In Thanksgiving to Saint John Paul II and Our Lady of Fatima

The original statue of Our Lady of Fatima is seen before Pope Francis celebrates Mass in honor of Mary in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Oct. 13. The pope entrusted the world to Mary at the end of the Mass. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (Oct. 14, 2013)

On April 27, I was honored to concelebrate the Mass during which Pope Francis canonized Saint John Paul II. During his pontificate of almost 27 years, that new saint went to the world, traveling to 129 countries to proclaim the Good News of Jesus. Now, the world came to Saint John Paul, with millions of pilgrims in Rome to venerate him and our new Saint John XXIII, two holy popes who did so much to bring Christ to our modern world.

I would like to invite our community here to join me in one of two Masses of Thanksgiving for the canonization of these two saints on Saturday, May 10, at 5:30 p.m. at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle, or on Sunday, May 11, at noon at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. After the Mass at the basilica, there will be a procession to the newly proclaimed Saint John Paul II National Shrine.

It seems so fitting that we will venerate our new Saint John Paul II so close to the May 13 feast of Our Lady of Fatima, to whom he had a special devotion. On this day in 1981, the anniversary of the day in 1917 when three shepherd children first saw an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal, he was shot four times in a crowded Saint Peter’s Square.

Despite suffering severe blood loss, the pope survived the assassination attempt. He later visited the gunman, Mehmet Ali Agca, in prison to personally forgive him. Attributing his survival to the Blessed Mother’s protection, one year after the attack he made a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal to offer thanks. On the 10th anniversary of the attack, the pope placed one of the bullet fragments removed from his body onto the crown of the statue of Our Lady at her famous shrine.

The shepherd children said our Blessed Mother encouraged personal conversion, the recitation of the rosary, reception of Communion on first Saturdays, devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the consecration of Russia’s people to her. People’s enduring devotion to Our Lady of Fatima was seen in our own archdiocese recently, as people flocked to local churches for visits of the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima.

On May 13, 2000, Pope John Paul II beatified two of the Fatima visionaries – Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta Marto, who died as children of influenza, Francisco in 1919 and Jacinta in 1920. Their cousin and fellow visionary, Lucia dos Santos, became a Carmelite nun and died in 2005 at the age of 97, about six weeks before the death of Saint John Paul. During their lifetimes, the pope had met with Sister Lucia three times. After her death, he expressed thanks for her spiritual friendship, saying, “I always felt supported by the daily gift of her prayers, especially in difficult moments of trial and suffering.”

The Mary, Mother of the Church Chapel at our Saint John Paul II Seminary in Washington has a relic from the blood-stained cassock that the Holy Father wore on the day he was shot. That relic exemplifies his union with the sacrifice of Christ, whose self-giving love he reflected each day, and it reflects the bond that our future priests being trained at the seminary have with the holy pope who is their patron saint.

Pope John Paul II said he believed that Mary helped save his life so he could continue to serve the Church. Since his childhood, he had prayed daily to Mary, and he said the rosary was his favorite prayer. As pope, he chose the motto, “Totus Tuus,” the Latin phrase for “completely yours,” reflecting his devotion to Mary.

This week, as we honor our new Saint John Paul II, we offer thanks also to Mary, who leads us to her son Jesus. Let us echo the words of Saint John Paul, who on the 25th anniversary of his pontificate wrote, “I place everything into her hands, so that with the love of a mother, she will present it to her son.”

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