seems lost in emotion, groaning quietly.

Our Lady of Fatima called for a new dedication to the rosary, and for the world to be consecrated to her. Pope John Paul II declared the rosary his favorite prayer early in his pontificate, did a series of general audience talks on its mysteries, called for daily rosaries after Sept. 11, 2001, then declared a year of the rosary. In the Jubilee Year 2000, he gathered hundreds of bishops in St. Peter’s Square around a statue of Our Lady of Fatima and consecrated the world, once again, to Mary.

In her 1917 vision, Lucia saw a Pope walking “with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow.”

In 2005, we all have had that vision.

On the last day of her life, Sister Lucia received a message from Pope John Paul II, the man for whom she had prayed since she was 11, three years before he was born.

She was “very affected” by his words when she heard them, says her bishop, and asked if she could personally read the text of the fax. “It was, perhaps, the last reaction she had in relation to the life around her,” said the bishop.

After her death, the Holy Father remembered the special relationship he had with Sister Lucia.

“I remember with emotion the various meetings I had with her and the bonds of spiritual friendship that, with the passing of time, were intensified,” he said. “I have always felt supported by the daily gift of her prayer, especially in the harsh moments of trial and suffering” — moments which Our Lady had foretold to Lucia.

We have said much about the great achievements of this octogenarian man from Poland. Sister Lucia’s message reminds us of something far more profound about his mission. It has been God’s hand leading the Church all along.