ROME — Pope Francis on Thursday officially recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of a young brother and sister who said, 100 years ago, that the Virgin Mary had appeared to them in the Portuguese village of Fátima.
The approval of the miracle was the final step needed before the siblings, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, could be made saints. By signing the decree, the pope increased the likelihood that he could canonize the two when he visits the Fátima shrine in May, 100 years to the day that the children said that a vision of Mary had appeared to them for the first time. Officially, no date has been set for the canonization ceremony.
The Marto children and their cousin Lucia de Jesus dos Santos said they had seen the apparitions six times between May 13, 1917, and Oct. 13, 1917, when Jacinta was 7, Francisco was 9 and Lucia was 10.
By the time of the last apparition — in 1917 — 50,000 to 70,000 people had gathered to pray with the children, according to the website of the Shrine of Fátima.
The apparitions were officially recognized as a miracle by the Roman Catholic Church in 1930.
The Marto siblings fell ill with pneumonia in 1918. Francisco died in 1919, and Jacinta a year later. Lucia, who said she saw several subsequent visions of Mary and later became a nun, died in 2005, at age 97. Three years later, a case for her beatification was opened in Portugal. It was closed last month and now passes to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
The shrine in Fátima is Portugal’s most renowned pilgrimage site, drawing 5.3 million visitors last year. A shrine official declined on Thursday to give details about the miracle, other than to say that it involved a Brazilian child who was inexplicably cured of a disease.
Pope John Paul II visited the Fátima shrine three times: in 1982, 1991 and 2000. In 2000, the Martos were beatified — the final step before sainthood — by John Paul. He called them “two candles which God lit to illuminate mankind in its dark and anxious hours.”
Sister Lucia wrote several memoirs in which she revealed the content of the children’s visions, which included three secrets. The first secret was a vision of hell; the Vatican interpreted the second secret as a prediction about the rise and fall of Communism and the conversion of Russia.
The third secret, which had been the object of feverish speculation because it was revealed only in 2000, years after the first two were made public, was of a “bishop clothed in white” who makes his way amid the corpses of martyrs until “he too falls to the ground, apparently dead, under a hail of gunfire.” The final secret was interpreted by the Vatican as a prediction of the 1981 assassination attempt on John Paul.
John Paul credited the Madonna of Fátima with saving his life when Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish gunman, tried to kill him on May 13, 1981, the anniversary of the visions. The bullet that struck the pope was later placed alongside diamonds in the golden crown of the statue of Our Lady of Fátima in the village.
This will be Francis’s first visit to Fátima as pope.
The pope on Thursday also signed a decree approving the canonization of “Cristóbal, Antonio and Juan, adolescent martyrs, killed in hatred of the faith in Mexico in 1529,” the Vatican said in a statement.
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