Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz on the ‘Fatima Pope’

Former secretary to and lifelong friend of beloved Polish pontiff speaks to the Register.

Pope John Paul II prays in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary at the Chapel of the Apparitions in Fatima, May 12, 1982, to give thanks for surviving an assassination attempt in 1981.
Pope John Paul II prays in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary at the Chapel of the Apparitions in Fatima, May 12, 1982, to give thanks for surviving an assassination attempt in 1981. (photo: AP file photo)

Pope St. John Paul II could be called the “Fatima Pope,” affirmed Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, secretary and longtime friend and aide to John Paul, to the Register.

In an exclusive May 9 interview, the archbishop emeritus of Krakow spoke to Deborah Castellano Lubov ahead of Pope Francis’ May 12-13 apostolic pilgrimage to Fatima to celebrate the centenary of the Marian apparitions.

The Polish cardinal spoke about how St. John Paul II credited Our Lady of Fatima with saving his life after the May 13, 1981, assassination attempt and why he decided to unveil the third part of the Fatima secret.

Pope John Paul II’s dear friend also shared about “the saints of Krakow,” including the heroic virtues of Jan Tyranowski, the tailor (though trained accountant) and mystic who played an important role in helping the young Karol Wojtyla discover his vocation to the priesthood. He also discusses whether Catholic Poland can be a model for Europe, with its vibrant faith, family and life values, and addresses what he believes to be the continent’s most dangerous populisms.

Pope John Paul II showed a special devotion, throughout his pontificate, to Our Lady of Fatima, where, among other things, he went on pilgrimage three times. Could one call St. John Paul II the “Fatima Pope”?

In fact, we can say that the Holy Father, John Paul II, was the “Pope of Fatima,” because his pontificate was tied to the Third Mystery [Secret] of Fatima. After the assassination attempt on May 13, 1981, John Paul asked for the documents inherent to the Third Secret of Fatima. Cardinal Franjo Šeper in July 1981 sent two envelopes stored in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with the testimony of Sister Lucia in Portuguese and in Italian. John Paul II, in the hospital, took, open and read for the first time the last part of the secret of Fatima. Once read, there were no doubts. He understood that in this prophecy had been written his own destiny.


Pope John Paul II attributed to the Madonna of Fatima the grace of having escaped death after the assassination attempt on May 13, 1981. How was that awareness of her intervention “born” in him? Do you remember some words or an example that might explain it?

John Paul II was convinced that the Madonna, to whom he had entrusted all his life — already as a student and as a young priest, taking as his motto Totus Tuus (“I Am All Yours, O Mary” via St. Louis Grignon de Montfort) — protected him with her maternal mantle. Then he said: “One hand has shot, and another guided the bullet.” Today, that bullet is embedded in the crown of the statue of the Madonna of Fatima.


John Paul II is the pope who decided to unveil the third part of the secret of Fatima to the world. How did that decision come about?

The third part of the secret of Fatima often makes reference to John Paul II. During John Paul II’s third trip to Fatima [2000], Cardinal Angelo Sodano gave the exact interpretation: that the third part of the mystery of Fatima was realized in the life of the Holy Father, John Paul II. The Pope sent Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, then-secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to ask Sister Lucia for details of the secret of Fatima. And she confirmed: It was Pope John Paul II “killed,” but, at the same time, saved from death.


John Paul II, son of Krakow, has now become the latest saint — in order of time — of that city. Is there a feature shared by the saints of Krakow? What would you say it is?

We say that Krakow is the “City of Saints” because almost all Polish saints in our history were tied to Krakow, from St. Stanisław, St. Hedwig —Queen of Poland — St. John Cantius of Kęty, St. Stanisław Kostka, St. Stanisław Papczyński, St. Zygmunt Szczęsny Feliński, St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Albert Chmielowski up to St. John Paul II. 

Krakow has had Christianity for 1,000 years. There’s a specific climate that one could define as the “Homeland of Spirituality.” Krakow has come to be called the “Rome of the North,” with many churches and convents. In this climate, young Karol Wojtyła grew up — and was later elected to the throne of St. Peter with the name John Paul II.


Still on the theme of the saints of Krakow, on Jan. 23, the heroic virtues of Jan Tyranowski, the mystic who played an important role in Karol Wojtyla’s vocation to the priesthood, were proclaimed. Why was this figure so important to him? Did John Paul II ever talk to you about him? What made Tyranowski holy?

[Servant of God] Jan Tyranowski was well-educated under the guidance of the Salesian Fathers, because he lived in the parish run by the Salesians of Krakow. In the parish, he led a small prayer group, in which he recommended they read the great mystics of Catholicism, such as St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Tyranowski introduced young Karol Wojtyła to the great Catholic mystics. The Pope often remembered his mentor and spiritual director and how he helped introduce him to deep prayer and contact with God. He helped him recognize his priestly vocation, and then, during the war, Karol Wojtyła decided to dedicate his life to God in the priesthood.


During the last World Youth Day in Krakow, in July of last year, Poland gave great witness to the vitality of its Christian roots. These roots do not seem to be as vital in many other European countries, where views opposed to the Church’s doctrine prevail over so many sensitive points concerning life, family and marriage. Can Poland be recognized as a model for the rest of Europe?

World Youth Day in Krakow last year was a big surprise for all of us, because we say ourselves that secularism has entered into our postmodernist society.  World Youth Day has demonstrated that the faith is preserved also in the new, younger generations. Two to three million [young people gathered] in Krakow during the final holy Mass is already a great sign for us. The young — as John Paul II always said — are always journeying to better know God; they have their aspirations and ideas. We must help with our witness of faith. We must clearly speak of Jesus and of his teachings, of the commandments, of life and of death. ... World Youth Day can be a good example for all of Europe and for all the world. John Paul II, in starting the World Youth Days and writing the letter to young people, knew, that they need Christ, who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.”


Pope Francis speaks about the populisms (political doctrines that proposes that the common people are exploited by a privileged elite) of today often, for which he expresses great concern. What would you say are the most dangerous populisms in Europe?

Pope Francis has enriched the Church with [his] experience of the faith of South America. John Paul II often defined [South America] as the continent of hope for the Church, because the majority of the world’s Catholics live there. Pope Francis shows where we must go in order to evangelize the world: the migrants, refugees and the marginalized. He goes to the margins of this world to witness that the disciples of Christ must always be journeying to announce the Gospel until the ends of the earth. Francis continues the mission of John Paul II and Pope Benedict traveling to where there is a need for the Gospel, for the love of God. During the Year of Mercy, he showed us where we ought to go. 


Register correspondent Deborah Castellano Lubov is based in Rome.