Pope Francis has canonised two shepherd children who saw Mary at Fatima on the 100th anniversary of the first apparition.
“We declare and define Blessed Francisco Marto and Blessed Jacinta Marto as saints,” the Pope said on Saturday May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, in front of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.
The relics of the young shepherd children, encased in two thin golden crosses, were placed in front of the famed statue of Our Lady of Fatima.
What the media said
The story received wide coverage: the Observer used a big picture of Pope Francis on the cover, under the headline: “Pope canonises two children at Marian shrine.”
That aspect of the occasion – Francisco and Jacinta are the two youngest non-martyred saints ever to be canonised – caught the popular imagination. At theatlantic.com, Aria Bendix noted: “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.”
Bendix said many pilgrims “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.”
What Catholics said
At patheos.com, Mark Shea admired Pope Francis for “irking everybody”. First he “uses loaded language about tearing down walls to make the point that the purpose of the Church is to evangelise, not confer a blessing on xenophobic self-absorbed promethean neo-Pelagians who hate evangelism”. But then “he irks Protestants with the ancient apostolic truth that to be Christian is to be Marian. Finally, he irks Catholic progressives tempted by universalism with the reminder that if you live a godless life, you will go to hell.”
At mondayvatican.com, Andrea Gagliarducci said Fatima was still “one of the signs of hope. People are thirsty for hope.” They might sometimes look in the wrong places, but their search means the events of Fatima are “valid any time and everywhere”.
✣ Priestly vocations decline in England and Wale
There has been a sharp fall in the number of candidates for the diocesan priesthood, the National Office for Vocation has announced. Thirty men entered priestly formation in 2016, compared with 45 in the previous year. Eight dioceses had no new entrants at all. The number of entrants to religious life was up from 54 to 60.
Why was it under-reported?
There was no dramatic headline figure – as there was in 2015, for instance, when the number of women entering religious life hit a 25-year high, or 2010, when the number of new seminarians hit its highest level for a decade. And in general it is hard to say what a single year’s numbers signify. Moreover, dioceses were unlikely to trumpet figures which suggest that vocations remain disappointingly low. Having said that, the dioceses of Southwark (with five new entrants) and Birmingham (four) seem to be doing something right.
What will happen next?
The bishops’ conference has offered projections for future ordinations to the diocesan priesthood. These indicate that the number of new ordinations will rise in 2017, then hit nearly 40 in 2018, before falling again. More noticeable, however, is the graph of long-term trends. In the mid-1980s, the number of ordinations a year was around 80; a decade later, it was more than 100. That declined until in the year 2000 it dipped below 40, where it has remained since. Parish closures, and foreign priests, will remain necessary for some time.
✣The week ahead
On Saturday Britain’s biggest annual pro-life march will take place in Birmingham. A welcome will be given by Bishop Robert Byrne. Speakers include pro-life activist Lila Rose and former Planned Parenthood worker Catherine Adair. The event also includes a performance from Scottish opera star Martin Aelred. More info can be found at marchforlife.co.uk.
A shrine to the “divestiture” of St Francis of Assisi will be inaugurated on Saturday. The shrine, at the 11th century church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Assisi (pictured), includes access to the room where Francis stripped naked and renounced his possessions.
The shrine of St Augustine at Ramsgate will hold its St Augustine Week next Saturday until Sunday June 4. The week follows a £1.2 million development project. Cardinal George Pell will lead a pilgrimage to kick off the week. Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark will celebrate the shrine’s re-opening on the following Saturday.
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