Published: Sun, May 14, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Pope nixes Medjugorje visions but says shrine has benefits

Two young children who had visions of the Virgin Mary 100 years ago in Fatima, a Portuguese site now a global draw for pilgrims, have been declared saints by Pope Francis.

Pope Francis himself - on the second day of a pilgrimage to Fatima - described the place as a "mantle of light that protects us here as in nearly no other place on earth".

This was the backdrop against which Mary, in 1917, appeared to three shepherd children - Lucia dos Santos, 10, and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, 9 and 7 - in a field in Fatima, Portugal, bringing with her requests for the recitation of the rosary, for sacrifices on behalf of sinners, and a secret regarding the fate of the world.

Up to a million pilgrims are expected to flock to the Shrine of Fatima for the ceremony, with some faithful Catholics completing the final stretch of the journey on their knees as a sign of devotion.

The Fatima mystery has fascinated Catholics and non-Catholics alike for a Century, blending visions of the Virgin, supernatural events and apocalyptic messages of hell, World War II, communism and the death of a pope.

It was later put into the crown of the statue of Fatima and many Portuguese say the bullet was a flawless fit, providing evidence of the vision.

"Do not be ashamed of being a precious treasure of the Church".

When the Fatima children first spoke of the apparition a century ago, they were not believed.

There's the Mary venerated by the Church, Francis said, but also one "of our own making: One who restrains the arm of a vengeful God; one sweeter than Jesus the ruthless judge; one more merciful than the Lamb slain for us".

May she, the loving and solicitous Mother of the needy, obtain for them the Lord's blessing!

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Displayed are "various objects, some older, others more contemporary, some more modern, some made of textile, others of organic materials, paintings, sculptures", but which are all "placed with a narrative", he said.

Lucas Batista Maeda de Mourao, a ten-year-old Brazilian boy who was miraculously cured through the intercession of Francisco and Jacinta, was here for the canonization.

Six thousand police officers patrolled the area and concrete blocks have been placed to protect the pilgrims.

"They're our little shepherds, it means everything to us", said Luisa Pacheco, a 48-year-old seamstress from the northern region of Porto who spent the night in her auto to see the ceremony. Pope Francis will make two of the children saints on Saturday.

(From L to R) Lúcia dos Santos and her two cousins, Jacinta Marto and her brother Francisco, as photographed in Portugal in 1917.

Straight after the canonisation Mass, where many had slept out overnight to attend, the Latin American pontiff then greeted a group of sick and disabled pilgrims telling them they were "an asset to every Christian community". Francisco and Jacinta are the first child saints who are not martyrs in the history of the church.

Francis departed from Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport on Friday afternoon to celebrate the centenary of the apparitions and canonize the children. He is hoping the message of peace that they reported 100 years ago, when Europe was in the throes of World War I, will resonate with the Catholic faithful today.

Numerous pilgrims planned to spend the night on the plaza to await Mass on Saturday morning.

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