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Thousands of people, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, witnessed the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima on October 13, 1917, and the event was reported widely in secular newspapers all over the world — including the New York Times in the United States. Less known, however, is a similar miracle that took place little more than 30 years later, witnessed privately by a pope.
Based on his own handwritten testimony, Pope Pius XII — within days of declaring the dogma of the Assumption on November 1, 1950 — saw a miracle of the sun in the Vatican Gardens four times.
A copy of his unpublished, handwritten note testifying to the supernatural event appeared in a 2008 Vatican display titled "Pius XII: The Man and the Pontificate." The note had been found in the Pacelli family archives, and included the Holy Father's statement: "I have seen the 'miracle of the sun,' this is the pure truth."
According to his testimony, at 4 p.m. on October 30, 1950, during his "habitual walk in the Vatican Gardens, reading and studying," he came to the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes "toward the top of the hill [and] I was awestruck by a phenomenon that before now I had never seen."
He continued, "The sun, which was still quite high, looked like a pale, opaque sphere, entirely surrounded by a luminous circle." He remarked that he could look directly at the sun "without the slightest bother. There was a very light little cloud in front of it."
He described the sun as an "opaque sphere" that "moved outward slightly, either spinning, or moving from left to right and vice versa. But within the sphere, you could see marked movements with total clarity and without interruption."
He witnessed the same event on "the 31st of October and Nov. 1, the day of the definition of the dogma of the Assumption, and then again Nov. 8, and after that, no more."
The Holy Father admitted he had tried since then to gaze on the sun to see if the same miracle might take place, but did so "in vain; I couldn't fix my gaze [on the sun] for even an instant; my eyes would be dazzled."
Pope Pius XII saw these events as heavenly confirmation of his proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption. They also served to reaffirm his close connection to Our Lady of Fatima — it was under his pontificate that the Fatima apparitions were officially approved in 1940, and it was he who, in 1942 in response to her request, consecrated the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He was also the first Pope to know the contents of the third secret of Fatima, later made public by Pope John Paul II.
Watch today's panel discuss the significance of this Marian apparition in "The Download—Our Lady of Fatima."