On May 13, 1981, Pope St. John Paul II entered St. Peter’s Square for his weekly General Audience with pilgrims from around the world. The Holy Father entered the piazza in an open jeep, which traveled through the pilgrim crowd.
Families held children in the air for the pope’s blessing. As he reached into the crowd to bless children and shake hands, four shots rang out. The Holy Father froze in shock. Then he slumped over in his seat, as the world realized he’d been shot.
In fact, Pope John Paul II had been shot four times: twice in his abdomen, once in his right arm, and once on his index finger. He was rushed to Gemelli hospital in the center of Rome and underwent emergency surgery. His life was in grave danger but, by God’s grace, it was spared.
May 13 is the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. And Pope St. John Paul attributed the sparing of his life on that fateful day to her intercession. Shortly after being shot, he wrote that “... it was a mother’s hand that guided the bullet’s path and in his throes the Pope halted at the threshold of death.”
The Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Fatima, interceded for the life of Pope St. John Paul II. And by God’s grace, her intercession was critical in sparing his life. In fact, Pope St. John Paul II believed that his near-assassination was the fulfillment of a prophecy given by Our Lady of Fatima, that because of the secular powers of the world, “the good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated.”
In two years’ time, on May 13, 2017, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima, Portugal, to the three young children, Lucia, Jacinta, and Francesco. The two youngest of three died soon after the apparition and both have been beatified. Lucia died in 2005 at the age of 97, one month before the death of Pope St. John Paul II. Nearly 100 years later, the message of Our Lady at Fatima is more relevant than ever in our own day, the call to conversion through penance and prayer.
Through the Blessed Virgin’s intercession, Pope St. John Paul’s life was spared. Through her intercession, the Holy Father forgave the man who shot him four times. Through her intercession, that moment of terror became a moment of grace and deeper conversion, in the life of Pope St. John Paul II, and in the lives of Catholics around the globe.
The Blessed Virgin Mary is a powerful intercessor. She is the Theotokos—the mother of God. And at the cross, Christ gave her to the Church as our own mother—to pray for us, to comfort us, to form us, and give us an example of holiness, wisdom, serenity, and obedience.
Pope St. John Paul II chose as his apostolic motto “Totus tuus,” – totally yours. The motto is drawn from St. Louis Marie de Montfort, who prayed that he would “belong entirely” to the Blessed Virgin—because becoming a son of the Blessed Virgin Mary would strengthen him as a disciple of Jesus Christ. The Blessed Mother, the first Christian disciple of Jesus, was wholly and entirely obedient to the will of God. The more we follow after the Blessed Virgin Mary, and pray to her, and consecrate our lives to her, the more concretely we will become obedient to God’s will in our own lives.
“Never be afraid,” wrote St. Maximilian Kolbe “of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.”
This Sunday, we will celebrate Mother’s Day. We’ll remember the profound love, and sacrifice, of our earthly mothers. May mothers everywhere imitate the powerful love of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And may we remember, as we thank our earthly mothers, to thank the Mother of God for the great blessing of her powerful and loving presence in our lives.
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us…