Rome (AFP) - Two child shepherds who claimed to have had holy visions in Fatima are to be made saints, possibly during Pope Francis's upcoming trip to the Portuguese pilgrimage site.
Francis gave the go-ahead Thursday to canonise Jacinta and Francisco Marto who, along with their cousin Lucia Santos, claimed to have witnessed apparitions of the Virgin Mary in a miracle officially recognised by the Catholic Church.
The children said Mary appeared to them first on May 13, 1917, when Jacinta was seven years old, Francisco nine and Lucia 10.
The siblings, born into a poor family, fell sick during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic which racked Europe after the First World War, with Francisco succumbing to the illness in 1919, and Jacinta following in 1920 aged just nine.
Both are buried at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, which Francis will visit during his May 12-13 trip to mark the centenary of their first sight of Mary.
Francis's approval of the miracle attributed to them -- reportedly the curing of a Brazilian boy -- was the final step needed before the children could be made saints.
They will be the youngest non-martyrs to be canonised in the history of the church.
After her first visit, the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to them several times over a six-month period, always on the 13th.
This prompted thousands to gather on the spot on October 13, 1917, with several witnesses saying they had seen the sun "miraculously" dance in the sky.
Their cousin Lucia joined a convent. In 1941 she said she and the siblings had been given three secrets by Mary; the first was a vision of Hell and the second was a warning that another, more devastating war was looming -- the Second World War.
The third secret she kept to herself for years, before finally being persuaded to write it down and it was delivered to the Vatican in 1957.
Finally published in 2000, it described a vision that was believed -- with its depiction of the death of a man robed in white -- to have been a prophecy of the 1981 assassination attempt on pope John Paul II.
The Argentine will be the fourth pope to visit the Fatima shrine, after Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.