A quarter-century after the attack, journalist and writer Renzo Allegri reconstructed the event in a book entitled "Il Papa di Fatima" (The Fatima Pope), published in Italian by Mondadori.
In this interview with ZENIT, Allegri explains the connection between John Paul II and Fatima. Part 2 of this interview will appear Monday.
Q: Why is John Paul II the Fatima Pope?
Allegri: First of all, because he himself recognized himself in that "bishop dressed in white" that the three children, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, "saw" during the July 17, 1917, apparition, when the Lady confided in them the so-called secret of Fatima.
And also because, after becoming aware of that mysterious event, Pope John Paul II lived determined to comply with the petitions and desires contained in the Fatima messages.
He gave himself to this mission with all his being, offering himself as victim for the salvation of the world, promoting a worldwide "crusade" of prayer, especially among young people, and obtaining the historic results that all know: the fall of Communism in Eastern countries, the return of religious freedom in those countries and, perhaps, he also contributed to avoid a tremendous nuclear conflict that, according to historians, was visible on the horizon.
The relationship between Fatima and Pope John Paul II is, in my opinion, very great and still remains to be discovered.
Q: In your book you state that, although Karol Wojtyla was still little known, Padre Pio had already realized that he would become a very important man. You know Padre Pio's life well; could you explain what the saint of Pietrelcina was referring to?
Allegri: In the biographies of saints, it often happens that they have strong and precise "channels" of communication, which escape the control of rationality. This phenomenon was also verified between Padre Pio and Karol Wojtyla, and there are two concrete episodes, related in themselves, that demonstrate it.
In 1948, the young priest Karol Wojtyla, a student in Rome, had heard talk of Padre Pio and wanted to meet him. He traveled to San Giovanni Rotondo during Easter vacation and stayed a week.
It was never known what they spoke about. It seems that the saint of Pietrelcina "saw" him dressed as Pope -- and with blood stains on his white cassock. Of this prophecy, spread rapidly after Wojtyla's election as Pope, there was never confirmation.
However, undeniable is the fact that that meeting marked Wojtyla profoundly, arousing in him a great veneration for Padre Pio.
In 1962, Wojtyla returned to Italy as a bishop to participate in the Second Vatican Council. In Rome, he received dramatic news that a collaborator of his, Wanda Poltawska, a doctor and psychiatrist, had a serious tumor.
The doctors decided to attempt an operation, but the hope of saving her was almost nothing. Wojtyla wrote a letter immediately to Padre Pio asking for his prayers for Poltawska. Padre Pio, in those years, was subjected to very serious accusations.
The Holy See decreed serious disciplinary restrictions against him, prohibiting priests and religious from contacting him. Wojtyla was certainly informed about this situation, but he paid no attention because, for reasons unknown to us, he had "knowledge" of Padre Pio.
He sent the letter urgently by hand to Padre Pio through Angelo Battisti, an employee of the Secretariat of State and collaborator of Padre Pio. Battisti told me the story, handing me a copy of that letter, which Padre Pio asked that he read to him and, at the end, after a moment of silence, said: "Angiolino, one cannot say no to this."
Knowing that every word of Padre Pio had a mysterious and concrete repercussion in reality, Battisti was very surprised by that phrase. "Who might this Wojtyla be?" he wondered. He asked for information but in the Vatican no one knew him, except the Poles for whom he was only a young bishop.
Eleven days later, Battisti was asked to take another letter of Wojtyla to Padre Pio.
And in this letter the Polish bishop thanked Padre Pio because Poltawska "had been suddenly cured before entering the operating room." These are the certain facts we know and that demonstrate that Padre Pio, as on many other occasions, "intuited" God's plans on Wojtyla with disconcerting precision.
Q: How does the third part of the secret of Fatima enter in Pope John Paul II's history?
Allegri: In a mysterious way, as always happens with events of the Spirit. In theory, Pope John Paul II formed part of that "secret" since he was born. The mission was entrusted to him before being born and the history of his existence developed freely attuned to the designs of providence.
But, in fact, perhaps, he became aware of his mission only after the 1981 attack. We do not have scientific proofs, explicit documents that demonstrate the relationship between Wojtyla and the secret of Fatima -- only the conviction of the Pope himself that, after the attack, reflecting on what happened and reading Sister Lucia's text on the third part of the famous secret, recognized himself in that account.
Sister Lucia wrote that, during the apparition of July 13, 1917, she, Francisco and Jacinta had seen a bishop dressed in white who, half trembling, with halting step, afflicted by pain and sorrow, crossed, together with other bishops, priests, men and women religious, a great city in ruins, praying for the souls of the dead that he found on the way and [he] climbed up a steep mountain, on whose summit was a cross at whose foot he was killed.
In the light of what happened, Wojtyla was convinced that the vision had the characteristics of an authentic prophecy. And, with the passing of time, his conviction was strengthened until it became a certainty.
It is licit to think that he had, from Sister Lucia, other information and clarifications that we do not know. In the year 2000, nineteen years after the attack, Pope John Paul II was so sure of his conviction that he wished to make it known to the whole world.
That became a reality in Fatima, at the end of the ceremony of beatification of Francisco and Jacinta, through an address of Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, before more than 1 million pilgrims, and countless millions of faithful connected live on television.
Also Wojtyla's determination to make his conviction public is an argument full of significance.