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Thousands show up as Pope Francis holds service at Fatima’s shrine

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In this handout picture taken and released on August 5, 2023, by Vatican Media, Pope Francis arrives for the Holy Rosary prayer with sick young people at the Chapel of Apparitions in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, in Fatima. — AFP

Thousands of worshippers showed up as Pope Francis Saturday held service at the Shrine of Fatima — a place highly revered by the Catholics —  in Portugal.

Pope Francis stopped several times to kiss babies who were brought to him.

The pope then recited the rosary with 112 sick youths, people with disabilities and prisoners at the chapel built on the spot where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to three shepherd children in 1917.

In an address to the crowd estimated by local authorities at around 200,000 people, he reinforced calls made many times during his trip to Portugal for an inclusive Church.

“This little chapel where we find ourselves, is like a beautiful image of the Church, welcoming, without doors,” he said in improvised remarks.

“The Church does not have doors so that everyone can enter,” he added to applause from the crowd.

It is the second day in a row that the pope, who is in increasingly fragile health and now uses a wheelchair or walking stick to get around, has not followed his prepared remarks.

This picture released on August 5, 2023, shows Pope Francis touching a baby as he arrives before in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, in Fatima. — AFP
This picture released on August 5, 2023, shows Pope Francis touching a baby as he arrives before in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, in Fatima. — AFP 

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told reporters the pope had improvised one of his speeches on Friday due to “discomfort of vision”, but that in Fatima it had been “a choice”.

The pope solemnly prayed in silence for several minutes before a statue of the Virgin Mary in the chapel.

In a text published later on Twitter, which is being rebranded as ´X´, the pontiff said he had prayed for the “church and the world, especially for countries at war”.

One million faithful to attend

Pope Francis arrived in Portugal Wednesday for World Youth Day — a six-day international Catholic jamboree.

After the service in Fatima, about 150 kilometres north of the capital Lisbon, he returned by helicopter to the capital, where Saturday evening he will lead a vigil at the waterfront Parque Tejo.

Church organisers expect one million faithful will attend the vigil at the park that has been built for the occasion on a former landfill site.

Fatima draws millions of pilgrims from around the globe.

Pope Francis waves from the popemobile prior to presiding over the Holy Rosary prayer with sick young people at the Chapel of Apparitions in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, in Fatima, on August 5, 2023. — AFP
 Pope Francis waves from the popemobile prior to presiding over the Holy Rosary prayer with sick young people at the Chapel of Apparitions in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, in Fatima, on August 5, 2023. — AFP

Many pilgrims walk to the town and some complete the final stretch on their knees to demonstrate their devotion.

Others toss wax limbs or organs into a fire beside the chapel as they recite prayers for healing.

Thousands of worshippers had already gathered in Fatima on Friday on the eve of the pope’s arrival, many setting up folding chairs in the shrine’s vast square to mark their spot.

Many slept in sleeping bags or floor mats on the esplanade of the shrine.

Chance to see Pope Francis

Susana Marino, a 48-year-old Portuguese psychologist, said she had come to Fatima because “it really will be the last chance we have to see the pope”.

The leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Roman Catholics will deliver a final open-air mass Sunday morning at the Parque Tejo when a heatwave is forecast to peak.

Portugal’s state weather agency has issued a “red” alert for Lisbon Sunday due to the heat, with the mercury predicted to hit 41 degrees Celsius (105.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

Local authorities have repeatedly urged pilgrims to drink plenty of water.

Registered participants received rucksacks containing reusable water bottles and sunhats, along with a rosary.

World Youth Day, created in 1986 by John Paul II, is the largest Catholic gathering in the world and will feature a wide range of events, including concerts and prayer sessions.

This edition, initially scheduled for August 2022 but postponed because of the pandemic, will be the fourth for Francis after Rio de Janeiro in 2013, Krakow in 2016 and Panama in 2019.



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