Pilgrims flock to Fatima in hope Pope will disclose 'third secret'

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The Independent Online

Rain lashed Portugal's holy sanctuary of Fatima yesterday, turning a sprawling tent city of pilgrims into a quagmire.

But the deluge did not stop Domingos Lazaro and his 11 companions enjoying steaming plates of meat and potatoes cooked on a camp stove in their tent. They had walked 200 miles from Povoa de Varzim in the north to be here. "We've been resting here for three days, and we're looking forward to seeing the Pope. It's a special moment," Domingos said.

Like thousands of others thronging to this tiny hamlet, 70 miles north of Lisbon, Domingos has personal reasons for offering thanks to the Virgin Mary, whom he believes spared the life of his newborn son 10 years ago. "He weighed only 2kg and they didn't think he'd survive. But he did and I promised I'd make the pilgrimage. I couldn't come then, but the priest said that was all right, I should come when I can."

Domingos and five companions yesterday crawled the half-mile stone path to the shrine near the spot where three shepherd children said they saw the Virgin Mary on 13 May 1917.

The Pope is to beatify two of the children, Jacinta Marta and her brother Francisco, at a ceremony today. The two died of pneumonia in 1919 and 1920. The third, their cousin Lucia, entered a convent in 1921 and is now 92. Yesterday she said she was "delighted" that her cousins were destined for sainthood.

The Pope could also disclose the last of three secrets of Fatima, said to have been told by the Virgin Mary to the three children. The first and second secrets referred to the First World War and the collapse of Communism in Russia. The Vatican has never divulged the third secret because, many Catholics assume, it predicts a nuclear apocalypse or some other catastrophe.

As pilgrims entered the huge sanctuary area yesterday, some carrying just plastic bags and wearing bulky layers of peasant skirts, many wailed and wept with emotion. Women inched painfully forward on their knees, some already bloodied, rosary beads entwined in their fingers. One woman cradled a baby. One man crawled on his stomach. Nuns mopped the muddy flagstones ahead of the pilgrims, murmuring words of encouragement.

Deolinda, 37, groaned with pain and effort as she crawled up the steps to the basilica. "I've walked from the northern village of Paz Ferreira for five days, eating just bread and water. My mother had a stroke, my father is ill in hospital and my nephew had his leg amputated. He was very ill, but he recovered, so I've come to give thanks."

Tears sprang to her eyes as she spoke, then she added: "I'm going back to the top of the sanctuary to do it again."