Pope Francis has elevated into sainthood two Portuguese shepherd children who had visions of the Virgin Mary 100 years ago in a Portuguese town that has since become one of the world’s most significant Catholic pilgrimage sites.
In the farm town of Fatima, an estimated half million people watched in front of the shrine’s basilica, where the children are buried, as Frances proclaimed them saints at the start of a mass.
“We declare the blissful Francisco and Jacinta Marto saints,” the pontiff said.
Francisco and Jacinta, 9 and 7 years old, and their 10-year-old cousin, Lucia Dos Santos, said that starting on May 13, 1917, the Virgin Mary appeared before them a half-dozen times within a 5 month period as they grazed their sheep.
The children said the Virgin Mary gave them three messages, the so-called secrets of Fatima.
The church believes the first two secrets, revealed during World War I, included a vision of ell, which some believers saw as a prediction of World War II, and a warning that Russia would “spread her errors to the world.”
The Vatican did not disclose the third secret until 2000. The Vatican said it predicted the 1981 attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II on May 13, the same day of the first reported appearance of Virgin Mary.
Pope Benedict later updated the interpretation of the third prophesy, saying it could include the suffering of the church following sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Vatican.
Efforts are underway to make Dos Santos, who became a nun and died in 2005 at age 97, a saint as well.