This past week, the Church celebrated the highly charged Feast of Our Lady of Fatima. The holy day also marked the fortieth anniversary of the attempted assassination of Pope St. John Paul II. Although the events happened over six decades from each other, there has been a spirited effort to show a connection between the two.
Such an intersection, however, relies on an understanding of the Fatima messages and the pontificate of John Paul II.
Taken together, the attempted assassination and the Fatima messages show the power of truth and the need for good people to stand up and speak what is true, good, and beautiful.
The Fatima events happened in 1917. Mary appeared to three shepherd children in Fatima. In her messages, Our Lady called humanity back to God, prayer, and redemptive suffering. She specifically warned humanity about Communism and the abandonment of faith in the living God.
In the same year as the apparitions, two revolutions occurred in Russia which led to the loss of the ancient Christian faith in that country and to the rise of Soviet Communism. Russia’s Communist government was lethal. It is generally estimated to have killed over 20 million people.
As a philosophy, Communism is inherently atheistic and materialistic. It lacks a developed anthropology and sees the human person solely within its context as “worker” or someone who can “do” something. Human dignity is stripped of its depth in a feigned effort to serve the communal good and provide for public needs.
Such a godless and anti-human philosophy can justify any offense or violence against a person as something that is necessary for the sake of the greater good of the whole.
Amidst the threats of Communism, many believers found hope in Jesus Christ through Mary his Mother.
The Polish people were among such believers. The future John Paul II studied in a clandestine seminary in Krakow at the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Soviet occupation of Poland. The motto of this young seminarian said it all: Totus Tuus (meaning “All Yours,” implying a surrender to Jesus Christ through Mary).
From the Eastern Bloc, God brought forth this pope. He was able to do so because John Paul II was willing to speak truth, serve as an instrument of goodness, and to suffer for the sake of righteousness.
As we saw in the Blessed Virgin Mary, so we saw in John Paul II, the work of God relies on good people who are willing to do what is asked and to suffer for its sake.
As the Roman Pontiff, John Paul II encouraged labor efforts in his homeland, drew worldwide attention to the horrors of Soviet Union, and frequently denounced the attack on human dignity by Communism.
Almost three years into John Paul II’s pontificate, a trained assassin, at point-blank range, fired two rounds directly at the pope. One bullet ricocheted off his finger, while the other bullet entered his body but missed the main abdominal artery by the smallest possible fraction of an inch and then missed his spinal column and every major nerve cluster. Even by medical standards, it was a miracle.
As the assassination attempt shared her feast day, the providential reading of events shows us that Our Lady of Fatima protected a son-turned-pope of a homeland occupied and suffering under Communism, which she herself had denounced in her messages.
In having the bullet series explained to him, Pope John Paul II commented: “One hand shot, but another hand guided the bullet.”
By an intervention of the Mother of God, John Paul II survived the threat on his life and continued to fight Communism. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union began a process of disintegration.
No one could have ever imagined that the apparitions of 1917, and the hope they encouraged, would have been fulfilled by a pope from a land under Soviet occupation and by way of redemptive suffering.
As a reasonable faith could explain such a connection, is there any application of the messages of Fatima to our world today?
Yes, the Fatima messages certainly have an application for us today. As in 1917 and in 1981, so in 2021, the good work of the living God needs people who are willing to speak the truth to power, to labor for what is right and good, and who are willing to suffer (or be mocked) for the sake of righteousness.
God’s work cannot be accomplished without them. But will they stand up?
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby