Table of Contents
Fatima: Peace from War
Our Lady Appears: May to October 1917
Our Lady of Fatima and the Rosary
Message of Fatima, 1917 - 1939
Message of Fatima: 1939 - 1958 (Pius XII)
Message of Fatima: John XXIII and Paul VI
John Paul II consecrates Russia, 1984
John Paul II's teaching on Fatima
Above the High Altar in the Basilica of our Lady of the Rosary at Fatima - very close to the precise spot where, on 13 October 1917, the Blessed Virgin revealed, "I am the Lady of the Rosary" - hangs a painting which depicts Our Lady bringing her Message to the three little shepherds, who had been prepared for her coming in the previous year by their encounter with Christ in the Eucharist, brought to them by the Angel of Portugal.
In the centre of the picture stands Our Lady, looking down on the Bishop of Leiria-Fatima and the three children, who are shown receiving the Eucharist from the Angel of Portugal; and behind Our Lady's left shoulder can be glimpsed the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, Rome, and three Popes closely associated with Fatima prior to John Paul II: Pius XII, the "Pope of Fatima"; John XXIII, the first Pope to have visited Fatima, in May 1956, when he was Cardinal Patriarch of Venice; and Paul VI, who made three separate references to Fatima at the Second Vatican Council, and became the first Pope to travel to Fatima as a pilgrim, in May 1967, the 50th anniversary year of the apparitions.
This scene effectively depicts one of the more remarkable aspects of the apparitions of Fatima: the association, from the very outset, between the papacy, the message of Fatima, and the peace for the world sought by the Popes. This relationship has gradually unfolded through the steadily increasing approval shown by the Popes to Our Lady's message, culminating, as will be seen, in the important acts and new teaching on the message by Pope John Paul II, which have brought a clearer understanding of its relevance to the Church's apostolic mission on the verge of the third millennium.
Cardinal Ratzinger summarised the continuing papal approval of Fatima in an interview at Fatima, on 13 October 1996: "In the most solemn way possible, three Popes (Pius XII, Paul VI and John Paul II) have already recognised Fatima and were totally committed to this devotion., more and more we see how this message speaks ever more urgently to the men and women of today" (The Seers of Fatima, Oct-Dec 1996, pp. 6, 7).
Pius XII, who reigned from 2 March 1939 to 9 October 1958, features in the painting because he was the first Pope publicly to manifest the Church's approval of Our Lady's message; and in a certain sense one can say that his association with the apparitions spans the whole drama of Fatima across this century, extending forwards, on the one hand, to the present pontificate of John Paul II, and on the other, reaching back to commence with his personal, if indirect, relationship with the very first apparition of Our Lady.
For it is a remarkable fact that at the same moment Our Lady first appeared to the three little shepherds, on 13 May 1917, Mgr. Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII and "Pope of Fatima", as he was destined to become known, was being consecrated Bishop in the Sistine Chapel.
John Paul II
About forty years later, the crown that is so closely linked to Pope Pius XII was to receive a unique new 'jewel' as a memento of Pope John Paul II's extraordinary association with Our Lady of Fatima. On the 13th of each month from May to October, this crown is brought out and placed on the head of the celebrated statue in the Capelinha, which is then processed up to the outside altar for Mass, in a beautiful and moving ceremony commemorating the apparitions of Our Lady.
Anyone who is present in Fatima on one of these dates, standing in a position to look through the arms of the crown, will be able to see, attached to the underside of the orb, and with its tip pointing downwards, one of the bullets that were fired at Pope John Paul II outside St. Peter's Basilica, Rome, on 13 May 1981, feast day of Our Lady of Fatima and the precise anniversary of Our Lady's first apparition.
On several occasions, the Pope has publicly thanked Our Lady for having intervened to save his life at that moment of mortal danger when "I felt your helpful presence at my side", as he stated in his Act of Entrustment to the Mother of God at Fatima, on 13 May 1991. When, some time after the outrage, the Pope met his would-be-assassin in prison, Ali Agca was not afraid to ask him: "Why didn't you die? I know that my aim was true". "One hand fired the shot, another guided it", came John Paul II's memorable reply (cited in Fatima, Russia & Pope John Paul II, p. 9). And in a recent interview at Fatima, on 13 October 1996, Cardinal Ratzinger stated, "the fact that the Pope survived is really a miracle and the date on which it all happened is in itself significant" (The Seers of Fatima, Oct-Dec 1996, p. 7).
This event, surely unprecedented in the history of the papacy, led the Pope to a deeper involvement with Fatima. Meanwhile, primary sources reveal that the papacy has a closer and more significant association with the origins of Our Lady's apparitions than the providential consecration of the future Pius XII on 13 May 1917.