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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, 12:34 GMT 13:34 UK
Fatima's 'third secret' revealed
The Pope meets  Sister Lucia dos Santos
The Pope had talks with the surviving visionary
The Vatican has given details for the first time of the so-called third secret of Fatima.

It said the secret - revealed by the Virgin Mary to three young children in a series of visions - related to the failed 1981 assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II.

The statement was issued by the Pope's secretary of state to pilgrims who had gathered for a special mass to beatify two of the three shepherd children who reported seeing the visions in 1917 on a hillside near the town of Fatima, in Portugal.

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: Involves martyrdom and suffering, including a man "clothed in white" who "falls to the ground apparently dead"

While two of the so-called "secrets of Fatima" are well known, the third has never been revealed to anyone but Popes and a few top Vatican officials.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano said the third part of the secret involved martyrdom and suffering, including a man "clothed in white" who "falls to the ground apparently dead, under a burst of gunfire".

The cardinal said that, after the 1981 assassination attempt by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca, "it appeared evident to his Holiness that it was a motherly hand which guided the bullets past, enabling the dying Pope to halt at the threshold of death."

Special feeling

He added that the entire secret would be made public after "appropriate" preparation for the faithful.

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

Pope John Paul II is reported to have had a special fondness for Fatima since the 1981 assassination attempt, which occurred on 13 May - 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.

Despite his physical frailty, he travelled to Portugal to conduct Saturday's historic ceremony.

It was the third time the Pope had visited the shrine which marks the spot where the visions appeared.

Step towards canonisation

Jacinta and Francisco Marto, who both died of influenza before they reached the age of 11, are the first children to be proclaimed blessed, which is the initial step towards canonisation.

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.

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.

Stories authenticated

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 the three secrets.

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

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12 May 00 | Europe
Children who saw a vision
24 Dec 99 | Europe
Pope launches Holy Year
20 Mar 00 | Middle East
Pilgrim Pope appeals for peace
24 Mar 00 | Middle East
Pope in the footsteps of Jesus
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