“Immaculate Conception, Mary my Mother… Possess my soul, Take over my entire personality and life, replace it with Yourself.” (Totus Tuus Prayer, Pope John Paul II)As the story goes, so intimate was Pope John Paul II’s union with the Blessed Virgin Mary that when he was shot in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981 and lay back in the vehicle, he looked up searching for an image of Our Lady. He found none. As a result, Pope John Paul II had a mosaic of Mary, Mater Ecclesiae (Mother of the Church) placed in the plaza later that same year, inaugurating it on December 8, 1981. Below the colorful image of Mary holding the Christ child are the words Totus Tuus (“Totally Yours”), the Pope’s papal motto.
“John Paul II, convinced that the Virgin Mary had protected him on that day, immediately expressed the desire that an image of the Madonna be placed in the square,” explained Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Vatican Secretariat of State during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. It’s impossible to understand St. John Paul II without understanding his connection to Mary, the Mother of Christ. She is the key to comprehending the man, his life, and his papacy.
Karol Wojtyla’s entrustment to Mary occurred at a young age. Born May 18, 1920, the young Karol lost his mother Emilia just prior to his ninth birthday. The day after her funeral, Karol’s father, took him and his older brother to an outdoor shrine, telling them that the Blessed Virgin Mary would look after them until they could be reunited with their mother in Heaven.
In the intervening years, the young Karol took his first pilgrimage to Czestochowa, home of the Pauline Monastery of Jasna Góra and the painting of the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Czestochowa and a popular Polish shrine to the Virgin Mary.
In secondary school Karol served as president of the Sodality of Mary, and as a young teen, he frequently visited a secluded convent church to pray before an image of Our Lady. Clearly, Karol had taken Mary as his spiritual mother.
By the age of 20, Karol had lost everyone he loved — his grandparents, parents, and siblings. As a young adult, Karol became involved with Jan Tyranowski’s “Living Rosary” prayer group. Each member of the group was expected to pray a mystery of the Rosary daily. Through his relationship with Tyranowski, Karol deepened his relationship with the Blessed Mother and was introduced to the Carmelite spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.
“He was one of those unknown saints, hidden amid the others like a marvelous light at the bottom of life, at a depth where night usually reigns,” said Pope John Paul II of Tyranowski. “He disclosed to me the riches of his inner life, of his mystical life. In his words, in his spirituality and in the example of a life given to God alone, he represented a new world that I did not yet know.”
It was also at this time that Wojtyla was introduced to St. Louis de Montfort’s “True Devotion to Mary” and made his consecration to Jesus through Mary, describing it as a “decisive turning point” in his life. Not long after, under the Nazi occupation of Poland, Karol made his decision to enter the underground seminary and study for the priesthood.
“I was already convinced that Mary leads us to Christ, but at that time I began to realize also that Christ leads us to his Mother,” said Wojtyla. “One can even say that just as Christ on Calvary indicated his mother to the disciple John, so he points her out to anyone who strives to know and love him.”
Pope John Paul II admitted that he needed to reread de Montfort’s book several times to understand the idea that Marian consecration took nothing from devotion to Christ.
I found the answer to my perplexities due to the fear that the devotion to Mary, if excessive, might end by compromising the supremacy of the worship owed to Christ. Under the wise guidance of Saint Louis-Marie, I understood that, if one lives the mystery of Mary in Christ, such a risk does not exist.With his election as Pope in 1978, Pope John Paul II took Totus Tuus as his papal motto, placing his entire pontificate into her hands. Whenever he began a book, encyclical, or speech, he inscribed the motto on the top of the first page, dedicated his writing to Mary.
Exactly 64 years after Our Lady of Fatima’s appearance to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal, on May 13, 1981, shots rang out in St. Peter’s Square as an assassin attempted to kill Pope John Paul II. Riding in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, personal secretary Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz heard the Pope praying, “O Maria, Madonna! Maria, Madonna!” (“O Mary, my Mother”).
Pope John Paul II later said that “one hand fired the bullet; another guided it.” He attributed his salvation to Mary’s intercession, even visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima a year later and having the bullet placed in her crown.
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