VATICAN CITY, MAY 13, 2000 (VIS) - This morning on the esplanade of the Shrine of OurLady of the Rosary (Fatima) in the presence of more than half a million people, the Pope beatified Jacinta and Francisco Marto, two of the three little shepherds of Fatima to whom Mary appeared. Their feast will be celebrated on February 20. Cardinals and bishops, present for the occasion, concelebrated Mass with the Pope.

Prior to the Eucharistic celebration, the Pope visited the tombs of Jacinta and Francisco which are inside the basilica, and he had a brief conversation with Sr. Lucia, the only one of the three who saw Mary who is still alive. The basilica was consecrated in 1953. Its 15 side altars are dedicated to the 15 mysteries of the Rosary. The painting over the main altar represents the Virgin's message to the seers.

"By this rite," said the Holy Father in his homily, "the Church wishes to adorn the lamp with these two flames that God lit to illuminate humanity in its hours of darkness and worry."

After recalling Blessed Francisco's desire to console Jesus, saddened by sin, he said: "His life was marked by a transformation that may be called radical, a transformation most certainly not common in children of his age. He committed himself to an intense spiritual life, through prayer so assiduous and fervent as to become a true form of mystical union with the Lord. ... Francisco bore without complaint the great suffering caused by the illness from which he later died.  Everything seemed trivial to him in (his desire to) to console Jesus, he died with a smile on his lips."

"In her maternal solicitude, the Most Holy Virgin came here to Fatima in order to ask men 'to never again offend God, Our Lord, as He has already been much offended.' It is her pain as a mother that obliges her to speak, the fate of her children is at stake. For this reason she asks the little shepherds: 'Pray, pray a lot and sacrifice yourselves for sinners; so many souls end up in hell because there is no one to pray and make sacrifices for them'."

John Paul II indicated that "little Jacinta shared and lived the same pain as the Madonna, heroically offering herself as a victim for sinners. ... She was so impressed by the vision of hell during the July apparition, that all mortification and penance seemed slight to her in order to save sinners."

"Here in Fatima, where these times of tribulation were foretold and the Virgin requested prayer and penance in order to shorten them, I wish today to give thanks to heaven for the strength of witness that was shown in (those times). Once more I wish to celebrate the Lord's mercy towards me when, gravely injured on May 13 1981, I was saved from death. I also express my recognition to Blessed Jacinta for her sacrifice and prayers for the Holy Father, whom she saw suffer so much."

Prior to the conclusion of the ceremony, there was adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The Pope then greeted the sick present: "Have faith (in the Lord)! Surrender yourselves into His secure hands, just as the little shepherds Francisco and Jacinta did. They tell you that you are not alone,.. The heavenly Father loves you."

Following the beatification, Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano read a text in Portuguese concerning the third secret of Fatima. This text was published by VIS in its special edition of Saturday, May 13.

John Paul II then travelled to the House of Our Lady of Carmel where he had lunch with the members of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference and his entourage. At 3:50 p.m. he travelled by helicopter from Fatima to Lisbon. At 4:30 he bade farewell to the authorities at Lisbon's 'Portela' international airport and began his return journey to Rome where he arrived at 8:45 p.m.