HUNDREDS of thousands gathered in Fátima, Portugal, to see Pope Francis canonise two of the three shepherd children who claimed to have seen apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the town in 1917, on Saturday.
A feast day, 13 May, marks the centenary of the first apparition seen by the children, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, who were aged nine and seven respectively in 1917, and were initially disbelieved. They died of influenza within three years. Their cousin Lucia, who also reported the apparitions, died in 2005 after spending her life as a nun, and is on track for beatification.
The story is that Mary appeared several more times to the children, entrusting them with three “secrets”, interpreted variously as foretelling the Second World War, the fall of Communism, and the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.
“I wanted to propose to the whole Church their example of adhesion to Christ and to evangelical witness,” Pope Francis said at the canonisation. “And I also want to propose to the whole Church to have the heart of children.”
Their sanctity was not “a consequence of the apparitions, but of the fidelity and ardour with which they corresponded to the privilege they had received of being able to see the Virgin Mary.”
By contrast, at a press conference on Saturday, the Pope said that the alleged apparitions of Mary in the village of Medjugorje, in Bosnia, “don’t have a lot of value. This I say as a personal opinion.”
Six children reported the visions in 1981, and the village has since become a major pilgrimage destination. Several Franciscan priests from the area were expelled from the Order after promoting the claims, despite warnings from the Vatican. The unpublished report of the commission set up by his predecessor “had it doubts”, Pope Francis said, according to Reuters.
“I personally am more nasty. I prefer the Madonna as mother, our mother, and not a Madonna who is the head of a telegraph office, who every day sends a message at such-and-such an hour.
“This is not the Mother of Jesus.”PAEve: Pope Francis leads the Blessing for the Candles, from the Chapel of the Apparitions, in Fatima, in Portugal, last Friday evening, prior to the canonisation of the shepherd children