by Timothy Elphick
POPE John Paul 11 this week said he hoped to be able to visit the Marian shrine at Fatima in Portugal, on the 10th anniversary of the assassination attempt made against him.
In an interview with a Catholic radio station in Portugal, Radio Renascenca, the Pope said his trip, planned for May, might include the beatification of two of the three shepherd children believed to have seen Our Lady at Fatima in 1917.
Officials in the Vatican confirmed that the visit is likely to go ahead and that the necessary arrangements were already being made. But so far neither the Holy See nor the Portugese bishops have issued any formal announcement.
Despite serious gunshot wounds, Pope John Paul II survived the attempt on his life made in St Peter's Square on May 13 1981. His would-be assassin, a Turkish national Mehmet Ali Agca, is currently serving a life sentence in Italy for the shooting.
May 13 is also the anniversary of the first Marian apparition at Fatima. Our Lady appeared five more times during the following five months.
Two of the children, Francisco Marto and his sister Jacinta, died within three years of the apparitions. The third, their cousin Lucia dos Santos, is an 83-year-old Carmelite nun.
John Paul visited Fatima in 1982, to give thanks to Mary for his recovery from the murder attempt. He has spoken of the "mysterious coincidence" of the apparition and the shooting taking place on the same day.
"I seemed to recognise in the coincidence of the dates a special call to come to this place," the Pope said during his visit to the shrine.