Pope Francis arrives in Portugal for Fatima trip

Pope Francis has arrived in Portugal where he is to visit the shrine at Fatima, one of the world’s most popular Catholic pilgrimage sites.

Two Portuguese Air Force F-16 fighter jets escorted the pope’s plane as it came in to land at the Monte Real Portuguese Air Force base, which lies amid pine forests a short distance from the rural town of Fatima. A guard of honor has lined up on the runway next to the plane.

The pontiff’s first official event Friday is a brief private meeting with Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa at the air base.

Fatima is famous for being the place where three Portuguese shepherd children said the Virgin Mary appeared to them in 1917. The pope will make two of them saints on Saturday.

Officials at the Catholic shrine in Fatima, Portugal say about 45,000 pilgrims are making their way on foot to the town for Pope Francis’s visit, which is expected to draw 1 million people.

The pilgrims traditionally walk there as an expression of thanks to Our Lady of Fatima for helping them, or to pray to her for help. Others toss wax limbs into a fire beside the shrine’s chapel as they say a prayer for healing.

Like the shrine at Lourdes, France, Fatima draws huge numbers of visitors from around the world — a total of around 6 million each year on average, local officials estimate.

The shrine was built where three shepherd children said 100 years ago that the Virgin Mary appeared to them in “visions.” The pontiff, who arrives Friday, is to canonize two of the children on Saturday before leaving Portugal.

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