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Pope to mark Fatima centenary with May 2017 trip to Portugal

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Pope Francis is to visit the Fatima shrine in Portugal next year on the centenary of the date when three shepherd children said the Virgin Mary first appeared to them above an olive tree, Portuguese officials announced Thursday.

The pontiff will be in the small farming town on May 12 and 13, 2017, the Portuguese president's office announced on its website. The first apparition was May 13, but a midnight Mass and a candlelight procession the previous day usually kick off the annual celebrations.

While the Vatican only confirms papal trips closer to the date, Francis himself has previously said he planned to visit Fatima to mark the anniversary. No further details of the visit were made public. Francis will be the fourth pope to visit Fatima. The last one was Benedict XVI in 2010, when he also visited the cities of Lisbon and Porto.

Like the shrine at Lourdes, France, Fatima draws huge numbers of visitors — local officials estimate some 6 million — each year. The town is 150 kilometers (90 miles) north of Lisbon.

The Portuguese children said the Virgin Mary appeared to them six times in 1917, between May and October, and confided to them three secrets. The first two foretold the end of World War I and the start of World War II, and the rise and fall of Soviet communism.

In 2000, the Vatican disclosed the long-awaited third secret, describing it as foretelling the 1981 assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square in Rome. The shooting was on May 13, and John Paul credited the Virgin with saving his life.

The three children were cousins. Two of them, Francisco and Jacinto Marto, died at nine and 11 of pneumonia. The third, Sister Lucia Marto, died in a convent in 2005 at 97.

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