VATICAN ( -- Pope John Paul II traveled to the famed Fatima shrine in Portugal on May 12-13, to preside at the beatification of Francesco and Jacinta Marto, two of the three children to whom the Virgin Mary appeared there in 1917.

During his trip, the Pope made newspaper headlines all over the world by disclosing the content of the "third secret" of Fatima: a vision which essentially predicted the attempt on the Pope's life that occurred on Mary 13, 1981-- the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. (For more details on that announcement, see the special Feature story of May 13.)

The Pope was welcomed at the airport in Lisbon by Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio, and by a large delegation of young children dressed in white. After his helicopter ride to Fatima, he was greeted there by tens of thousands of pilgrims who had come to the shrine for the feast and the beatification ceremonies. 

When the Popemobile arrived at the Fatima shrine itself, the crowd cheered enthusiastically, and the cheering stopped only when the Holy Father knelt before the statue of the Virgin Mary. After a few minutes of silent prayer, the Pope saluted the crowd, saying: "It is a great joy for me to come to this blessed place." The Pope did not participate in the candlelight procession to the shrine, which is an annual tradition on the eve of the feast. But after an evening's rest, he returned to the shrine for the beatification ceremonies on the morning of May 13.

"The message of Fatima is an appeal to conversion," the Pope said in his homily. "In her motherly solicitude, the Blessed Virgin came here, to Fatima, to ask men not to offend God any more. It was a mother's sorrow that obliged her to speak." The Pope told the massive congregation-- estimated at 600,000-- that the feast of Bl. Francesco and Jacinta Marto would be observed on February 20, the day when Jacinta died in 1920. He also reminded the congregation of the "intense spirituality" of the young seers, and the fervent prayer which led to their "true mystical union with the Lord." 

Just prior to the beatification ceremony, the Pope prayed at the graves of the two Fatima seers.
He also met with privately with the third seer, Sister Lucia, who is now a 93-year-old Carmelite nun. Sister Lucia was also present for the beatification, along with the superior of the convent where she lives in Coimbra, Portugal.