Controversy is nothing new when it comes to the famous Portuguese apparition. But did you know someone once hijacked a plane and demanded that Pope John Paul II release the Third Secret?
Yes, that really happened.
First, a bit of background on the Third Secret of Fatima: Lúcia Santos was one of three children who were visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal in 1917. In a 1941 memoir, she revealed that Mary had given them three secrets. Though she published the first two secrets, she chose not to disclose the third secret. Instead, she wrote it down and gave it to her local bishop. She asked him to deliver it to the pope and ensure that the secret was revealed publicly by 1960.
The secret was delivered to Rome in 1957, but in 1960 the Vatican decided to not release it, saying it was “most probable the Secret would remain, forever, under absolute seal.”
The Vatican finally released the Third Secret in the year 2000 (though some claim they only released part of it, with the Vatican insisting they released the full text). But in the intervening 40 years, the secret was a constant source of controversy.
But one can probably safely say the controversy reached its peak in 1981.
Fifty-five year-old Australian Laurence James Downey was on a flight from Dublin to London with 113 passengers when he went to the lavatory and doused himself with gasoline he had smuggled onboard. He then threatened the passengers with what he claimed were vials of cyanide gas and then stormed the cockpit.
He ordered the pilots to change course to France where he wanted them to refuel and then continue on to Tehran, Iran. While on the ground in France, he had one of the pilots throw a 9-page statement from the cockpit window.
Now, with more than a hundred hostages on board, what was his demand? That Pope John Paul II release the Third Secret of Fatima.
He had even titled his statement “The Third Secret of Fatima.” Calling it “the greatest secret of all time,” he hoped that his hostage situation, amplified by the press, would successfully pressure the pontiff to release the secret.
Of course, Pope John Paul II didn’t comply (it’s not clear he was even notified before the situation was resolved). Before the plane was able to take off again, French police were able to subdue Downey without any harm to the hostages.
In his statement, Downey, who was the father of five children, also explained that he had been a Trappist monk in the 1950s but was expelled after punching his superior in the face. After that, he had worked as a tour guide at a Fatima shrine in Portugal.
He served 5 years in prison for the incident, after which he said he was sorry for his actions but remained adamant that the Vatican release the secret.