John Paul II
Although in the years since Vatican II many liturgical practices associated with the Virgin Mary have become less popular, there are still many Catholics who have a deep love for her and devotion to her. During this past century, Marian shrines have become extremely popular. Some people believe that there is something of a Marian revival going on, both within and outside the Catholic Church.
One of most prominent figures from modern times who held a deep and unwavering devotion to the Virgin Mary was Pope John Paul II. His lifelong devotion to her may have been fueled by the loss of his own mother when he was only eight years old. His mother, whom he had once described as “the soul of the house,” adored him and had always felt that he would one day be a priest and a great man.
Pope John Paul II (whose birth name was Karol Wojtyla) always carried the memory of his mother with him, and even as an adult, when he traveled to faraway pilgrimage sites, he carried with him a photo of his mother holding him as a young child.
After his mother died, his father took him to one of Poland's famous Marian shrines, Kalwaria, near Wadowice, Poland. It was most likely on this pilgrimage that he was able to transform some of his grief into a deep love for the Virgin Mary.
A Tragic Childhood
Although Karol Wojtyla's father devoted himself to caring for his young son, their lives were marked with tragedy. When Karol Wojtyla was 12 years old, his only brother died of scarlet fever. When he was 20, his father died. Karol was deeply grieved that he had not been able to be present with his mother or father when they died. After his father died, he knelt by his body and prayed for 12 hours.
The phrase Totus Tuus originated with Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort in the eighteenth century. Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort advocated utter devotion (almost slavery) to Mary, which was intended to symbolize complete surrender to the will of God through Marian devotion.
All of these factors may have contributed to Karol's devotion to Mary. By the time he was 15 years old, he was leading a large society in his hometown which was dedicated to the Virgin. Later, when he was a young priest, he made a special place for Mary in his soul. When he became an archbishop he included a large M in his coat of arms, a symbol of Mary.
When Pope John Paul II was newly elected as pope, he made an unusual request for his papal coat of arms. He asked for a gold cross with a blue Marian background as well as a large M for Mary. Although he was told that this request was quite unusual he was ultimately allowed to wear this coat of arms.
The papal slogan he selected for his papacy, Totus Tuus or “My whole self is Yours,” also reflected his deep love for the Virgin Mary.
An Assassination Attempt
In 1981, when Pope John Paul II was riding in his Jeep through Saint Peter's Square to greet people, a Turkish man named Mehmet Ali Agca shot him. As he was rushed to the hospital, he cried out to the Virgin Mary to save his life. After his condition was stable, the pope made a television broadcast in which he thanked everyone for their prayers. He also attributed his survival directly to the intercessions of the Virgin Mary, taking note of the fact that the assassination attempt occurred on the anniversary of the apparitions at Fatima.
During his convalescence, he read through all of the documents associated with the apparitions at Fatima. After recovering from the assassination attempt, the pope went to the prison cell of Mehmet Ali Agca and offered him forgiveness.
A year later, John Paul II made a pilgrimage to Fatima to deposit the fragments of the bullet that nearly took his life into the crown of a statue of Our Lady of Fatima. While there, a priest lunged at him with a knife, but the priest was stopped before any harm was done.
The Pope of Many Pilgrimages
Pope John Paul II wrote beautifully about the Virgin Mary; his Book of Mary is a compilation of his many writings on Mary. One of the most beautiful quotes from the book comes from a section near the beginning. On October 6, 1976, he wrote:
“This woman of faith, Mary of Nazareth, the Mother of God, has been given to us as a model of our pilgrimage of faith. From Mary, we learn to surrender to God's will in all things. From Mary we learn to trust even when all hope seems gone. From Mary we learn to love Christ, her Son and the Son of God. For Mary is not only the Mother of God, she is the Mother of the Church as well.”
During Pope John Paul II's papacy, he made many journeys to Marian shrines. Whenever he was back in Poland, he visited the famous icon of the Virgin Mary located there, called Our Lady of Czestochowa. During his papacy, John Paul II was also responsible for creating an additional set of five mysteries, called the Mysteries of Light, which were added to the rosary.