Fatima seers become Church’s youngest non-martyred saints

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FATIMA, Portugal — Standing before the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, Pope Francis canonized two shepherd children who saw Mary at Fatima.

"We declare and define Blessed Francisco Marto and Blessed Jacinta Marto as saints," the pope said May 13 as an estimated 500,000 pilgrims applauded.

The relics of the young shepherd children, encased in two thin golden crosses, were placed in front of the famed statue of Our Lady of Fatima, the "lady dressed in white" as the siblings and their cousin described her.

The Marian apparitions began May 13, 1917, when 9-year-old Francisco and 7-year-old Jacinta, along with their 10-year-old cousin Lucia dos Santos, reported seeing the Virgin Mary. The apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church.

After contracting influenza, Francisco died April 4, 1919, at the age of 10, while Jacinta succumbed to her illness Feb. 20, 1920, at the age of 9.

Beatified by St. John Paul II in 2000, the children are the youngest non-martyrs to be declared saints by the Catholic Church.

Before arriving at the shrine, the pope met privately with Portuguese Prime Minster Antonio Costa and then visited the sanctuary that houses the tombs of Sts. Francisco and Jacinta and their cousin Lucia, who died in 2005 at the age of 97. The diocesan phase of her sainthood cause concluded in February and now is under study at the Vatican.

Pope Francis stood for several minutes in front of the tombs with his eyes closed and head bowed.

In the homily at the canonization Mass, the pope reflected on the brief lives of the young sibling saints, who are often remembered more for the apparitions rather than for their holy lives. Rather than an apparition, Mary's message and example is important, he told the crowd

"The Virgin Mother did not come here so that we could see her; we will have all eternity for that, provided, of course, that we go to heaven," the pope said, adding that Mary's messages to the young children were a warning to all people about leading "a way of life that is godless and indeed profanes God in his creatures.

"Such a life — frequently proposed and imposed — risks leading to hell. Mary came to remind us that God's light dwells within us and protects us. ... We live in the hope that rests on Jesus."

Pope Francis called on the pilgrims to follow the example of heroic virtue lived by St. Francisco and St. Jacinta, particularly their insistent prayer for sinners and their adoration of "the hidden Jesus" in the tabernacle.

This continual presence of God taught to them by Mary "was the source of their strength in overcoming opposition and suffering," he said, adding that by following their examples, Christians will become "a source of hope for others" and counter "the indifference that chills the heart" and "worsens our myopia."

"We do not want to be a stillborn hope! Life can survive only because of the generosity of other lives."

With the light of hope, the pope added, that the Church can radiate "the true face of Jesus" and reach out to those in need.

"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," he said.

Addressing the sick before concluding the Mass, Pope Francis said that Christ understands the "meaning of sorrow and pain" and, through the Church, offers comfort to the afflicted just as it did for Sts. Francisco and Jacinta in their final moments.

"That is the Church's ministry: the Church asks the Lord to comfort the afflicted like yourselves, and he comforts you, even in ways you cannot see. He comforts you in the depths of your hearts and he comforts you with the gift of strength," the pope said.

The "hidden Jesus" the young shepherds adored in the Eucharist is also present "in the wounds of our brothers and sisters" where Christians can adore, seek and recognize Christ.

Pope Francis encouraged the sick present at Mass to "live their lives as a gift" and to not think of themselves simply "as the recipients of charitable solidarity" but rather "a spiritual resource, an asset to every Christian community."

"Do not be ashamed of being a precious treasure of the Church," he said. 

Pope: Pilgrimage to Fatima a time of prayer, encounter

By Junno Arocho Esteves Catholic News Service

LEIRIA, Portugal — Pope Francis said on his two-day pilgrimage to Fatima would be a time of prayer and encounter with Jesus and Mary.

The visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima "is a bit special," he told reporters aboard his flight from Rome May 12. "It is a journey of prayer, an encounter with the Lord and the holy Mother of God."

After a three-hour flight, during which Pope Francis greeted each of the 69 journalists traveling with him, the papal plane landed at Monte Real air base, about 25 miles from Fatima.

The pope's trip was planned for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Mary's apparitions to three shepherd children in Fatima.

On the actual anniversary, May 13, Pope Francis was to canonize two of the three young seers, Blessed Jacinta Marto and her brother Blessed Francisco Marto, making them the youngest non-martyred saints in the Catholic Church.

Arriving at the military base, the pope was welcomed by Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and held a brief private meeting with him at the base. He also visited the base chapel and blessed sick members of military families.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state and the pope's closest collaborator, said Pope Francis' visit would "express his own love and devotion to Mary" and his great respect for the Marian devotion of Catholics around the world. 

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