News Headlines > FATIMA@100: Pope says poor and sick are Church assets as he canonises shepherd children in Fatima

13 May 2017 | by Christopher Lamb

FATIMA@100: Pope says poor and sick are Church assets as he canonises shepherd children in Fatima

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Pope Francis called for a Church that is “poor in means and rich in love” as he canonised two shepherd children who had witnessed apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Fatima a century ago. 

In front of a half million-strong crowd at the shrine in Portugal this morning (Saturday), Francis said devotion to Mary should make Catholicism “missionary, welcoming, free, faithful” while emphasising that the message of Our Lady of Fatima was one of hope for those on the margins of society. 

“Thank you, brothers and sisters, for being here with me! I could not fail to come here to venerate the Virgin Mary and to entrust to her all her sons and daughters,” the Pope said in his homily today. “Under her mantle they are not lost; from her embrace will come the hope and the peace that they require, and that I implore for all my brothers and sisters in baptism and in our human family, especially the sick and the disabled, prisoners and the unemployed, the poor and the abandoned.”

He went on: “With Mary’s protection, may we be for our world sentinels of the dawn, contemplating the true face of Jesus the Saviour, resplendent at Easter.  Thus may we rediscover the young and beautiful face of the Church, which shines forth when she is missionary, welcoming, free, faithful, poor in means and rich in love.”

Straight after the canonisation Mass, where many had slept out overnight to attend, the Latin American pontiff then greeted a group of sick and disabled pilgrims telling them they were “an asset to every Christian community”.

He told them: “Your silent presence, which is more eloquent than a flood of words, your prayers, the daily offering of your sufferings in union with those of Jesus crucified for the salvation of the world, the patient and even joyful acceptance of your condition – all these are a spiritual resource, an asset to every Christian community. Do not be ashamed of being a precious treasure of the Church.”

The Pope likened them to the shepherd children, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, who he had earlier declared saints: they witnessed the apparitions aged seven and nine, but then died a year later from the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. 

“Like the shepherd children, tell Our Lady that you want to offer yourselves to God with all your heart,” the Pope said. “Don’t think of yourselves simply as the recipients of charitable solidarity, but feel that you share fully in the Church’s life and mission.”

The children were given a series of prophecies from Fatima, which were recorded by the third child to witness them, Lucia dos Santos, who became a Carmelite Nun and died at the age of 97. The three “secrets of Fatima”  include apocalyptic style prophesies of hell, world wars and the need to convert Russia. The third message, written down by Sister Lucia in 1943 but only released in 2000, inspired years of conspiracy theories with some accusing the Vatican of covering up the true message. 

This final secret talked about a great persecution of priests and religious and referred to a “bishop dressed in white” taken to be the Pope, who comes under fire from arrows and bullets and dies. This was taken by John Paul II to be a prophecy of the assassination attempt against him in 1981. 

But Francis, who has a strong personal devotion to Mary and love of popular piety, has used his pilgrimage to recast the Marian message as one of peace, humility and justice. It’s been a visit that has given a spiritual rooting to his mission to those on the peripheries while also underlying his call for an “inverted pyramid” church where the people sit at the top with bishops and priests serving from below. 

He’s also taken on some of the false piety surrounding marian devotion. Last night the Pope stressed that Mary was a teacher of love and tenderness and not a remote “plaster statue” impossible to imitate. Neither, he added, is she someone trying to restrain a vengeful God. 

The canonisations took place during the second and final day of the Pope’s trip to Fatima, a visit that has been above all a pilgrimage to one of the world’s most important Marian shrines. At the beginning of the Mass the Pope said "we declare and define Blessed Francisco Marto and Jacinta Marto be saints and we enrol them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church”. At that point they were officially canonised, and become the youngest ever saints not to be martyred.  

The liturgy, which was celebrated in Portuguese and Latin, and according to the authorities was attended by 500,000 people while eight cardinals, 71 bishops and 2,000 priests concelebrated. 

Later on, Francis had lunch with bishops and is boarding a flight back to Rome this evening and while airborne he is expected to give his customary press conference. 

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