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Stage set for papal trip to Fatima

Catholic World News - May 10, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI will leave Rome on May 11 for a 4-day trip to Portugal, highlighted by a visit to Fatima-- unless the clouds of volcanic ash in the atmosphere over Europe force a change in his schedule.

The Holy Father will be at Fatima to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the beatification of Francisco and Jacinta Marto, two of the three children who witnessed the appearances of the Virgin Mary there. At least 300,000 people are expected to attend a papal Mass at the famous shrine on May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima.

Fatima has been a focal point of Catholic devotion for nearly a century, since the apparitions began on May 13, 1917. Interest in the Marian shrine redoubled after Pope John Paul II survived an assassination attempt that occurred on that same date in 1981. The Polish Pope firmly believed that the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima spared his life, and the bullet that nearly killed him has now been placed in the crown on a famous statue of the Virgin Mary at the Fatima shrine.

Fatima returned to the news in May 2000 when the Vatican revealed the contents of the much-discussed "third secret of Fatima," which contained what appeared to be a poetic prediction of the attempt on the Pope's life. The papal visit will inevitably revive a debate over whether the Vatican has disclosed the "third secret" in its entirety.

Pope Benedict will arrive in Portugal at a time when the country is experiencing severe economic uncertainties. Bishop Carlos Azevedo, a Lisbon auxiliary who is coordinating arrangements for the papal visit, said that Pope Benedict will bring a much-needed message of "the joy of faith and hope" to a country preoccupied by economic troubles. Citing the Pope's encyclical Caritas in Veritate, the Portuguese bishop said that the Pope will remind his countrymen that the systemic crisis facing Europe is not merely economic but spiritual.

The Pope will fly from Rome to Lisbon on May 11, continuing on to Fatima the next day. After two days in Fatima he will make stops in Gaia and Porto before returning to Rome on May 14.

During his midday public audience on Sunday, May 9, the Pontiff asked for prayers for the success of his trip, and told the crowd in St. Peter's Square, "I in turn assure you of my prayers to Our Lady of Fatima for the whole People of God."

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