FATIMA, Portugal ( - Pope John Paul II has made public the famous "third secret" of Fatima.

The secret involves a vision of an assassination attempt on a Pope-- a vision that matches the attempted killing of Pope John Paul II himself on May 13, 1981.

The Holy Father, who was in Fatima on May 13 for the beatification of two of the three children to whom the Virgin Mary appeared in 1917, asked Cardinal Angelo Sodano to read a message to the congregation at the end of the beatification ceremonies. That message, delivered in Portuguese, explained the third secret in general terms.

Cardinal Sodano announced that the complete text of the third secret would soon be made available by the Vatican, together with a commentary produced by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The third secret of Fatima has been the subject of intense speculation among Catholics. The exact content of that message had been known only to the Pope, his predecessors, and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The secret details a vision of a "bishop dressed in white" who is caught up in a battle against an atheistic system that oppresses the Church. That bishop "falls to the ground, as if dead, after a volley of gunfire." Sister Lucia, the sole surviving Fatima seer, has confirmed that the "bishop dressed in white" is the Pope.

Since surviving the attempt on his life-- which occurred on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima-- Pope John Paul II has repeatedly said that he believes the Virgin Mary is responsible for his survival.

The following is the text of the statement read by Cardinal Sodano at the close of the beatification ceremonies in Fatima:

At the conclusion of this solemn celebration, I feel bound to offer to our beloved Holy Father John Paul II, on behalf of all present, heartfelt good wishes for his approaching 80th birthday and to thank him for his significant pastoral ministry for the good of all God's holy Church.

On the solemn occasion of his visit to Fatima, his Holiness has directed me to make an announcement to you. As you know, the purpose of his visit to Fatima has been to beatify the two "little shepherds." Nevertheless he also wishes his pilgrimage to be a renewed gesture of gratitude to Our Lady for 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.

That text contains a prophetic vision similar to those found in Sacred Scripture, which do not describe with photographic clarity the details of future events, but rather synthesize and condense against a unified background events spread out over time in a succession and a duration which are not specified. As a result, the text must be interpreted in a symbolic key.

The vision of Fatima concerns above all the war waged by atheist systems against the Church and Christians, and it describes the immense suffering endured by the witnesses to the faith in the last century of the second millennium. It is an interminable Way of the Cross led by the popes of the 20th century.

According to the interpretation of the 'little shepherds,' which was also recently confirmed by Sister Lucia, the "bishop clothed in white" who prays for all the faithful is the Pope. As he makes his way with great effort towards the Cross amid the corpses of those who were martyred (bishops, priests, men and women religious and many lay persons), he too falls to the ground, apparently dead, under a burst of gunfire.

After the assassination attempt of May 13 1981, it appeared evident to his Holiness that it was "a motherly hand which guided the bullet's path," enabling the "dying Pope" to halt "at the threshold of death." On the occasion of a visit to Rome by the then bishop of Leiria-Fatima, the Pope decided to give him the bullet which had remained in the jeep after the assassination attempt, so that it might be kept in the Shrine. At the behest of the bishop, the bullet was later set in the crown of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima.

The successive events of 1989 led, both in the Soviet Union and in a number of countries of Eastern Europe, to the fall of the Communist regime which promoted atheism. For this too his Holiness offers heartfelt thanks to the most holy Virgin. In other parts of the world, however, attacks against the Church and against Christians, together with the burden of suffering which they involve, tragically continue. Even if the events to which the third part of the secret of Fatima refers now seem part of the past, Our Lady's call to conversion and penance, issued at the beginning of the 20th century, remains timely and urgent today.

The Lady of the message seems to read the signs of the times-- the signs of our time-- with special insight. The insistent invitation of Mary most holy to penance is nothing but the manifestation of her maternal concern for the fate of the human family, in need of conversion and forgiveness.

In order that the faithful may better receive the message of Our Lady of Fatima, the Pope has charged the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with making public the third part of the secret, after the preparation of an appropriate commentary.

Let us thank Our Lady of Fatima for her protection. To her maternal intercession let us entrust the Church of the Third Millennium.

Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genetrix!. Intercede pro Ecclesia Dei! Intercede pro Sancto Patre Iohanne Paolo II! Amen'."

Catholic World News - Feature