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Pope urges Catholics in Fatima: Spread peace

FATIMA, Portugal – Pope Francis urged Catholics on Friday to “tear down all walls” and spread peace as he traveled to this Portuguese shrine town to mark the 100th anniversary of one of the most unique events of the 20th-century Catholic Church: The visions of the Virgin Mary reported by three illiterate shepherd children and the “secrets” she told them.

Thousands of pilgrims lined Francis’ motorcade route and tossed flower petals, evidence that Latin America’s first pope has a huge following in this largely Catholic country. Cheers of “Viva o papa!” – “Long live the pope” – erupted when Francis pulled into Fatima’s main square, which had been doused by heavy rains but was treated to a brilliant warm sun by the time he arrived.

There was no official crowd estimate, but the main square has a capacity of 600,000 and was overflowing. Authorities said they expected one million people.

“It is a big emotion because it is the first time he comes here, and we are always hopeful that something can improve,” said Laurindo Pereira, a 55-year-old carpenter. “It is faith. In everything, it is about faith and it is a beautiful thing.”

Francis is spending fewer than 24 hours in Fatima to celebrate the centenary of the apparitions and canonize two of the three shepherd children. He is hoping the message of peace that they reported 100 years ago, when Europe was in the throes of World War I, will resonate with the Catholic faithful today.

During an evening vigil at the chapel built on the site of the apparitions, Francis bowed his head in silent prayer before the statue of the Virgin and left a gold-leaf rose at its base, following a tradition of popes leaving golden roses at Marian shrines. (AP)

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