Huge police presence for pope's Portugal trip

Jacinta Marto near the house where they lived in the village of Aljustrel outside Fatima Portugal. Pope Francis is visiting the Fati

As Catholics the world over, celebrate the centenary of the apparition of Mary to the three shepherds at Fatima on May 13, 1971 in the midst of World War I, in Goa the World Apostolate of Fatima (Goa unit) in collaboration with the Archdiocese, will be celebrating the anniversary of the apparition with a special programme at the Se Cathedral, Old Goa.

In this photo taken May 4 2017, a shop selling souvenirs displays a photo of Francisco and Jacinta Marto near the house where they lived in the village of Aljustrel, outside Fatima, Portugal. Or are these only projections of the inner world of children, brought up in a climate of profound piety but shaken at the same time by the tempests which threatened their own time?

An attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II mysteriously coincided with the anniversary of the first Fatima vision on May 13, 1981, in St. Peter's Square in Rome.

John Paul donated the bullet to Fatima, and it was inserted into the crown adorning a statue of Mary there.

Portuguese church officials initially doubted the veracity of the apparitions.

Father Aventino Oliveira, one of the sanctuary's confessors, told the monthly magazine "Jesus" that requests this year have already doubled, and that around a million people alone have made requests to attend this year's celebrations on the May 12-13 weekend. Francisco and Jacinta are the youngest saints who are not martyrs to ever be canonized as saints by the Catholic Church.

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At the time of the apparitions, Europe was still in the grip of World War I and Portugal's Catholic Church was facing a crisis after Portugal became a republic in 1910. Religious teaching at schools was banned, and many bishops went into exile. The prophecy turned out to be an apocalyptic vision of a awful persecution of Christians, including priests and bishops and in particular "a Bishop dressed in White" who was killed by soldiers as he knelt before a cross at the top of a hill.

In that context, the visions helped reinvigorate a persecuted church, giving it "a strong eruption of the supernatural in that hard moment", said Monsignor Carlos Azevedo, who headed the commission that compiled 15 volumes of Fatima documentation.

"Appearing to the children, the Blessed Virgin told them that she had been sent by God with a message for every man, woman and child then living", the Allentown Diocese says.

Like the shrine at Lourdes, France, Fatima draws millions of pilgrims from around the world - about 6 million annually - to give thanks to Our Lady of Fatima, or to pray for help. Church groups, families and individuals have, for days, made their way to Fatima, about 150 kilometres north of Lisbon. Some complete the last few hundred meters (yards) on their knees.

Carrying candles, rosaries and roses, they have gone to the statue dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima or tossed wax body parts — ears, hearts, limbs — into a huge fire to pray for healing.

The shrine also contains dozens of shops where trinkets are sold alongside rosaries, bibles and assorted images of the Virgin Mary, including one that changes color with the weather.

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On Sunday, October 13, 1917, the "miracle of the sun" was witnessed by an estimated 30,000 to 100,000 people.

This reported miracle is what prompted the Church to decide to canonize the shepherds who close to 100 years ago reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the central Portuguese town that has since become a major holy site.

"For me it is the second time I am here with a pope, first with John Paul II and now with Papa Francisco", said pilgrim Elisabete Fradique Conceicao.

After becoming a nun, Lucia became the main raconteur of the Fatima secrets. The beatification process for her began in 2008.

A postulator - essentially the cheerleader spearheading the project - gathers testimony and documentation and presents the case to the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Others staked out a prime spot next to the railings marking off the route where Pope Francis will ride his "Popemobile" later on Friday.

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