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Pope canonizes 2 Fatima children

FATIMA, Portugal – Pope Francis added two Portuguese shepherd children to the roster of Catholic saints Saturday, honoring young siblings whose reported visions of the Virgin Mary 100 years ago turned the Portuguese farm town of Fatima into one of the world’s most important Catholic shrines.

Francis proclaimed Francisco and Jacinta Marto saints at the start of Mass marking the centenary of their visions.

A woman rests her hand in the hand of a statue of Our Lady of Fatima after a Mass in Fatima's honor at the Metropolitan Cathedral, in Santiago, Chile, Saturday, May 13, 2017. Pope Francis canonized on Saturday two poor, illiterate shepherd children whose visions of the Virgin Mary 100 years ago in Fatima marked one of the most important events of the 20th-century Catholic Church. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)A half-million people watched in the vast square in front of the shrine’s basilica, the Vatican said, citing Portuguese authorities. Many had spent days at Fatima in prayer, reciting rosaries before a statue of the Madonna. They clapped as soon as Francis read the proclamation aloud.

“It is amazing. It’s like an answer to prayer, because I felt that always they would be canonized,” said Agnes Walsh from Killarney, Ireland. She said she prayed to Francisco Marto for 20 years, hoping her four daughters would meet “nice boys like Francisco.”

“The four of them have met boys that are just beautiful. I couldn’t ask for better, so he has answered all my prayers,” she said.

The pontiff left Fatima on Saturday afternoon after a stay of less than 24 hours. From his popemobile, he saluted thousands of people lining the streets who cheered, waved flags, and shouted “Viva o Papa!”

Francisco and Jacinta, aged nine and seven, and their 10-year-old cousin, Lucia, reported that on March 13, 1917, the Virgin Mary made the first of a half-dozen appearances to them while they grazed their sheep. They said she confided in them three secrets – foretelling apocalyptic visions of hell, war, communism, and the death of a pope – and urged them to pray for peace and a conversion from sin.

At the time, Europe was in the throes of World War I, and the Portuguese church was suffering under anti-clerical laws from the republican government that had forced many bishops and priests into exile.

“Our Lady foretold, and warned us about, a way of life that is godless and indeed profanes God in his creatures,” Francis said in his homily. “Such a life, frequently proposed and imposed, risks leading to hell.” (AP)