“Sorrow and gratitude” describe Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martin’s memory of May 13, 1981.
May 13 has always been a special day for the Portuguese cardinal. It’s the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, dear to him and many other Portuguese Catholics.
“Personally, I always celebrate it with a lot of affection,” the cardinal told CNA at his Rome apartment. He remembers it as “the day of the ‘White Madonna, more brilliant than the sun’.”
This was the description the “shepherd children” gave after the Virgin Mary appeared to them six times over a six-month period in 1917.
The 79-year-old Cardinal Saraiva Martins himself was personally close to Lucia dos Santos, the only one of the three to survive into adulthood.
For him, the day is an important one to remember his friend and to celebrate a special devotional Mass for Our Lady. This year, though, he was also thinking of another anniversary.
It is the 30th anniversary of the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II, a bittersweet moment for the cardinal.
“The day is certainly lived with great feelings of sorrow, but also gratitude to Our Lady of Fatima, who saved the life of John Paul II,” he recalled.
“(Pope John Paul II) was deeply convinced that he didn’t die that day thanks to the protection of Our Lady of Fatima.”
On May 13, 1981, the Pope was shot several times in St. Peter’s Square. Two bullets passed through his stomach, putting him in critical condition but ultimately missing all major organs.
“Our Lady of Fatima diverted the bullet that would have hit him in the heart and mortally wounded him,” said the cardinal.
Even John Paul II’s would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca asked himself for years afterward how the bullets could have missed the mark.
A secret revealed to the shepherd children by the Virgin presaged such an attack on a “bishop dressed in white.”
Recognizing himself in that description, exactly a year after the attack, the Pope went to Fatima to thank Our Lady for sparing him. He left a bullet there for her, where still today it adorns her silver crown.
The day of the anniversary inspires “unequaled emotions,” said the cardinal. “Feelings of sorrow but also of gratitude that the Madonna saved the Pope.”