The first allusion expressed by the Vatican to Fatima appeared on the 31st of October, 1942 by the voice of Pope Pius XII in a message broadcast over the radio. The long relationship of the Popes with Fatima has increased with time.
The Pope Francis announced his intention of visiting Fatima in 2017, year of the centenary of the apparitions. It is expected that a huge crowd will gather in the vast grounds of the sanctuary. The hotel industry in Cova da Iria is already sold out.
Long before being elected the supreme head of the Catholic Church in 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio hosted, for a few days, the image of the Pilgrim Virgin of Fatima in Buenos Aires, when he was an archbishop there. It was during the year of 1998. “Welcome home, Mother!”, exclaimed the future Pope Francis in a homonymous sanctuary with Fatima, inaugurated in 1957 in a poor district of the Argentine capital.
This close relationship between the Popes and Fatima comes from far.
The first allusion expressed by the Vatican to Fatima appeared on the 31st of October, 1942 by the voice of Pope Pius XII in a message broadcast over the radio.
Speaking in Portuguese, the Supreme Pontiff praised the “national pilgrimage” that took place that day, on the 13th of May, an “heroic journey of sacrifice that, through the cold and the rain and huge distances walked on foot, concentrated in Fatima, to pray, to give thanks, to alleviate, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims,” mentioning the representatives of the “generous Catholic Youth.”
The papal legate, Cardinal Benedetto Masella, presided, on the 13th of May, 1946 the coronation of the image of Our Lady of Fatima, in the Chapel of the Apparitions. It was one of the most solemn moments ever recorded in Cova da Iria.
Coincidentally, the episcopal ordination of Pius XII had occurred precisely on the 13th of May, 1917. The day of the first apparition of Fatima.
On the 13th of May, 1956, the annual pilgrimage to Fatima was chaired by the Patriarch of Venice, the Cardinal Angelo Roncalli. There was something foreboding in this visit: two years later, in October 1958, the Cardinal would be elected Pope with the name of John XXIII.
Recalling this visit that made such a strong impression on him, Cardinal Roncalli – canonised in 2013 by Pope Francis – would remember it with these words: “Oh Lady of Fatima, I thank you once again for inviting me to this feast of mercy and love.”
The first papal visit to Fatima takes place on the 13th of May, 1967, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the apparitions. Paul VI goes to Cova da Iria as a pilgrim, surrounded by an impressive crowd.
It is also on this occasion that the overwhelming majority of the Portuguese people can see, next to the head of the Catholic Church, Sister Lúcia de Jesus, the only survivor of the three shepherd children of Fatima. Living in enclosure in a Carmelite convent in Coimbra since 1948, Lúcia obtained a special permission for this fleeting return to her homeland. As it would happen in John Paul II’s visits.
“So great is our desire to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and, therefore, Mother of God and our Mother; so great is our confidence in Her kindness to the Holy Church and with our apostolic mission; so great is our need of Her intercession with Christ, Her divine Son, that we came, humble and trusting pilgrims, to this blessed sanctuary where today it’s celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the apparitions of Fatima.” Words from Paul VI during the homily in Portuguese in front of an impressive crowd, estimated at one million people. At the same time, Lisbon was practically depopulated.
JOHN PAUL I
Albino Luciani, the patriarch of Venice, the first Pope born in the twentieth century and also the first to choose two first names, led the Catholic Church for only 33 days, between the 26th of August and the 28th of September 1978, when he suddenly died.
John Paul I was known as the “Smiling Pope.” Because of his affable and smiling spirit. A year before he was elected Supreme Pontiff, Albino Luciani was keen on visiting Fatima for the first time. He went on pilgrimage to the sanctuary on the 10th of July, 1977, and participated in the Eucharistic celebration. The next day, he celebrated the Mass in the convent of the Carmelites of Coimbra, having taken the opportunity to talk with Sister Lúcia. The Marquise of Cadaval (1900-1996), born in Turin, also attended this meeting.
João Paulo II
The pilgrim Pope per excellence – and the one that showed the greater devotion to Fatima – was the Polish Karol Wojtyla, who the world knew as John Paul II.
On the 13th of May, 1981, nearly three years after being enthroned, John Paul II was the target of an assassination attempt in St. Peter’s Square: two close range shots from a Browning pistol fired by the Turkish Ali Agca left him on the brink of death.
A bullet destroyed part of his colon. The other missed the aorta by millimeters.
Wojtyla eventually recovered after an emergency surgery and a prolonged hospitalisation, never failing to associate his recovery to the intervention of the “invisible hand” of Our Lady of Fatima.
In such a way, that he decided to visit Cova da Iria a year later. On the 12th of Maym 1982 he landed in Lisbon and knelt immediately, kissing the Portuguese soil. “With an agility that is not expected from the man who was the victim of such a serious attack, he gets up without anyone’s help," wrote the newspaper Diário de Notícias.
“I’m fulfilling a dream,” said the Pope on his arrival.
It would be the first of three visits from John Paul II. On that first visit, he would be the target of an attempted attack by a former Spanish Integrism-priest named Juan Khron, but he escaped unscathed. He gave a double thanks to the Virgin Mary.
On the occasion, John Paul II offered to the sanctuary of Fatima the bullet that was millimetres away from killing him. In 1989, this bullet would be set in the crown of Our Lady of Fatima, where it is today.
Wojtyla returned to Fatima in May 1991, on the tenth anniversary of the attack in Rome, culminating in a journey that also led him to Lisbon, the Azores and Madeira. And again in May 2000, with his frail health, during the solemn ceremony of beatification of Jacinta and Francisco (Lúcia, then still alive, would only be beatified in 2008).
Lúcia and Wojtyla died less than two months apart. The seer died on the 13th of February, 2005 and the Pope on the 2nd of April. John Paul II was declared a saint in 2013 by Pope Francis.
Benedict XVI – successor of John Paul II – also made a pilgrimage to Cova da Iria. In May 2010.
“Here I am like a son who comes to visit the Mother,” said the German Pope in his prayer on the 12th of May in Fatima. Handing to the sanctuary the Golden Rose, brought from Rome. “As a token of gratitude of the Pope for the marvels that the Almighty has done for You in the heart of so many who go on a pilgrimage to your maternal home.”
Nine years before being elected Pope, as a prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had visited Fatima in the pilgrimage of the 13th of October, 1996.