Shooting of guns echoed between Bernini’s columns. It is 13 May, 1981. Two bullets reached John Paul II and one of them wounded him severely in the stomach. The man who had fired at the Pope was a Turkish terrorist, Mehmet Ali Agca, who was arrested while trying to run away. Wojtyla was transported to Gemelli Hospital, where he went through an over five-hour-long surgery. A few days later, on 18 May, the Pope forgave his aggressor and consecrated his sufferings to the Virgin Mary. This invocation becomes of great symbolic value straight away: 13 May is the same day when the first apparition of Our Lady of Fatima happened, in 1917. And it becomes even more significant if you consider that the terrorist was stopped at a stone’s throw from St. Peter’s by a nun called Lucia. Like the last shepherdess who saw the Virgin Mary at the Cova de Iria.
“Totus Tuus” was his dictum. Wojtyla has always lived with faith and amazement the fact that he was a son of Mary. “When he prayed – says Father Jarek Cielecki, a Polish priest born in Niegowic parish where John Paul II was assistant pastor after ordination – his eyes seemed to look at something; his sight did not seem lost and vague as our eyes when we pray. Then I as told that if anything happened, he went before the altar or before Mary’s painting and talked… Just as if he was talking with a person in front of him.”
A prelate of the Curia, in an interview with journalists, said: “We know that Our Lady talks to the Pope even if he does not go around telling it… He only obeys Mary, doing only what she tells him to do.” Cardinal Deskur, friend and Seminary companion of the Polish Pontiff, went to Portugal and visited Sister Lucia of Fatima. At the end of their meeting, he asked her whether there was a message from the Virgin Mary for the Holy Father. Lucia replied: “No, no, Our Lady will take care about it Herself”.
Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul II’s secretary, wrote that when praying, the pope “gave the impression that he was talking with the Unseen.” “He talked” with Jesus and the Virgin. The close relationship with the Virgin Mary marked St. John Paul II’s entire pontificate, to the point that the bullet that had hit him in the abdomen was set in the crown of Our Lady of Fatima. There seems to be an invisible connection between Wojtyla and Bergoglio. Here are the words with which Pope Francis concluded his meditation on Mary, held in St. Peter’s Square in front of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima: “The journey of faith thus passes through the cross. Mary understood this from the beginning, when Herod sought to kill the newborn Jesus. Then, this experience of the cross became deeper when Jesus was rejected. Mary’s faith faced misunderstanding and contempt. When Jesus’ “hour” came, the hour of his passion, when Mary’s faith was a little flame burning in the night, a little light flickering in the darkness.”
The current Pope’s episcopal and Cardinal’s coat of arms has a reference to the Mother of God, just like Wojtyla’s: a star, symbol of the Mother of Christ and of the Church. Despite his devotion to the “South American” icons of the Virgin, Bergoglio finds the image that will characterize his cult of Mary in Augsburg, Germany: the Virgin Mary Untier of Knots. The painting represents Mary in the act of trampling the serpent’s head while her hands untie ribbon knots (which symbolize conjugal union) and two angels who hold the loose ends of the ribbon.
He decided to make this image known in Argentina and in 1996 he crowned a reproduction of it in the church of San José del Talar in Buenos Aires. Elected pope, Francis immediately entrusts the pontificate to Our Lady’s protection, to her “motherly gaze.” The day after his election, he went to the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore to offer a wreath to Salus Populi Romani, protector of Rome. Since that day, no journey or event take place without Francis’s greeting and prayer to the picture Our Lady (traditionally attributed to St. Luke) in the Pauline Chapel of the basilica.
Like John Paul II, Bergoglio feels a deep connection with the Virgin of Fatima, so much so that he consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of the Portuguese Virgin Mary. In April 2015, before the microphones of Vatican Radio, he said: “If God gives me life and health, I want to go to the Cova da Iria in two years”, when the entire country will be celebrating the centenary of the apparitions. Pope Francis would be the fourth pope to visit the shrine, following Paul VI (in 1967), John Paul II (in 1982, 1991, and in 2000) and Benedict XVI (in 2010).
In his sermons and speeches, Francis has repeatedly pointed out that Mary is the mother of all Christians, and they cannot do without her. Listening to those who say they do not need Our Lady, he commented: “Poor orphans…” In another sermon, he said the following words: “How is my relationship with these two mothers that I have? With the mother Church and mother Mary. This is not a thought of ‘mercy’, no, it is pure theology.”