A hundred years ago, in Fatima, Portugal, two children were said to have received the first of several visions of the Virgin Mary while they were tending their family’s sheep. The children, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, died young, victims of the Spanish flu epidemic that was devastating Europe, but their little town became a gathering place for countless pilgrims. On Saturday, the two were canonized by Pope Francis in a large outdoor mass in Fatima, becoming the youngest saints in Catholic history who were not martyrs.
A crowd of around half a million people gathered for the occasion outside the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, the epicenter of the small Portuguese farm town. The sanctuary attracts millions of religious devotees each year, making it one of the world’s most visited shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Many visitors slept outdoors in anticipation of Saturday’s mass, with some choosing to arrive days earlier to pray at the shrine and recite rosaries in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary. Before delivering the mass, Pope Francis also prayed before the tombs of the Marto siblings.
The pope proclaimed the siblings’s sainthood at the start of the mass, generating widespread applause from the crowd. “We can take as our examples Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta, whom the Virgin Mary introduced into the immense ocean of God’s light and taught to adore him,” the pope said. “That was the source of their strength in overcoming opposition and suffering.”