Pope John Paul II’s devotion to Holy Mary cannot be understood without reference to his beloved Poland, a country distinguished by its intensely fervent Marian fervor. In his book, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope”, the Pope recounts the growth of his Marian devotion: from the devotion to Mother of Perpetual Help in his parish church in Wadowice, to his pilgrimages to the shrine of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska and ultimately to the Black Madonna icon in Czestochowa. In another book, “Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way”, the Pope proudly writes of how the Black Madonna’s shrine in Poland is a “bastion of faith, spirit, and culture” for all Poles.
In May 1941, amid the pipes and boilers of a chemical plant where he worked Karol would often read the book “The Treatise on Perfect Devotion to the Most Holy Virgin Mary” by St. Louis Grignion de Montfort. Of how his devotion to Mary grew in maturity, the Holy Father writes in “Crossing the Threshold of Hope”:
At first it had seemed to me that I should distance myself a bit from the Marian devotion of my childhood, in order to focus more on Christ. Thanks to St. Louis of Montfort, I came to understand that true devotion to the Mother of God is actually Christocentric, indeed, it is very profoundly rooted in the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity, and the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption.
It is St. Louis de Montfort that the young Wojtyla got his motto lovingly addressed to the Madonna, “Totus Tuus” (Totally Yours).
In autumn of 1942, Karol became a seminarian. By 1967, he was made a Cardinal.
In another part of Europe, in Fatima, Portugal, the Blessed Mother appeared to three Children in May 1917. She prophesied the errors Russia would spread through Communism. Indeed, during the second half of the twentieth century, it could be said that at least half of the world fell to the iron grip of atheistic Communism.
On Oct. 16, 1978, aware of the spread of Communism, the College of Cardinals chose the Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, as the next Pontiff. Of the new Pope, Our Lady said to Fr. Stefano Gobbi, founder of the Marian Movement of Priest: “…I obtained from God for the Church the pope who had been prepared and formed by me…He is my Pope.”
And indeed, aware of his role in Our Lady’s battle plan, Pope John Paul II portrayed Mary with an “M” in the Papal Coat of Arms, the first Pope in the Church’s history to do so.
On May 13, 1981, 64th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish terrorist, shot the Pope from a distance of less than twenty feet. In great pain, the Holy Father kept repeating, “Mary, my Mother! Mary, my Mother!” Exactly one year after, the Pope made a pilgrimage to Fatima to Publicly thank Our Lady for miraculously saving his life. To the Pope who believed that “in the designs of Providence, there are no more coincidences”, the assassination attempt was a heavenly reminder of the urgency of the Fatima message.
Consequently, on March 25, 1948, the Holy Father in union with all the bishops made a collegial consecration of the world, which contained a veiled reference to Russia, as requested by Our Lady of Fatima. From 1989 to 1991, the Soviet communist empire started to disintegrate, first in the Pope’s beloved Poland. On May 13, 1991, the Pope made a second Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, Publicly thanking Mary for the liberation of east central Europe from Communism.
Wherever he went, the Pope always visited a shrine of Our Lady. For such an intellectual person, the Holy Father was never condescending when it came to folk piety bound with Mary. The Book “His Holiness” by Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi States: “The legendary traditions bound up with each Marian sanctuary were sources of pride and inspiration for the pontiff..for John Paul II, religious legends were faith turned into poetry.” In Brazil, he was delighted in the tale of fishermen who found a statue of Mary entangled in their nets!
Then in 2002, Pope John II declared a Year of the Rosary and gave to the world the Christ-centered Luminous Mysteries. This was hailed by many as one of his greatest achievements and a great event in the history of Marian devotion.
At his death, all the world, including non-Christians, acclaimed Pope John Paul II as a great man. Rev. Johann G. Roten, SM, Director of the International Marian Research Institute in Dayton, has a most beautiful tribute:
Every great man has in his life a unique source of inspiration, a spiritual center from which he draws his strength, and a constant point of reference from which he takes direction as well as corrections…Pope John Paul II’s person and life was fashioned and inspired by a life giving spring… It was plainly visible on his coat of arms as Pope, and held in the short and challenging motto, “Totus Tuus”… the abbreviated version of the Marian consecration according to de Montfort …She (Mary) was the star of this Pope, and he was pope for Mary.
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