Cardinal Dziwisz: Our Lady of Fatima Saved John Paul’s Life, Aided End of Communism
Retired Polish prelate speaks to the Register about the enduring importance of the Fatima message ahead of the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions in 2017, as well as the lesser-known 1982 assassination attempt on John Paul’s life at Fatima.
On Dec. 8 of this year, it was announced that Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski, until that point the archbishop of Lodz, Poland, would replace Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz as archbishop of Krakow. Archbishop Jędraszewski has proven to be a strong defender of the family and opponent of gender ideology, and each month in the Lodz cathedral, he answered questions about Catholicism that local people (including atheists and people with serious doubts about the faith) asked him over the internet. These “Dialogues in the Cathedral” were incredibly popular; they were well attended, and the recordings received many views on YouTube.
The day before Archbishop Jędraszewski was announced as Cardinal Dziwisz’s replacement, the Register interviewed the retiring prelate at the Krakow bishops’ residence about the Fatima apparitions.
Cardinal Dziwisz served for 39 years as secretary to Pope St. John Paul II, an experience recounted in his memoir, A Life with Karol, which has been translated into many languages. As successor to St. Stanislaus and St. John Paul II, Cardinal Dziwisz organized two successful papal visits: by Benedict XVI in 2006 and by Francis this year; the latter visit was part of World Youth Day, which attracted between 2 and 3 million pilgrims. He spoke to the Register about the enduring importance of the Fatima message ahead of the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions in 2017, as well as the lesser-known 1982 assassination attempt on John Paul’s life at Fatima.
The 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions in Fatima is approaching. In May of next year, Pope Francis plans on paying a two-day visit to the Portuguese shrine. What significance did these apparitions have to Pope St. John Paul II, both before and after his election as pope? In particular, could you say something about how John Paul II saw the significance of the Fatima apparitions in light of the 1981 attempt on his life, which occurred on the anniversary of Mary’s first appearance to the Portuguese shepherd children?
The Holy Father wasn’t especially interested in these apparitions until the assassination attempt on his life in 1981. The Fatima devotion was present in the Krakow Archdiocese, and he supported it, but they [the apparitions] weren’t a priority in his ministry. Fatima became very close to him on May 13, 1981, when he realized the significance of these apparitions, which he then started to link to the attempt on his life, when he realized that it took place on the anniversary of the first apparitions. He was so close to death that he was convinced that the Holy Mother had saved his life. There were very fragile moments in the hospital. At one point, the doctor had approached me and said that it was time to perform the last rites, because the situation was dramatic; the Pope’s heart looked like it would stop beating soon.
John Paul II asked Cardinal Franjo Šeper, then-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to send the entire documentation of the apparitions — especially the third secret, which then was secret — to the hospital where he was recovering. I have heard that previous popes also read these secrets, but they simply read them and left them. John Paul II came to the conclusion that he had to fulfill that which the Virgin Mary had asked the children in Fatima: the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary; then freedom will come to Russia. The Holy Father did this slightly differently, and consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary those countries that were enslaved by communism. He had planned on doing this along with the world’s bishops. However, there were problems: When everything was ready, the Holy Father became very ill. After leaving the clinic, he had to return to the hospital, and so this did not come about. This occurred later, in St. Peter’s Square, where the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima was brought. This was a great ceremony, attended by many people. I know that after that consecration of Eastern Europe along with the bishops, Sister Lucia said that John Paul II had fulfilled Mary’s request. From that moment, the bishops said that something began to change. These changes continued to accelerate, up until the change of the political system and the collapse of Marxism and communism, leading to the freedom of these countries that had been enslaved by communism.
In 1982, Pope John Paul II visited Fatima to thank our Mother for saving him one year before, and there was a second attempt on his life. However, the 1982 assassination attempt is much less known than the events in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981. Why does Your Eminence believe that this is so?
It was only a failed attempt on the Pope’s life and was nowhere as dramatic and close to succeeding as what had happened in 1981. This attempt could have ended the same way, but the head of the Corps of Gendarmerie of Vatican City, Camillo Cibin, reacted so swiftly that the would-be assassin couldn’t finish what he had begun with his knife. There then was a trial, and the would-be assassin was sentenced to six years of prison. This was at an altar, when a procession was happening in Fatima. Nobody had expected that this priest would even get so close to the Pope. However, the would-be assassin didn’t reach close enough to do any damage, so the Holy Father could easily return to his apartment.
Did Pope John Paul II see a link between the 1982 assassination attempt in Portugal and the Fatima apparitions?
He connected the previous year’s events with the apparitions, but what had happened the following year was simply a pastoral journey of thanksgiving. There, he left the bullet that nearly killed him as a votive offering. I’m very grateful to the local bishop at the time [Alberto Cosme do Amaral] for placing the bullet in Mary’s crown.
Juan María Fernández Krohn, the Spanish priest who tried to assassinate St. John Paul II in Fatima in 1982, was a traditionalist priest who belonged to the Society of St. Pius X, which greatly criticized John Paul for his support of the Vatican II reforms. Could it be said that the assassination attempt is a kind of symbol of the mistrust traditionalist Catholics felt towards John Paul II?
I cannot say that, because I never knew much about that priest. I don’t think he was mentally stable. I’m sure that his psychiatric condition impacted his behavior, perhaps more so than his ties to the Society of St. Pius X. What kind of priest throws himself at the Pope — and during a procession, I might add — with a knife and tries to kill him?
As the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions approaches, what would Your Eminence recommend that the lay faithful around the world focus on, so that they can best prepare themselves for this important event?
The faithful should do what the Holy Mother had asked the children in Fatima: They should pray, say the Rosary, go to confession and ask God for forgiveness for our sins and those of the world. Above all, we should pray for peace in our world. That was what Mary had asked us to do in Fatima.
Nowadays, the world is once again torn by wars. War is raging in Syria, Ukraine and many other places; meanwhile, Christians are persecuted for their faith in much of the Middle East and many other parts of the world. Does Your Eminence believe that, in light of all this violence, Mary’s message at Fatima is still relevant?
I think that, for there to be peace, Mary had asked us to pray the Rosary. I would also encourage the faithful to pray the Divine Mercy devotion, which is strongly connected to the Fatima apparitions, for peace. The world will never experience peace unless we ask God for his mercy. Indeed, during Fatima Masses, many priests tie Our Lady of Fatima with Jesus of Divine Mercy.