Pope Francis to visit Fatima

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican confirmed that Pope Francis will visit Portugal in 2017 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions of Fatima.

The pope, who accepted the invitation made by President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and the bishops of Portugal, “will go on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima from May 12-13.”

The pilgrimage will mark the anniversary of the Marian apparitions, which first began on May 13, 1917, when three shepherd children reported seeing the Virgin Mary.

The apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church.

Two of the shepherd children who saw Mary in Fatima, Blessed Jacinta Marto and Blessed Francisco Marto, will also be canonized during his visit to the site of the apparitions May 13.

While tending sheep in a field, Lucia dos Santos and her two younger cousins, Blesseds Francisco and Jacinta Marto, reported seeing a woman dressed all in white, "more brilliant than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal glass filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun."

Calling herself "Our Lady of the Rosary," Mary asked the children to pray the rosary daily for the conversion of sinners. She asked for prayer, penance and the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart.

On Oct. 13, 1930, Bishop Jose Alves Correia da Silva of the Diocese of Leiria-Fatima announced the results of the investigative commission and formally approved the apparitions. Every pope thereafter has recognized these events and has emphasized the importance of Our Lady of Fatima and the devotion to her Immaculate Heart.

The most spectacular of the apparitions was the sixth and final one on Oct. 13, 1917, when Mary appeared with St. Joseph. A crowd of 70,000 witnessed the sun dance, spin, display in various colors and descend on them, drying their rain-soaked clothes and the land. The sun miracle was reported by people as far as 40 miles away.

Due to the 1918 influenza epidemic, the two younger children did not live long beyond the apparition events. Francisco,10, requested his first Communion on his deathbed and passed away the following day, April 4, 1919. Jacinta died on Feb. 20, 1920, at age 9 after an unsuccessful operation for an abscess in her chest.

Lucia became a postulant at the convent of the Institute of the Sisters of St. Dorothy at Pontevedra, Spain, but later entered the Carmelite convent in Coimbra, Portugal, where she remained until her death in 2005.

Mary had given the children a secret in three parts. The first was a vision of hell. She also spoke of impending war and the need for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart; otherwise, communist Russia would "spread her errors throughout the world."

On May 13, 2000, St. John Paul II, at the end of Mass in Fatima with Sister Lucia in attendance, authorized Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, to make a statement regarding the third secret of Fatima, where he related the image of a "bishop clothed in white" getting shot.

After the assassination attempt by Mehmet Ali Agca of Turkey on St. John Paul in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981 (feast of Our Lady of Fatima), the pope believed that the secret applied to that event.

The next year, he took a bullet fragment that had entered his body and had it placed in the crown of the famed statue of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal. Sister Lucia herself indicated that she agreed with this interpretation of it as a prophetic vision of the struggle of atheistic communism against Christianity and the sufferings of the victims of the faith.

That day, St. John Paul made the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima universal by including it in the Roman Missal and beatified the two deceased seers, Jacinta and Francisco. When canonized, they will become the youngest nonmartyred saints in church history.

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI lifted the normal five-year waiting period to begin the canonization process of Sister Lucia dos Santos who died at age 97 in 2005.

Fatima has become an important place of pilgrimage with 5 million people per year coming to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary which was first begun in 1928.

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