VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis confirmed Thursday he will use his upcoming visit to the Portuguese shrine at Fatima to canonize two Portuguese shepherd children who say they saw visions of the Virgin Mary 100 years ago.
Francis convened his cardinals to formally set the May 13 date for the saint-making Mass.
Originally, Francis had planned to travel to Fatima on May 12-13 to merely mark the anniversary of the apparitions, which turned the tiny northern Portuguese town into one of the world’s most popular Catholic pilgrimage sites.
But last month, Francis signed off on the miracle needed to make siblings Francisco and Jacinta Marto saints, leading to speculation he would also use the occasion of the visit to canonize them. Church officials say the miracle concerned an inexplicable cure of a Brazilian child.
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The Marto siblings say the Virgin Mary appeared to them and their cousin six times above an olive tree in 1917 and told them three secrets. The brother and sister died of pneumonia two years later, at the ages of 9 and 11.
St. John Paul II beatified them in Fatima on May 13, 2000, the same day the Vatican revealed the third and final secret purportedly told to them. The first two had already been reported: a vision of “hell” interpreted as World War II, and the rise and fall of Soviet Communism. The Vatican said in 2000 that the third secret foretold the 1981 assassination attempt on John Paul.
John Paul credited the Fatima Madonna with saving him, and one of the bullets fired at him by a Turkish gunman in St. Peter’s Square 36 years ago is kept in the crown of the Fatima statue at the sanctuary. Francis is expected to pray before the icon during his visit.
With the Marto children soon to be declared saints, all that remains is the saint-making case of their cousin and co-visionary, Lucia de Jesus dos Santos, who became a Carmelite nun and died in 2005.
In February, Portuguese church officials turned over 15,000 pages of testimony and other documentation to the Vatican for review to determine if she can be declared to have lived a life of heroic virtue, the first step in the Vatican’s complicated saint-making process.