The Pope and the Papacy: Questions and Answers

In the aftermath of Pope John Paul II's death, Beliefnet responds to readers' questions about the leader of the Catholic Church.

Continued from page 1

As Peter's successor, the pope is first among all the bishops in the universal church, and in the theology of the Western, that is, the Roman Catholic, Church, the pope has jurisdictional authority over the bishops as well. As the first of the bishops, the pope is the Vicar of Christ that is, he is Christ's representative on earth. Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit directly guides the election of every pope, and that the pope shares with the councils of bishops the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That is why Catholics believe that, when speaking officially on a narrow range of doctrinal issues, the pope is infallible.

Can you explain why the pope's ring is smashed after his death?

The pope's ring, called the "Ring of the Fisherman," is a symbol of his authority. At his death, the ring is smashed, and also his papal seal, which was used during his life to authenticate his documents as genuinely his own and not forgeries. The smashing of the ring and seal were crucial in the old days, when a pope's death could conceivably be concealed by his enemies and someone could get hold of the pope's ring and claim that the pope had given him the ring as a delegation of authority. Now, the smashing of ring and seal are mostly symbolic.

What are the criteria for papal candidates?

The formal requirements are in fact very few: The candidate must be male, because he must be capable of becoming bishop of Rome, which means he must be capable of being ordained a priest, and the Catholic priesthood is open only to men. Thus even a layman could be chosen pope, indeed, even an unbaptized layman willing to be baptized and ordained. In reality, however, most popes are chosen from the College of Cardinals, which usually means they are already bishops.

What is the process for selecting the new pope?

The cardinals meet behind closed doors in the Sistine Chapel. There, they are required to cast ballots for their choice of pope every day, morning and evening. The ballots, handwritten, go into a chalice on top of the altar. After they are counted, they are burned. A two-thirds majority is needed to elect a new pope, and if they don't reach that required majority, the ballots are mixed with a chemical that produces a black smoke on burning. The smoke informs the populace outside that deliberations will continue. When the two-thirds majority is finally reached, the ballots will be burnt without the chemical, producing a white smoke that tells the people, "Habemus papam"--"We have a pope!"

But even after he has been selected, the candidate must still accept the papacy. So the dean of the College of Cardinals must ask him, still behind closed doors, if he so accepts. Once he utters the Latin word, "Accepto," he chooses the new name that he will use as pope. Then he dons white garments (several sets are typically made beforehand in various sizes) and goes to the central window of St. Peter's Basilica to greet the crowd.

We have no idea how the cardinals deliberate in the conclave or how they narrow down their choices. Absolute secrecy is its watchword, to protect the integrity of the process from influence by outsiders.

The conclave is espected to begin from 15 to 20 days after John Paul II's death.

In retrospect, it appears that Pope John Paul II was too ill at the end of his life to conduct all the duties of the papacy. What is the history of illness among popes, and is there a requirement that they step aside if they are incapacitated?

After his death, the Vatican confirmed what many people already had concluded: Pope John Paul II suffered from Parkinson's disease. Advanced cases of Parkinson's can affect the mind, and its physical effects can eventually incapacitate its victims to the point that it is painful and exhausting for them to do much serious thinking, just as it is for any gravely ill person.

A few popes have resigned in the past, although not for reasons of illness: Celestine V (d. 1296), a saintly monk who reluctantly agreed to be pope because the Holy See had been vacant for more than two years and who resigned after five months; and Gregory XII (d. 1417) who abdicated two years before his death to end the Great Schism, in which rival popes elected in Rome and Avignon respectively each claimed to be the true pope.

Presumably John Paul II could have followed their precedent, although he seemed to have chosen to remain in his see until his death as a witness to the dignity of even suffering and disabled human beings.

Is the pope's body embalmed?

Embalming the pope's body is a longstanding tradition. However, according to some news reports, Pope John Paul II's body was not embalmed, but merely touched up with cosmetics for public viewing--if true, a distinct break with tradition. The Vatican announced that the pope's body was being "prepared," and the confusion in the press may stem from differences in mortuary terminology in English and Italian. The bodies of the three popes who preceded John Paul II--John XXIII (d. 1963), Paul VI (d. 1978), and John Paul I (1978)--were all embalmed, in a procedure that involves draining the blood and other bodily fluids and intravenously injecting a preservative liquid such as formaldehyde.

Until the early 20th century, not only were popes' bodies embalmed but their internal organs were removed and those of the saintly popes were venerated as relics. Pope Pius X, who reigned from 1903 to 1914, abolished this custom.

The Vatican has not given an explanation for the break with tradition with respect to John Paul II's body.

What book was placed on the pope's coffin?

It contained the four Gospels from the New Testament.

What readings were used at the pope's funeral Mass?

The scriptural readings from Pope John Paul II's funeral Mass were:

First reading: Acts of the Apostles 10:34-43 (Peter preaches that Jesus Christ has come to save all nations).

Second reading: Paul's Letter to the Philippians 3:20-24 (Just as Christ rose with a glorified body, so shall we all).

Did the hundreds of thousands of people at the pope's funeral mass all receive Communion?

There were some 300,000 people packed into St. Peter's Square for the funeral Mass, and it is likely that the majority of those people received Communion. Hundreds of priests from all over the world were asked to help to distribute Communion.

Given the enormous problems within the Roman Catholic Church, wouldn't the church do well to move into the 21st century by eliminating celibacy requirements?

Your question assumes, of course, that it was easier to remain celibate during, say, the twelfth century than it is now. Be that as it may, the Catholic Church's requirement of a celibate priesthood is a matter of discipline, not doctrine. Our sister churches among the Eastern Orthodox (and indeed the Eastern-rite branches of Catholicism) allow a married priesthood, although the priest must marry before he is ordained, and no married man may become a bishop. Married Anglican priests who enter the Church of Rome may keep their wives on re-ordination as Catholic priests. Yet even in the Eastern churches, celibacy for clerics is held in high esteem--because Christ himself never married and praised virginity.

The Western Church has a strong and ancient tradition, dating back to the Council of Elvira in the early fourth century, of celibacy as the norm for its priesthood. Pope Gregory VII (r. 1073-1085) made celibacy mandatory as part of his effort to wrest the church from lay control, and the Second Lateran Council of 1139 confirmed this rule of mandatory celibacy. The church remains free to change this mandate should circumstances warrant, although it is highly unlikely to do so in the near future. The practical problem of supporting not only priests but their families is a serious one. Furthermore, in a culture that embraces easy divorce, even for members of the clergy, not to mention other forms of nonmarital sex, easing the requirement of mandatory celibacy for priests at this time would probably create as many problems as it would solve.

Is it true that Pope John Paul had a son? If so, who is he? Who was his mother?

Although I've heard that young Karol Wojtyla, who was handsome and athletic, had a girlfriend, the Polish actress Halina Krolikiewicz, with whom he, a fellow actor, was very close friends before he entered the priesthood, I've never heard anything about a son. So I just can't verify this rumor.

What is the ranking order of the church hierarchy below the pope?

Below the pope come bishops, then priests. Bishops of large, major cities are known as archbishops, but they have no authority over other bishops or priests, except for the assistant bishops and priests in their own dioceses. Cardinals are usually bishops, but, like archbishops, they have no power over other bishops. They do have certain powers not available to ordinary bishops, such as electing the next pope.

How did the pope know he was passing on to go home to his Father?

He didn't know--because no one does. He simply had faith and hope that the Father would welcome him into heaven.

I know some Catholic women in the U.S., would like the ordination of women priests. Is this likely to happen?

The Catholic Church is highly unlikely to alter the rule banning women from priestly ordination.

How do I become a Catholic? I believe in Jesus, have been saved, and I was confirmed an Anglican.

I suggest contacting a Catholic priest. If you know a priest, he will undoubtedly be delighted to help you, but if even if you don't, just call a nearby Catholic parish office. As an Anglican, you don't have to be rebaptized in order to enter the Catholic Church, but you do have to undergo a formal rite of reception into the church. In most places, these rites take place at the Easter Vigil service. For literature about Catholicism, I suggest visiting a Catholic bookstore (the Daughters of St. Paul operate excellent stores, and so does Opus Dei). I recommend reading Marcellino D'Ambrosio's "Exploring the Catholic Church: An Introduction to Catholic Teaching and Practice."

Does the Catholic Church believe in the Holy Spirit? Did Pope John Paul II ever preach about the Holy Spirit?

Yes, the Catholic Church definitely believes in the Holy Spirit as co-equal with God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son. Catholics celebrate the feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, giving birth to the church. In 1986 John Paul II wrote an encylical, "Dominum et Vivificantem," celebrating the life of the Holy Spirit in the church.

Where is the pope buried and why there?

Many of Pope John Paul's fellow Poles would like for him to buried in his native Poland, but he died as the Bishop of Rome. It is traditional for popes to be buried in the crypt underneath the Basilica of St. Peter's in Rome, where the body of St. Peter, the first pope, is traditionally believed to have been buried.

How long have there been popes?

The pope is the bishop, or leader of the Catholic Christian community, of the city of Rome, in Italy. Catholics believe that the first bishop of Rome was Peter, Jesus' disciple, who came from the Holy Land to Rome after Jesus' death to preach the Gospel there and who was killed by the Roman authorities for his belief in Jesus. So there have been bishops of Rome since the time of Peter, the very beginning of the Christian church. They did not use the name "pope," however, until about 597 A.D. The name "pope" comes from "papa," the same pet name, like "daddy," that we use today to address our fathers. That's because the bishop was regarded as the loving father of all his people.

How many popes have there been?

Pope John Paul II was the 264th pope, counting from St. Peter.

What is a cardinal?

Cardinals are very high church officials who are named by the pope as a high honor. They are usually bishops of important cities, although they don't have to be bishops. There are now 163 cardinals, and when they meet, it is in a body called the College of Cardinals. In contrast to bishops and priests, who wear black robes, cardinals wear robes of bright red, including a broad-brimmed red hat. That's why the bright red bird is called the cardinal. The red symbolizes their willingness to become martyrs for Christ. One of the most important functions of the College of Cardinals is to choose the next pope when a pope dies, and that is why the cardinals will soon be meeting in Rome. Only cardinals under the age of 80 (there are 120 of those) may vote to elect the pope.

Why does everyone say the next pope can't be from the United States?

There are three possible reasons. First, Catholics form only a minority of the inhabitants of the United States, and popes are typically chosen from strongly Catholic countries. Second, the United States is such a strong political power in the world. Many cardinals would be reluctant to have both political and church power coming from one country. Third, none of the U.S. bishops seems as distinguished spiritually and intellectually as some of the European, Latin American, and African bishops who are being talked about as the likely next pope.

What is written on the pope's headdress?

The pope's miter--the technical name for his headdress, which is worn by all bishops, bears the Latin inscription "Vicarius Filii Dei"--"Vicar of the Son of God." Catholics believe that the pope is Christ's vicar, his living representative on earth.

I am a new Catholic, and I would like to know if there is a special Mass for all Catholics in their home parishes on the day of the pope's funeral, and if so whether attendance is required?

Many Catholic parishes are holding special Masses for the pope, and you should check with your own parish for specifics. Catholics are not required to attend these Masses, although many choose to do so.

Has there ever been an African pope, and is an African likely to be chosen as John Paul II's successor?

Three popes have been described as African in church records: Victor (189-198); Miltiades (311-314), and Gelasius I (492-496). During antiquity, when these three ruled, "Africa" meant northern Africa, for few in the ancient Mediterranean world knew anything about central or southern Africa. Northern Africa--the area encompassing today's Mauretania, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia--was a vibrant center of Latin-speaking Christianity during ancient times and produced famous bishops and theologians such as Cyprian, Tertullian, and Augustine, as well as martyrs such as Felicitas and Perpetua.

We don't know anything about the race of any of these people, however, because ancient people were not race-conscious in anything like today's terms. Northern Africans most likely had dark skins, and they were probably a mixture of many ethnicities, from Central African to Berber to Phoenician to Roman, for many Romans had settled there. Culturally speaking, they were sophisticated folk steeped in classical culture who strongly identified with Rome.

Northern Africa long ago became overwhelmingly Islamic, and central and southern Africa are now the most vibrant centers of African Christianity. The leading African contender for the papacy in the wake of John Paul II's death is Cardinal Francis Arinze, former Catholic bishop of Onitsha in southern Nigeria. A member of the Vatican Curia for the past 20 years, Arinze is in this sense a throwback to the African popes of antiquity in that he is a sophisticated Roman insider as well as an African. It is diffcult to assess Arinze's chances of actually becoming pope, however, since the scuttlebutt is that if we are to have a Third-World Pope, he is likely to come from Latin America, where the Catholic Church is longer-established, rather than Africa.

Last Sunday was Divine Mercy Sunday. I understand that it was given that name by Pope John Paul II, can you tell me the significant of this celebration?

Divine Mercy Sunday came into existence through a Polish nun, Sister Maria Faustina Kowalski, who is believed to have received numerous apparitions of Jesus during the 1930s. In 1937, Jesus appeared to her and told her to mark a novena--nine special days of prayer--beginning on Good Friday of that year. The ninth day of the novena was to be Easter Saturday, so the following Sunday, the Sunday after Easter was to be called the Feast of Divine Mercy.

Celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday was largely limited to Poland until 2000, when Pope John Paul II canonized Sister Faustina and made it a feast of the universal church. He also established a plenary indulgence--the remission of all punishment in Purgatory for sin--for Catholics who go to confession within 20 days before or after Divine Mercy Sunday.

Who shot the pope? When and why?

Pope John Paul II was shot four times on May 13, 1981, in St. Peter's Square in Rome as he blessed an assembled crowd from his Popemobile. His assailant was 23-year-old Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish national who had escaped from prison in Turkey, where he was incarcerated for the murder in 1979 of a Turkish newspaper editor.

Vatican officials long suspected that the attempt on the pope's life was commissioned by Soviet officials, who feared the Polish-born pope would serve as a catalyst for rebellion in Eastern-bloc countries against the Soviet yoke. This suspicion seemed to have been confirmed when the archives of the Soviet KGB and Stasi, the East German secret police, were opened during the 1990s. It seemed that the KGB had ordered John Paul II's assassination, and the order was carried out by the Bulgarian secret police, who recruited Agca. Italian investigators and the post-communist Bulgarian government have confirmed ties between Agca and Bulgarian spy agencies, but there has been no conclusive proof of Soviet involvement.

Acga served nearly 20 years in an Italian prison for the assassination attempt--and was forgiven by John Paul II, who met with him personally in 1983. He was deported to Turkey in 2000, where he is serving a 17-year sentence in Istanbul for the slaying of a leading Turkish journalist, Abdi Ipekci.

What is a conclave?

The word "conclave" comes from the Latin phrase "cum clave," meaning "with the key"--because the assembled cardinals are literally locked inside the Sistine Chapel until they manage to elect a new pope. The cardinals used to stay in spartan quarters around the chapel that had few amenities; the idea was to make them as uncomfortable as possible so they would come quickly to agreement on their choice. Nowadays, however, they reside at Casa Santa Marta, the newest Vatican City structure, which Pope John Paul II had built at a cost of $20 million in 1995.

Recent changes in procedure have also relaxed some of the symbolic pageantry of the conclave. Until 1978, when Pope Paul VI enlarged the College of Cardinals from its historic 80 in order to accommodate the international reach of the Catholic Church, the cardinals sat on rows of thrones facing each other. Each throne was covered by a canopy to symbolize the fact during the time when the See of Peter was vacant, all shared responsibility for governing the church (the powers of the Vatican Curia, which reports to the pope, are suspended during this period. The much larger number of cardinals these days--the maximum number of voting cardinals is now 120--does not leave room for such elaborate symbolism in the Sistine Chapel.

Utmost secrecy is still the rule, however, in order to prevent any outside interference with the election. The cardinals are permitted no outside communication: no newspapers, no television, no cell phones, no e-mails, no messages, and so forth, and only a handful of authorized people are permitted access to St. Martha's House and the Sistine Chapel. The penalty for violating the rule of secrecy is automatic excommunication.

The conclave formally begins after a nine-day mourning period following the pope's death. On the afternoon of the day the cardinals file into the chapel, they cast a ballot that reads in Latin, "Eligo in summum pontificem" ("I elect as the highest pontiff"), and thereafter, they vote twice a day, morning and evening." A two-thirds majority of votes is required to elect a pope, although if, after casting a certain number of ballots without arriving at a candidate, the cardinals may choose to elect a pope on a majority of half the cardinals plus one.

Why did different clergy wear different colored vestments during the funeral?

Red is the traditional liturgical color of the vestments worn at a papal funeral--in contrast to the white vestments worn at most funerals. I do not know why red was worn at John Paul II's funeral, but it is the color worn by the celebrant on Good Friday, the feasts of the martyrs, and Pentecost. Since nearly all the earliest popes were martyrs, the color red may symbolize the pope's connection with the earliest days of the church.

How was Cardinal Josef Ratzinger chosen to be the celebrant of the pope's funeral Mass?

Cardinal Ratzinger is dean of the College of Cardinals. The dean of the cardinals traditionally presides over a papal funeral Mass.

Did the pope choose to be buried in a simple wooden coffin, or is this traditionally the kind of coffin in which popes are buried?

The simple wooden design--cypress in this case--of the innermost of the three caskets in which the pope is buried is traditional. The coffin was adorned only with a cross and an "M" for Mary, the mother of Jesus. A small bag containing commemorative medals from his pontificate and a brief written summary of his life and pontificate were place in the coffin in a lead tube.

What accommodations were made for the people waiting for hours to see the pope's body and to attend the funeral mass? Were there public bathrooms?

With an estimated 1-2 million pilgrims flooding into Rome from all over the world to pay last respects to Pope John Paul II, authorities set up tent cities to help house them and portable toilets for the line that snaked through the city of people hoping to view the pope's body as it lay in state in St. Peter's Basilica from Monday, April 4, through the evening of Wednesday, April 6.

But the wait in line--24 hours on average--was still pretty taxing, from all reports. Many brought their own food in backpacks, and volunteers moved through the crowd distributing water, chocolate, and fruit. But the portable toilets were few and far in between, and pilgrims risked losing their place in line to use one. Still, from all reports, the pilgrims were generally patient and good-humored.

Did the pope have a love for animals, and did he have any pets?

Pope John Paul II did not have any pets. But during the early 1980s, in a series of interviews with the Polish journalist Anton Gronowicz, he talked about a dream about a homeless mother cat and her kittens that he had had in 1969, long before he became pope.

He was about to visit New York City, and that city, freezing cold and blanketed with winter snow, was the setting of his dream. He saw a brown mother cat, followed by six brown-and-white kittens trailing after her in a line, wandering around Manhattan looking for food and shelter. Everywhere the cats went, including a Catholic and an Anglican church, they were turned away, and when Karol Wojtyla himself tried to call after them so he could give them some crumbs from his pocket, he could not make himself heard. Finally, in a shabby neighborhood, an impoverished, nearly toothless old woman opened her door, embraced the cats, and welcomed them inside.

To John Paul the dream clearly had a profound meaning, although he did not share it with Gronowicz. And it surely indicated a love and concern for animals. In one of his public audiences he declared that animals, along with human beings, "possess a soul must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren." He pointed out a passage in the Book of Genesis stating that God had breathed his spirit into all creation, animals as well as human beings.

Did Pope John Paul II know how to speak English?

Yes. English was one of eight modern languages he spoke fluently. The others were Polish, Russian, French, Italian, Portuguese, German, and Spanish, which he learned after he became pope. He also spoke Latin.

Is it true that the pope's body was placed in other caskets before it was placed in the crypt? I have heard that one is of wood and another is marked with a skull and cross bones. Why would skull and cross bones be used?

Pope John Paul II's body was interred in three caskets. The triple caskets reflect longstanding tradition for the burial of popes. The innermost casket--the one in which his body lay during his funeral--was made of cypress wood. That casket was placed inside a second casket made of zinc (traditionally, lead was used), presumably to seal the body from the ravages of insects. The third, outermost casket was made of walnut wood (the traditional wood was elm).

The second casket bears a skull and crossbones, along with John Paul's regnal dates. In Christian iconography the skull and crossbones symbolize death, but they are also a symbol of Adam, the first man, who, according to Christian legend was buried at Golgotha, directly underneath the place where Jesus Christ was crucified. That is because Christians believe that Christ is the new Adam, whose death atoned for Adam's sin and who represents a new template for humanity. Just as Christ conquered death in his resurrection, so will all Christians on the last day. Many crucifixes and paintings of the Crucifixion depict Adam's skull underneath the cross of Christ.

Aside from symbolizing victory over death, this skull more specifically represents the skull of Adam, said in Jewish and Christian legend to have been buried at Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. The Blood of Christ, the New Adam, redeems man, as symbolized by the skull of the First Adam. I Corinthians 15:22, 45: "And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive...The first man Adam was made into a living soul; the last Adam into a quickening spirit."

Aside from symbolizing victory over death, this skull more specifically represents the skull of Adam, said in Jewish and Christian legend to have been buried at Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. The Blood of Christ, the New Adam, redeems man, as symbolized by the skull of the First Adam. I Corinthians 15:22, 45: "And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive...The first man Adam was made into a living soul; the last Adam into a quickening spirit."

Why was the pope's face covered in his coffin before he was buried?

Pope John Paul II's face was covered with a white silk veil and a rosary put into his hand during a private ceremony inside St. Peter's Basilica just before his casket was closed and taken to the outdoor funeral Mass in St. Peter's Square. The silk veil over the face is a throwback to a tradition of the medieval Church in which a bishop's head was bound in a white cloth during his anointing.

Before the funeral, a private ceremony was held inside the Basilica. The pope's face was covered by a white veil by his best friend and private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, and the master of the liturgical ceremonies, Archbishop Piero Marini. They also put in the coffin a small bag of medals that were issued to Pope John Paul II and a scroll about his life and then the coffin was closed.

Why was the pope's coffin placed on the floor during the mass? Did it relate to the fact that he kissed the ground when he visited so many countries and the fact that he used to pray laying on the floor?

The placing of Pope John Paul's coffin on a rug on St. Peter's Square for the open-air funeral Mass seems to have been a gesture of humility, a reminder that all Christians, even the pope are equal before God. John Paul's kissing the ground of the countries he visited reflected different symbolism: his desire to honor those countries. And when he prayed laying on the floor he was displaying his own humility, prostrating himself before God.

What happened to the shepherd's staff that Pope John Paul always had with him? It was by his side on the bier during the viewing of his body.

It does not appear that Pope John Paul II's crosier, his bishop's staff topped with a distinctive silver crucifix, was buried with him, although it was indeed tucked under his arm when he lay in state from April 4-6.

Is Pope John Paul II's apartment permanently locked, or locked until a new pope unlocks it?

After the death of a pope, his apartment in the Vatican is sealed with red ribbons. The seal is not permanent, however. The ribbons will be taken down and the apartment will be unsealed when the next pope is elected.

Why couldn't we view and witness Pope John Paul II's actual interment in his crypt? Who was present when his coffin was placed in the crypt?

The interment was a private affair attended only by senior clerics and close friends of Pope John Paul II.

At some point, can people visit the pope's tomb?

Yes. Although the crypt underneath St. Peter's Basilica where Pope John Paul II's body was buried on Friday, April 8, is currently closed to the public, the Holy See is expected to announce Monday, April 11, when it will be reopened. Keeping the crypt temporarily closed is seen as a way to empty Rome of the crowds of pilgrims who flocked to the city for John Paul II's funeral.

What are the three secrets given by the Virgin Mary to the three children of Fatima? Did Pope John Paul II believe them, and why was the third secret revealed only to him?

The three "Secrets of Fatima" are revelations given by the Virgin Mary to three children--Lucia dos Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto--in a series of apparitions in the town of Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. The secrets were:
1. A vision of hell that has been interpreted as referring to the two world wars.

2. A prediction that Russia would one day return to Christianity.

3. A vision of martyrdom and suffering that included a man "clothed in white" who would fall to the ground apparently dead after a burst of gunfire.

Both Marto children died before reaching adulthood, but Lucia grew up to become a Carmelite nun. She died on Feb. 13, 2005, at age 97. In 1944, fearing that she was about to die, Lucia sent all three secrets to Rome, where they were locked in the Vatican archives to be revealed only to the popes and a few top officials of the Holy See.

The Vatican revealed the first two secrets but kept the last and most mysterious one private, leading some to speculate that it had to do with the end of the world. Finally, Pope John Paul II partially released that third secret in May 2000. The Vatican interpreted the secret as referring to the failed assassination attempt on John Paul on May 13, 1981.

John Paul definitely believed in the secrets of Fatima, and he had a special devotion to Our Lady of Fatima because the date of the assassination attempt marked the anniversary of Mary's first apparition there. He believed that Mary herself had protected him from being mortally wounded. The partial revelation of the third secret occurred in conjunction with the beatification of the two Marto children.

Who were the popes before John Paul II from 1939 on?

The popes before John Paul II were as follows:
Pius XII (1939-1958)

John XXIII (1958-1963)

Paul VI (1963-1978)

John Paul I (1978)

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