If there were any doubts about the Marian devotion of the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio managed to dissipate them as soon as he was elected Pope.
In a message addressed to the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon just after his election, Pope Francis requested Mgr. José Policarpo to consecrate his pontificate to Our Lady of Fatima.
A consecration was made by the Portuguese bishops in Cova da Iria during the celebrations of the 13th of May, 2013.
On the occasion of his first recitation of the Angelus as a successor of Saint Peter, on March 17th, four days after being elected (March 13th), Pope Francis, while speaking about God’s mercy, referred to the visit of the Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima to Buenos Aires in 1992.
Yet the first direct contact with the statue venerated in the Chapel of the Apparitions, occurred on October 12th and 13th, when the statue, upon his request, was brought to Rome for the Marian Day, organized by the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization.
In the letter then sent to the Shrine of Fatima requesting the presence of the statue in Rome, the Cardinal Rino Fisichella, President of the Council, wrote that it was a “strong desire of the Holy Father that the Marian Day may have present, as a special sign, one of the most significant Marian icons for Christians throughout the world and, for that reason, we thought of the beloved original Statue of Our Lady of Fatima”.
In an interview given to L’Osservatore Romano, Fr. Carlos Cabecinhas, Rector of the Shrine of Fatima, pointed to the fact that this journey of the statue from the Chapel took place in the midst of the celebration of the 13th of October, date of the latest apparition of Our Lady to the three little shepherds.
Such coincidence, he said, shows the strong connection with the figure of the Pope, as a specific element of the Message of Fatima and “revealed the love of the Successor of Peter for Fatima and its message.”
An even more obvious connection occurred when the statue was lead, on October 12th, to the Monastery Mater Ecclesia, where Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI resides, who thus could to pray once more next to the statue of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima.
And even stronger sign, and a more public one, was the stop that the processional cortege of the statue made that day on Saint Peter’s square precisely where on May 13th, 1981, Pope John Paul II was the object of an attack, to which he survived, as he said several times, thanks to the “motherly protection” of the Virgin of Fatima.
In the afternoon of the 12th, Pope Francis, after having left a rosary at the feet of the statue, which was afterward placed prominently in the entrance of Saint Peter’s Basilica, stated that “this encounter during the Year of Faith is dedicated to Mary, Mother of Christ and of the Church, Our Mother. Her Statue, brought from Fatima, helps us feel Her presence here in our midst.”
At the end of the closing ceremony encounter of the Marian Day, after the mass, the Pope accomplished in front of the statue the act of entrustment in which he thanked the “Blessed Virgin Mary of Fatima” and her “motherly presence” and asked her to “accept with the benevolence of a Mother this act of entrustment that we make in faith today, before this your image, beloved to us.”
The next reference to Fatima occurred on April 25th, 2015, when he received in a private audience the Bishop of Leiria-Fátima, Mgr. António Marto, to whom he transmitted his will to go on pilgrimage to the Shrine for the celebration of the Centennial of the Apparitions, adding that he would be present should God give him life and health.
He claimed this intention again later, on September 7th, during the visit ad limina of the Portuguese bishops, stating “tengo ganas de ir a Fátima” (I wish to go to Fatima).
The official confirmation was communicated on December 16th, 2016, in a brief note from the Vatican, in which it is said that the Pope Francis will go on pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima from the 12th to the 13th of May 2017, “on the occasion of the centennial of the Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Cova da Iria.”
The note also refers that the visit is made in response to the invitation from the President of the Republic and the Portuguese bishops.