Vatican ends 60-year mystery

Third Secret of Fatima revealed in ceremony at Portuguese shrine


FATIMA, Portugal - The Vatican disclosed yesterday the so-called Third Secret of Fatima - which for decades has kept this shrine of the Virgin Mary at the center of conspiracy theories and doomsday cults - describing the secret as a vision of the 1981 assassination attempt on the pope.

Believers say that an apparition of the Virgin of Fatima appeared before three Portuguese shepherd children on several occasions in 1917. Two of the children later died, but the third one - the only surviving witness to the apparition - put into writing in the 1940s three "secrets" foretold by the apparition of the Virgin.

The first "secret" predicted the end of World War I and the start of World War II; the second described the rise and then fall of communism and the conversion of Russia. The third, according to legend, was delivered to the Vatican in a sealed envelope in 1943 and has been kept secret by all the popes who have seen it.

Yesterday, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state, explained that the so-called "third secret" was a vision of an attempt to kill a pope."

The `bishop clothed in white' makes his way with great effort toward the cross amid the corpses of those who were martyred," Sodano told 600,000 pilgrims gathered at the sanctuary where John Paul II had beatified two of the shepherd children, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, and thanked the Virgin for saving his life during an assassination attempt on May 13, 1981.

"He too falls to the ground, apparently dead, under a burst of gunfire," the cardinal said, describing the vision.

The cardinal said the secret in its entirety would soon be published by the Vatican "after the preparation of an appropriate commentary."

Before yesterday's ceremony, the pope, who turns 80 on Thursday, met privately inside the basilica near the children's tombs with Lucia de Santos, the only surviving witness to the apparition, who is now 93 and a Carmelite nun.

The Virgin of Fatima was said to have appeared and made prophecies before de Santos and two of her cousins on May 13, 1917, and on five later occasions. Lucia was 10. Her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, who were 8 and 7 at the time of the first apparition, died of influenza a few years later.

The pope referred to the prophecies yesterday, but he made no mention of the "third secret." Instead, he gave thanks "for the goodness of God towards me, when severely struck on that May 13, 1981, I was rescued from death."

That the pope put the two dead witnesses to the Virgin's apparitions on the path of sainthood yesterday was another sign of his devotion to the cult of Fatima. Francisco and Jacinta Marto are the first children beatified by the Roman Catholic Church who were not martyrs.

Beatification is the penultimate step before sainthood."On this solemn occasion of his visit to Fatima, His Holiness has directed me to make an announcement to you," Sodano said, adding that the pope "wishes his pilgrimage to be a renewed gesture of gratitude to Our Lady for her protection during these years of his papacy. This protection seems also to be linked to the so-called third part of the secret of Fatima."

Yesterday's announcement was an effort by the Vatican to put an end to the fevered speculation that has at times overshadowed the shrine's spiritual importance to hundreds of millions of Catholics. Versions of the secret, broadcast on hundreds of Web sites (usually under such headlines as "Third Secret Revealed!") range from worldwide nuclear annihilation to deep rifts within the Roman Catholic Church that lead to rival papacies.

Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who shot the pope in St. Peter's Square in 1981, told prosecutors at his trial in 1985 that his attempt was "connected to the third secret of the Madonna of Fatima."

John Paul has always credited the Virgin of Fatima with saving his life in 1981, when the assassination attempt fell on her feast day, May 13. After he first visited the shrine in 1982 to give thanks for his survival, a bullet extracted from his body was placed alongside diamonds in a gold crown worn by a statue of the Virgin. In 1991, on the 10th anniversary of the assassination attempt, he returned again to give thanks for his life as well as the recent collapse of communism.

Fatima fanatics have held hunger strikes - one even hijacked a plane - to try to force the Vatican to disclose the secret. .

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.