A visibly tired but determined Pope John Paul II completed his two-day visit to Fatima, Portugal, on Saturday, May 13. His long-awaited beatification of Francisco and Jacinta Marto, two of the three children who witnessed the 1917 apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, was an historic event. They are the first children to be beatified in the history of the Roman Catholic Church who were not martyrs.But the beatification was overshadowed by the partial revelation of Fatima's "third secret," which has been the subject of speculation for decades. As the pope approached the Basilica of Fatima in his special vehicle, the popemobile, he was greeted by tens of thousands of pilgrims singing a popular song about the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima. According to official estimates, 650,000 pilgrims came to Fatima, a small town of 8,000 inhabitants in central Portugal, for the pope's visit. Fatima has become sacred ground for most of the overwhelmingly Catholic Portuguese. Five to six million pilgrims visit Fatima every year. The apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima began on May 13, 1917 and ended on October 13 the same year. On the 13th day of each month during that period, the Virgin Mary, shining "brighter than the sun," is said to have appeared on top of a tree. The visionaries were three shepherd children—Lucia dos Santos (age 10 at the time, and now a 93-year-old Carmelite nun), and her two cousins, nine-year-old Francisco Marto and seven-year-old Jacinta Marto. As word of the apparitions spread more and more people began flocking to Fatima.Lucia claims that the Virgin revealed a three-part secret on July 13, 1917. The first part was a vision of Hell and salvation. The second part foresaw the spread of atheism in Russia and its ultimate conversion. The third part has been known only by Lucia and by successive popes since the 1940s when Lucia sent the text, in a Portuguese dialect, to Pope Pius XII.The third secret was revealed to the world on Saturday when, on behalf of the pope, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, described the vision—said to have been related by the Virgin Mary—of a bishop clothed in white falling to the ground as if he had been shot. The pope and Sister Lucia, whom the pope met on Saturday, May 13, have interpreted this vision as referring to a 1981 assassination attempt on his life. Further, the vision is understood to refer to the past persecutions of Christians by communist states.The Vatican will publish the entire text of the third secret with a commentary in the near future.Pope John Paul II, who celebrates his 80th birthday May 18, has visited Fatima twice before, in 1982 and 1991. Following Mehmet Ali Agca's assassination attempt on his life in St Peter's Square, Rome, on May 13, 1981, the pope came to believe that Our Lady of Fatima saved his life. One of the bullets fired at him was placed alongside the diamonds in the crown of a statue of Our Lady next to the Chapel of the Apparitions in Fatima.The day of the beatification, Saturday, May 13, was the anniversary of the first apparition of the Virgin Mary. Significant for the pope was the fact that Agca's attempt on his life also occurred on May 13. Francisco and Jacinta Marto died of influenza within a few years of the apparitions. Their beatification became possible after a miracle was attributed to them—Maria Emilia Santos, a 47-year-old Portuguese woman who was cured of paralysis after 22 years and suddenly regained the ability to walk. At least one more miracle is needed for the two children to be canonized.Throughout his visit Pope John Paul seemed tired, and he often had difficulty speaking clearly. Nonetheless his visit and the beatification of Francisco and Jacinta Marto had enormous national significance for Portugal. Both President Jorge Sampaio and Prime Minister Antonio Guterres were present at the beatification ceremony.The pope announced that Francisco and Jacinta Marto are henceforth to be venerated on February 20, the day of Jacinta's death. Beatification grants the title "blessed."According to the Observer newspaper in London, journalists asked the Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, why the Vatican, aware of the third secret of Fatima, had not increased protection around the pontiff before1981. "It was only known by the pope, not by the police," the spokesman said.The International Herald Tribune commented that the revelation of the third secret of Fatima "was an effort by the Vatican to put an end to the kind of fevered speculation that has at times overshadowed the shrine's spiritual importance to hundreds of millions of Catholics."Versions of the secret, broadcast on hundreds of Web sites—usually under headlines like 'Third Secret Revealed!'—range from world-wide nuclear annihilation to deep rifts within the Roman Catholic Church that lead to rival papacies … "Fatima fanatics have held hunger strikes—one even hijacked a plane—to try to force the Vatican to disclose the secret. During John Paul's visit to the shrine here in 1982, on the first anniversary of the assassination attempt by Mr. Agca, a knife-wielding Spanish priest tried to kill the pope, but was wrestled to the ground by security forces."Copyright © 2000 ENI.
Media around the world have pounced on this story. Most, however, used the Associated Press or Reuters dispatches. Among the newspapers with excellent original reporting on the revelation are The New York Times, The Boston Globe, the Observer (id in the above story), and Australia's The Age. CNN and the BBC have nice "extras" like photos and links. The Fatima Network has all the Fatima information you could possibly want, albeit from a somewhat credulous source.
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