Thursday May 13 2010
Tens of thousands of pilgrims have flooded the Portuguese shrine town of Fatima for the pope's mass celebrating the anniversary of the day when three shepherd children reported having visions of the Virgin Mary.
The pope was driven into the square in his popemobile amid cheers from a crowd that observers said could reach a record 500,000. As the mass got under way, the downpour that had soaked pilgrims who had walked for days to reach Fatima broke and the sun emerged from behind dark clouds.
The outdoor mass marked the centrepiece of the Pope's four-day visit to Portugal. It followed an evening, candlelit prayer service in which the pontiff said he was bringing the suffering "of a wounded humanity, of the problems of the world" to Fatima.
The pope has spoken repeatedly about the sufferings of the world and even the church during the trip, saying the "sins of the church" were responsible for the clerical sex abuse scandal.
Today marked the 93rd anniversary of the day - May 13, 1917 - when three Portuguese shepherd children reported having visions of the Virgin Mary over an oak tree in Fatima. It also marked the 10th anniversary of the beatifications of two of the shepherds and the fifth anniversary of the death of the third.
Pope John Paul II was also shot in St Peter's Square on May 13 1981 - a coincidence that led him to believe that the Virgin's "unseen hand" had "rescued him from death," the pope said.
He said John Paul gave the bullet that was extracted from his abdomen to the shrine as a measure of his gratitude, and today it forms part of the crown of the statue of the Virgin in a chapel where the pope prayed upon his arrival.
"It is a profound consolation to know that you are crowned not only with the silver and gold of our joys and hopes but also with the 'bullet' of our anxieties and sufferings," the pope said.
The pope told the crowd: "I have come to Fatima to pray, in union with Mary and so many pilgrims, for our human family, afflicted as it is by various ills and sufferings."
Urging the infirm to take heart, he told them they can "overcome the feeling of uselessness, of suffering which wears people down and makes them feel like they are a weight around the neck of others, when in fact suffering, lived through Jesus, leads to salvation."