In 1917, as the First World War was being fought across Europe and showing no signs of concluding peacefully, Pope Benedict XV turned in petition to the Blessed Virgin Mary, through Whom all graces are dispensed. The Pope urgently asked all of the Christian people to beg the Virgin Mary to obtain the peace of the world, and to solemnly entrust the task to Her alone.
He wished the world to “have recourse to the Heart of Jesus, throne of graces, and to this throne to have recourse through the intermediary of Mary”, and he ordered that the invocation ‘Queen of Peace, pray for us’ be permanently added to the Litany of Loreto. Then, confidently placing the peace of the world in Her hands, the Pope made another appeal:
To Mary, then, who is the Mother of Mercy and omnipotent by grace, let loving and devout appeal go up from every corner of the earth – from noble temples and tiniest chapels, from royal palaces and mansions of the rich as from the poorest hut – from blood-drenched plains and seas. Let it bear to Her the anguished cry of mothers and wives, the wailing of innocent little ones, the sighs of every generous heart: that Her most tender and benign solicitude may be moved and the peace we ask for be obtained for our agitated world.
The gracious Virgin responded quickly to the urgent pleas of the Pope: only eight days later She appeared at Fatima and gave to the Pope and humanity a plan for peace. However, this plan first required the obedience of the people and especially of Christ’s Vicar on earth, the Pope. God and the Blessed Virgin agreed to give the world peace, but since it was the Pope who asked to be shown the way to peace, his cooperation in the designs of Heaven became requisite.
Thus, from the beginning the Holy Father has had a specific role in the Message of Fatima: because of his insistence God sent His holy Mother to Fatima; and when the Pope fulfills God’s demands, the Blessed Virgin will bring peace to the world. Therefore, because their role in the Fatima Message is so primary, let us examine how the Popes have approved of and promoted Fatima.
Firstly, Pope Benedict XV re-established the ancient diocese of Leiria on January 17, 1918, and in an April 29, 1918 letter to the Portuguese bishops, he referred to the occurrences at Fatima as “an extraordinary aid from the Mother of God.” In 1929, at an audience of the Portuguese Seminary in Rome, Pope Benedict’s successor, Pius XI, personally offered each seminarian two pictures of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima. Pope Pius also wished to read all the results of the Canonical Process of Fatima so that he would be personally acquainted with Our Lady’s apparitions.
On October 1, 1930 the Sacred Penitentiary under Pius XI granted a partial indulgence to those who individually visited the Shrine and prayed for the intentions of the Holy Father, and a plenary indulgence once a month to those who went there in a group. These indulgences granted in Rome came just in time to prepare minds to receive with entire confidence the soon-to-be-announced Episcopal approval, which the Holy See had thus discreetly supported.
With the knowledge and consent of Pope Pius XI, on October 13, 1930 Bishop da Silva of Leiria (the diocese in which Fatima is contained) announced the results of the official inquiry of Fatima in a pastoral letter on the apparitions. This official approval contained these important paragraphs:
In virtue of considerations made known, and others which for reason of brevity we omit; humbly invoking the Divine Spirit and placing ourselves under the protection of the most Holy Virgin, and after hearing the opinions of our Rev. Advisors in this diocese, we hereby:
- Declare worthy of belief, the visions of the shepherd children in the Cova da Iria, parish of Fatima, in this diocese, from the 13th May to 13th October, 1917.
- Permit officially the cult of Our Lady of Fatima.
Pope Pius XII, whose Episcopal consecration took place on May 13, 1917, the date of Our Lady’s first apparition at Fatima, did many things to help encourage devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. He was known as “the Pope of Fatima”. He said, “The time for doubting Fatima has passed, the time for action is now.” When the Pilgrim Virgin statue was touring Italy, and miracles were being worked wherever it went, Pius XII stated in amazement: “We can hardly believe our eyes.”
In 1940, Pope Pius XII spoke of Fatima for the first time in an official Papal text, his encyclical Saeculo exeunte, which was written to encourage the Church in Portugal to further its foreign missionary activity. In the text he stated: “Let the faithful not forget, especially when they recite the Rosary, so recommended by the Blessed Virgin Mary of Fatima, to ask the Virgin Mother of God to obtain missionary vocations, with abundant fruits for the greatest possible number of souls.…”
He then concluded the encyclical with, “Without any doubt God in His goodness will pour out His abundant blessings on these generous enterprises and on the most noble Portuguese nation. The Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of the Rosary venerated at Fatima, the Holy Mother of God who brought victory at Lepanto, will assist you with Her most powerful assistance.…” Also in 1940, the Holy Father granted the new diocese of Nampula, in Mozambique, Our Lady of Fatima as its Patroness.
In October of 1942, in response to a message given to him by Sister Lucy in 1940, Pope Pius XII consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with a special mention of Russia. In early 1943, Sister Lucy explained that the Lord told her that He would accept this Act of Consecration to help speed the end of the World War II, but that it will not obtain worldwide peace. As predicted, this act obtained the end of the war, but did not usher in the reign of peace Our Lady promised, as it was not a consecration of specifically Russia, and the world’s bishops did not participate in it.
On May 4, 1944, the Holy See instituted the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In 1946 His Eminence Cardinal Masella, acting as the personal Legate of the Holy Father, crowned Our Lady of Fatima, “Queen of the World.” The entire Portuguese episcopate and over 600,000 pilgrims gathered at Fatima for the event.
In 1950 Pope Pius XII even said to the Master General of the Dominicans: “Tell your religious that the Pope’s thinking is contained in the Message of Fatima.”
On October 13, 1951 the Pope’s Legate, Cardinal Tedeschini, was sent to Fatima for the closing of the Holy Year. He told the crowd that Pope Pius XII had himself seen, repeated in Rome, the Miracle of the Sun that had occurred at the last Fatima apparition. It is clear that the Holy Father chose Fatima for this major event, to bring attention to the Message of Our Lady of Fatima. The Holy Father had, in fact, been graced to see the Miracle of the Sun on four separate occasions the previous year: October 30 and 31, November 1 (the day Pius XII solemnly defined the dogma of the Assumption), and November 8 (the octave of the same solemnity).
On July 7, 1952 Pope Pius XII, in response to the petitions of the Russian Catholics, consecrated Russia and her people to the Immaculate Heart. Unfortunately, the petitioners were unaware that the Holy Father had to do the Consecration in union with the bishops of the world. Thus, Pius XII did the Consecration in a private ceremony, without inviting the world’s bishops to join him, as Our Lady requested.
On October 11, 1954 His Holiness issued an encyclical on the Queenship of Mary, and in it he referred to Her miraculous image at Fatima. Two years later the Church that stands on the apparition site at Fatima was elevated to the rank of Basilica.
In 1964, during the Second Vatican Council, at the solemn closing ceremonies at the end of the third session, before all the Catholic bishops of the world, Pope Paul VI renewed Pius XII’s consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He also announced that a special envoy was to be sent to Fatima. In the Pope’s name the Papal Legate would carry, as a symbolic gift, a Golden Rose to the Fatima Shrine. The inscription on it would say that Pope Paul was entrusting the entire Church to the care of Our Lady of Fatima. Then, in fact, on May 13, 1965, through his Papal Legate, as he had announced at the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul presented the Golden Rose at Fatima, commending the whole Church to Our Lady of Fatima’s care.
On May 13, 1967, on the fiftieth anniversary of the first Fatima apparition, the Holy Father went on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. He wrote an encyclical on the occasion of his pilgrimage. While there, he also blessed seventy National Pilgrim Virgin statues, to travel continually so that many nations would remember and practice the Message of Fatima.
Before his election to the Papacy, Pope John Paul I exhibited a particular devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, and as Cardinal Patriarch of Venice he led a pilgrimage there. It was during this trip that he met with Sister Lucy, and was very struck by the meeting.
Pope John Paul II has many times exhibited his approval of Fatima. He has visited Fatima three times – in 1982, 1991 and 2000. During his 2000 visit he beatified the two deceased seers, Jacinta and Francisco. He has also made the Feast day of Our Lady of Fatima universal by ordering it to be included in the Roman Missal.
During his homily at Mass in Fatima on May 13, 1982, Pope John Paul II said, “The appeal of the Lady of the Message of Fatima is so deeply rooted in the Gospel and the whole of Tradition that the Church feels that the Message imposes a commitment on Her.” He also said, “The Message is addressed to every human being.… Because of the continuing increase of sin and the dangers, such as nuclear war, now threatening humanity, the Message of Fatima is more urgent and relevant in our time than it was when Our Lady appeared 65 years ago.”
He also stated, “Today John Paul II, successor of St. Peter, presents himself before the Mother of the Son of God in Her shrine at Fatima. In what way does he come? He presents himself reading again with trepidation the motherly call to penance, to conversion, the ardent appeal of the Heart of Mary that resounded at Fatima 65 years ago. Yes he reads it again with trepidation in his heart because he sees how many people and societies – how many Christians – have gone in the opposite direction to the one indicated in the Message of Fatima. Sin has thus made itself firmly at home in the world, and denial of God has become widespread in the ideologies, ideas and plans of human beings.”
Thus, from the above examples, we can see that in addition to its official approval in 1930, the Popes have approved of Fatima in many decisive ways.