Pope sets May 13 as canonization date for Fatima siblings

Pope Francis will canonize Blessed Jacinta Marto and Blessed Francisco Marto, the two siblings who witnessed the Virgin Mary's appearances at Fatima, during his upcoming visit to the site of the apparitions on May 13.

Millions of faithful each year visit the Fatima shrine, one of the most famous in Christianity.

The trip has been timed to mark the 100th anniversary of the first reported apparitions of the Virgin who, according to Catholic tradition, shared three major prophesies with the children. "They learned the catechism at home, along with their cousin Lucia".

Unlike Lucia, who became a nun and lived to the age of 98, Francisco and Jacinta died in childhood, aged just 9 and 11, as a result of the great flu epidemic that swept through Europe in 1918. US presidents have in the past made a beeline for the Vatican while they were in Italy or Europe to meet with the head of the world's largest Christian church.

Pilgrims light votive candles at the Sanctuary of Our Lady Fatima.

"This will ensure the centenary of the apparitions will take place in all its splendour", said Antonio Marto. The apparitions continued once a month until October 13, 1917, and later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church. In 1941 she said she and the siblings had been given three secrets by Mary; the first was a vision of Hell and the second was a warning that another, more devastating war was looming - the Second World War.

Their cousin Lucia joined a convent. There is also normally a chance to note the demeanor of the leaders as they exchange gifts with one another.

The Financial Times had reported "when Donald Trump visits Italy for the first time as president, one meeting will be conspicuously absent from his itinerary: He has no plans to meet with the Pope, according to USA and Vatican officials".

The secrets were interpreted as relating to Hell, World War I and World War II, and the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981.

Francisco and Jacinta Marto were beatified - the last step before sainthood - by Pope John Paul in 2000. Church officials say the miracle concerned an inexplicable cure of a Brazilian child. The beatification process for Dos Santos began after her death in 2005.

Talk of Fatima and miracles does not sit comfortably with everyone in the Church and Vatican commentaries tend to emphasise the children's heroic virtue rather than the supernatural aspects.

"They attended little school, and they were practically illiterate", he said.

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  • Joanne Flowers