How Our Lady of Fatima kept Pope John Paul II going

During the late John Paul II years, one constant bit of subtext on the Vatican beat was the pope’s health and his physical capacity to lead. I used to joke that my definition of bliss would be never having to go on TV or radio again and start by saying, “Well, I’m not a doctor, but …”

As part of that chatter, anyone with even a remote connection to the Vatican was asked over and over again, “Will the pope resign?” Everyone had their own answer, but I was fairly confident John Paul would never go that route, and when pressed as to why, I would tell people I could explain it in one word.

That word was, “Fatima.”

St. John Paul II, let us remember, once dreamt of being a Discalced Carmelite priest; the story goes that the only reason he didn’t was because the Carmelite seminary in Czerna, Poland, at the time wasn’t accepting new novices due to the war.

The young Karol Wojtyla was enchanted by the works of St. John of the Cross, and would later write his doctoral thesis on the great Carmelite saint.

The fascination was part of a strong mystical streak in the Polish pontiff, which also showed up in his deep conviction it was no accident that Sister Faustina Kowalska and her message of divine mercy came along in Poland between the two world wars, arguably the least merciful chapter of that country’s long and painful history.

John Paul always saw the world, including the vicissitudes of his own life, as part of a vast cosmic drama, a struggle between good and evil, and was convinced that terrestrial explanations of the ups and downs he encountered never exhausted the possibilities.

All of which brings us to May 13, 1981, the date of the assassination attempt against John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square, which was also the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. Continue reading

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