Stories Surrounding the Miracle of Fatima Are Worth Retelling
As a child, my spirituality centered around one thing: Our Lady of Fatima. My paternal grandmother was the spiritual compass of the whole extended family, and she had a deep devotion to Our Lady of Fatima and the purported apparitions three shepherd children had of the Virgin Mary in Portugal 102 years ago this month.
On the 13th of each month, from May to October, Mary appeared to the children, with the final apparition coinciding with the miracle of the “dancing of the sun,” where 60,000-plus people braved a monsoon-like downpour to witness an event that Mary said would be a sign of her presence.
Even the communist newspapers in Portugal at the time tried to describe the unexplained event of the sun’s gyrations that immediately dried the mud-filled field the people were standing in. The church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima on May 13.
By now there is a very well-known and famous association between Our Lady of Fatima and St. John Paul the Great because of the assassination attempt on May 13, 1981.
St. John Paul credits Our Lady for saving his life. He famously said that one hand fired the gun while another hand directed the bullet. After he recovered from the nearly life-ending injury, he traveled to Fatima to give thanks to Our Lady and to donate the bullet that was taken from his body.
St. John Paul himself placed the bullet in the crown of the statue of Mary at the shrine.
A Lesser-Known Story
There is an equally compelling but practically unknown story associated with Fatima and John Paul II’s immediate predecessor, John Paul I.
In 2000, I traveled with my father to the small Italian city of Canale d’Agordo, near Belluno, to spend time with John Paul I’s family, whom I came to know through emails.
The pope’s niece, who was more like a daughter to him, told us of her very joy-filled uncle. Cardinal Luciani was a man of great happiness, who, even after being elected pope, was often called “the smiling pope” or “God’s ray of sunshine.” John Paul I’s niece, Pia Luciani, told my father and me about a time that her uncle’s happiness abruptly ended in early 1978.
The cardinal of Venice had traveled to Fatima in the early months of that year to make a pilgrimage, and when he returned, everything about his demeanor had changed, according to his niece; he was no longer happy, no longer joy-filled. Everything about her uncle’s personality was different, and he did not revert back to his normal self for months, not until August 26, when he was elected the 263rd pope.
Pia Luciani said that because of the short tenure of her uncle’s reign (33 days), she never had the opportunity to ask her uncle what had happened in Fatima, but she believes it is evident now. She has no doubt that Mary revealed to her uncle that he was to be elected pope, and likely she revealed to him that his reign would be brief. Once the election actually happened, he was restored to his regular joy-filled demeanor.
I must admit, hearing that story from the pope’s own niece sent a chill down my spine and strengthened my devotion to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Fatima.
Today the story of Fatima has a new freshness, since Mary had encouraged Catholics everywhere to pray the rosary daily for the conversion of sinners and the “conversion of Russia.” No doubt whole generations of the world’s Catholics heeded that request. I remember so vividly my grandmother telling us of the importance of praying the daily rosary so that Russia would not “spread its errors throughout the world.”
The new freshness of the message of Our Lady of Fatima comes in light of the new realities on the ground in the former Soviet Union, where it seems as though some of the old behavior has cropped up again. But the point of this article is to encourage readers to re-familiarize themselves with the inspiring story of Fatima—not only the miracles but also the heroic faith of three young children who, under the threat of death, stayed consistent with what they claimed to have experienced, and it changed the whole world in the 20th century.
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!
A Commentary on the Featured Image
With Father Richard Kunst & Father Ryan Moravitz
One of the many things we see in many of our popes, and in a particular way in Saint John Paul II, is their human frailty. These men struggle with the same kinds of frailties we all struggle with, and one of the most noted frailties that John Paul II experienced was Parkinson’s disease, at least some form of it. And we remember these images of him shaking quite a bit, especially as he got older. Because of that, what he would do as he got older and more advanced in age and less capable of actually signing his name is that he reached the point where he just started to initial his name, “JP II.”
This item is an example of that. The photograph of him is when he was quite a bit younger, but the signature, “JP II,” indicates that it certainly was signed much later in his pontificate, not long before his death. We can see that there’s a raised stamp to indicate it was signed by him.
I think of him being canonized, and a big part of his holiness was his modeling for us the journey towards sainthood: it was his ability to suffer. He suffered greatly in his final years. We saw that very tangibly in the suffering he was going through physically, and certainly he was uniting it to the Lord.
I remember the last day he came to the window. I (Father Moravitz) was there in the square as a seminarian in Rome, and he couldn’t speak, and he was shaking you could see, and we all stood in the square cheering him on. I remember thinking to myself, “Holy Father, you don’t need to say anything. You say everything with your life by showing us the beauty and the dignity of human life in the midst of great suffering up to those final moments of journey to the Lord, to the Father’s house.
I think of this small signature that happened later in his life, and I am reminded what a great model and great example he gave to us.
I (Father Kunst) do like the idea of what you’re saying– that he showed us the value of the elderly. I had a non-Catholic friend of mine say to me while John Paul was still alive, “Well, how can he lead when he’s so incapacitated?” And I said to him exactly what you’re saying, “In his leadership, what he is doing is showing us the value of the elderly and the dignity of human life.”
That is so important these days—to recognize the dignity and the worth of human life and that everyone still contributes to the life of the Church, to the lives of others, even in the midst of great suffering and illness. So those that are suffering might turn to John Paul II for his prayer and his example to know how to journey with the Lord in the midst of those final days of life. And through that suffering, to offer it up. We certainly saw that in an incredibly graceful way in Saint John Paul the Great: uniting that suffering to the heart of Christ.