FÁTIMA, Portugal: Two young shepherds who had visions of the Virgin Mary 100 years ago in Fatima, a Portuguese site that is now a global draw for pilgrims, were declared saints Saturday by Pope Francis.
Catholic faithful from all over the world cheered, filling a giant, 400,000-capacity, esplanade that faces the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, some of them crying – with many more watching the canonization from adjacent streets on giant screens.
“We declare the blissful Francisco Marto and Jacinta Marto saints,” the Argentine pontiff said in front of the white basilica where the siblings are buried, two giant portraits of the little shepherds hanging in the background.
“We register them on the list of saints, declaring that they must be venerated as such by the Church.”
The canonization took place on the 100th anniversary of the day when Jacinta, then aged seven, her brother Francisco, nine, and their cousin Lucia, 10, first saw the Virgin Mary on the spot where the sanctuary was built.
She is said to have appeared six times between May and October 1917 to the three impoverished, barely-literate shepherds, and apparently shared three prophesies with the trio at a period marked by the ravages of World War 1.
These reportedly included a warning of a second conflict.
Francisco died in 1919 and his sister Jacinta the following year in the Spanish Influenza epidemic that swept through Europe at the end of the war.
Their cousin Lucia lived on until 2005, becoming a nun and meeting several popes including the late John Paul II.
A process that could lead to her also becoming a saint has been opened.
Pope St. John Paul II was possibly the most devoted to Fatima, attributing his narrow escape from an assassination attempt at St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981 – the anniversary of the first reported apparition – to the intervention of the Virgin Mary.
He beatified Jacinta and Francisco in 2000 following decades of debate over the events at Fatima and their meaning.
They were canonized Saturday after the Church officially attributed two miracles to the pair – a necessary step to become a saint.
Wheelchair-bound Maria Emilia Santos said she regained the ability to walk on February 20, 1989, the anniversary of Jacinta’s death, after praying to her.
And the parents of a Brazilian boy say he healed at lightning speed after falling more than six meters from a window in 2013, after they prayed to the late Jacinta and Francisco for help.
“The doctors, including non-believers, weren’t able to explain this recovery,” his father Joao Batista told reporters in Fatima on Thursday.
Luisa Pacheco, a 48-year-old seamstress from the northern region of Porto, said she had spent the night in her car to see the ceremony.
“They’re our little shepherds, it means everything to us.”
In the Philippines, which joined the Church-wide celebrations, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle led Manila’s Catholic faithful in celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions in Fatima.
Tagle offered evening Mass at the Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Pasay City, which also marked its 25th year.
The cardinal blessed and distributed 200 images of Our Lady of Fatima to different communities within the parish.
Prior to the Mass, Pasay parishes held a procession of religious images.
The bishop of Bataan meanwhile reminded the faithful of the three messages of the Virgin Mary to the shepherd children of Fatima.
Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos said the celebrations were “beautiful” but the three messages were more important.
“In celebration of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary, we are reminded of the three things that we should do,” the prelate said on Saturday.
“These are to always pray, to repent, and to be instruments of peace,” he said in Filipino.
Santos called for the recitation of the rosary, the Virgin Mary’s call at Fatima 100 years ago.
The prelate also urged sinners to repent, but admonished them that admitting to their sins won’t be enough.
“In admitting one’s sins, there should be restitution, and that is to do good things,” Santos said.