FATIMA, Portugal — Pope Francis has canonized two of three Shepherd children who claimed to see the Virgin Mary over 100 years ago.
The two girls and a boy from the Portuguese town of Fatima said the Madonna shared with them three secrets, which were later interpreted as foretelling the Second World War, the rise and fall of Communism and the death of a pope.
The Virgin Mary continued to visit the three young shepherds on the 13th day of the month for six months.
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Francisco and Jacinta Marto — ages 9 and 7, respectively, at the time of the apparitions — died two years later of influenza, leaving their cousin Lucia dos Santos to share the secret messages with the world.
The pontiff held a mass in the shrine town Saturday to canonize the Marto siblings, making them the youngest saints who did not die as martyrs in the history of the Catholic Church.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims attended the celebrations as church groups, families and individuals flocked to Fatima, 90 miles north of Lisbon.
Dos Santos, who was nine when she experienced the visions, grew up to become a Carmelite nun and lived until the age of 95.
She later revealed the prophecies in a memoir and a letter to the Vatican. She is currently on track for beatification, the first step towards becoming a saint. However, the process could not begin until after her death.
Pope Francis' trips abroad often have geopolitical or ecumenical undertones. But his visit to Fatima is purely religious.
"This is a special trip," Pope Francis told journalists on board the flight to Portugal. "It is a voyage of prayer."
Addressing the thousands of pilgrims present at the outdoor mass the pontiff said Catholics should take the Marto siblings as a model.
"We can take as our examples Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta, whom the Virgin Mary introduced into the immense ocean of God’s light and taught to adore him. That was the source of their strength in overcoming opposition and suffering," he said.
While the prophecies refer to events of the twentieth century, the Pope drew parallels between the Virgin Mary's century-old call for penance and reconciliation during World War I and today.
At a candle light vigil Friday, the pope told faithful to “tear down all walls and spread peace and justice.”
Pope Francis has become the fourth Pope to visit Fatima, after Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and will join millions of pilgrims who visit the site every year.
Portugal has boosted security ahead of the pontiff's visit and has reinstated border controls restricting freedom of movement from other European states.
Six thousand police officers patrolled the area and concrete blocks have been placed to protect the pilgrims.