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Fátima expects crowds

THOUSANDS OF people are expected to descend on Fátima in central Portugal this Sunday, May 13, to mark the anniversary of the first apparition of the Virgin Mary to three shepherd children in 1917. As many as 400,000 pilgrims have celebrated the anniversary at the Fátima Santuary in Cova da Iria in previous years.

The cult of Our Lady of Fátima began in 1917 when three children, tending sheep in a field at Cova da Iria near Fátima, saw a shining figure in an oak tree.

Ten-year-old Lúcia dos Santos and her younger cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marta, said the vision told them she had come from heaven and they must return at the same time on the 13th day of the month for the next five months.

On the last day, October 13, tens of thousands of pilgrims were in attendance and many claimed long illnesses were cured and the blind were restored to sight.

The Virgin is said to have imparted the children with a message or secret in three-parts, including a horrifying vision of hell and prophecies foretelling World War II and the fall of Communism in Russia.

The Church was uneasy at first with the rapidly growing cult, only authorising it in 1929. Then, a grandiose sanctuary was built in Fátima to welcome pilgrims, with the encouragement of the ultra-conservative Salazar dictatorship.

The third so-called secret was passed to the Vatican by Lúcia in the 1940s and was always thought to have been of an apocalyptic nature. The last secret was only revealed in the year 2000 when the Pope visited Portugal, when it was announced it related to the Pope’s attempted assassination in 1981.

Every year, on the 13th of the month, from May to October, services and candlelight processions are held, attended by hundreds of thousands of devotees, who come to fulfil pledges made when a loved one recovers from sickness or to pray for the Virgin’s help.

Sister Lúcia, the last remaining visionary of Fátima died on February 13, 2005.

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