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The BBC's David Willey
The prophesy relates to the assassination attempt on the Pope in 1981
 real 28k

Saturday, 13 May, 2000, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
Pope blesses Fatima children
The Pope meets  Sister Lucia dos Santos
The Pope had talks with the surviving visionary
Pope John Paul II has conducted an historic ceremony in Portugal to beatify two shepherd children who in 1917 reported seeing visions of the Virgin Mary on a hillside near the town of Fatima.

Jacinta and Francisco Marto are the first children to be proclaimed blessed, which is the first step towards canonisation.

They both died from influenza before they reached the age of 11.

Francisco and Jacinta Marto died in childhood

Beatification can only be bestowed upon the dead. The third visionary, Sister Lucia dos Santos, a frail, 93-year-old nun, is still alive.

She had a brief meeting with the Pope before attending the ceremony.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims joined the President and the Prime Minister of Portugal for the beatification at a shrine built to commemorate the visions, just over 100km north of Lisbon.

Fatima secrets
First secret: A vision of Hell said to refer to the two world wars
Second secret: Predicted Russia would one day return to Christianity
Third secret: Predicted the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II

Many families dressed their children as shepherds in imitation of the new blesseds.

It took the Pope 40 minutes to weave through the huge crowd in his popemobile before taking his chair and raising his right hand in salute before the beatification.

John Paul II is said to have had a special fondness for Fatima since 1981, when he was wounded in an assassination attempt in St. Peter's Square on May 13 - the anniversary of the first apparition.

After recovering from his gunshot wounds, he left one of the bullets in the crown of the statue of the Madonna at the Fatima shrine.

The Pope kneels before the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima
Pope John Paul believes Fatima saved his life

This is the third time John Paul II has visited the sanctuary which marks the spot where the visions appeared.

The Catholic Church is usually sceptical about stories of visions, but in this rare case it has chosen to authenticate the children's story.

The Church believes that the Madonna appeared to the three young visionaries six times between May and October 1917, bestowing on them three secrets.

Two of the so-called "secrets of Fatima" have been well known for decades, but until Saturday the third was never revealed to anyone but Popes and a few top Vatican officials.

The third secret of Fatima has now been revealed as a prophecy of the 1981 attempt on the Pope's life, not a doomsday vision as many people feared.

News of the visions spread quickly and on the last occasion the Madonna appeared to the children, five months to the day after the first vision, about 50,000 people gathered to watch.

On that day, witnesses claimed to have seen the sun dance in the sky.

The three secrets were written down by Sister Lucia in 1944, at a time she thought she was dying, and sent to Rome where they have been kept locked away in the Vatican archives.

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12 May 00 | Europe
Children who saw a vision
24 Dec 99 | Europe
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20 Mar 00 | Middle East
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24 Mar 00 | Middle East
Pope in the footsteps of Jesus
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