Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published in 2017.
In 1982, the Marian shrine that St. John Paul II wanted to visit was the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, the Queen of Poland. Instead, he went to Fatima.
Being saved from death linked him more with Fatima than his Polish birth linked him with Czestochowa. In 1982, the shrine of the Black Madonna was marking its 600th anniversary. St. John Paul II dearly wanted to be present, but his 1979 visit to Poland for the 900th anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Stanislaus had so destabilized the communist regime that they would not permit the Holy Father to visit for an even more significant anniversary. (The visit would eventually be permitted in 1983.)
Growing up in Poland, Karol Wojtyla was aware of the Fatima apparitions and knew about their anti-communist dimension, as Our Lady spoke about the “conversion of Russia.” Yet it did not figure prominently in his piety.
“The Holy Father wasn’t especially interested in these apparitions until the assassination attempt on his life in 1981,” his longtime personal secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, told the Register. “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.”
St. John Paul II visited Fatima three times — on the first anniversary of the assassination attempt, May 13, 1982; on the 10th anniversary, May 13, 1991; and finally during the Great Jubilee of 2000, when he beatified the child visionaries, Jacinta and Francisco, on May 13. (They will be canonized by Pope Francis this May 13 in Fatima.)
The final Fatima visit was most significant for John Paul. During the Great Jubilee, to accommodate all the special events in Rome, the Holy Father did not schedule any foreign trips, save for a great biblical pilgrimage, first to Egypt and then to the Holy Land. The only other trip was to Fatima, an indication that what happened there was decisive for understanding the history of our time.
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