In the last 1,000 years, only seven popes have been canonized. Now, two Portuguese children have also received the rare honor, and a Pakistani Christian Minister was there to attend the ceremony.
By Sheraz Khan, Special to ASSIST News Service
FÁTIMA, PORTUGAL/MANCHESTER, UK (ANS – May 26, 2017) — Kamran Michael, a Pakistani Christian Senator and Federal Minister for Human Rights on Saturday, May 13, 2017, attended the canonization of two shepherd children at the Portuguese shrine of Fátima, where they are said to have seen visions of the Virgin Mary some 100 years ago.
According to The Atlantic, the children, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, died young, victims of the Spanish flu epidemic that was devastating Europe, but their little town became a gathering place for countless pilgrims. On Saturday, the two were canonized by Pope Francis in a large outdoor mass in Fátima, becoming the youngest saints in Catholic history who were not martyrs.
A crowd of around half a million people gathered for the occasion outside the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima, the epicenter of the small Portuguese farm town. The sanctuary attracts millions of religious devotees each year, making it one of the world’s most visited shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Many visitors slept outdoors in anticipation of Saturday’s mass, with some choosing to arrive days earlier to pray at the shrine and recite rosaries in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary. Before delivering the mass, Pope Francis also prayed before the tombs of the Marto siblings.
The pope proclaimed the siblings’s sainthood at the start of the mass, generating widespread applause from the crowd. “We can take as our examples Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta, whom the Virgin Mary introduced into the immense ocean of God’s light and taught to adore him,” the pope said. “That was the source of their strength in overcoming opposition and suffering.”
Mr. Michael had attended the event at the invitation of Pope Francis, the spiritual head of 1.2 billion Catholics around the world.
Pakistani media reports said that Antonio Costa, the Prime Minister of Portugal, later called on Mr. Michael during his visit to Portugal and thanked him for attending the canonization.
Reports said that the two men pledged to promote bilateral relations between Pakistan and Portugal. Mr. Antonio, according to the media reports, appreciated Mr. Michael’s work in promoting human rights in Pakistan.
Michael is a member of ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N). He served as a member of district council of Lahore, the eastern city of Pakistan, from 2001 to 2002. He was first elected as a member of the provincial assembly of the Punjab in general elections in 2002 on one of the seats reserved for minorities.
In 2012, Mr. Michael made history after he was elected to the Senate, the upper house of Pakistan’s bicameral parliament from 2012-2018. Michael is the first-ever Pakistani Christian to have become a senator.
Choudrey Azhar, the UK president of the minority wing of PML-N said in a press release that Mr, Michael then visited the Pakistani consulate general in Manchester on May 15 where he met him and other office bearers of the minority wing.
“Azhar and the office bearers of the minority wing accorded a warm welcome to the minister at the consulate general,” said the press release.
The release quoted Michael as condemning an incident on that ironically took place on May 5, 2017, in Manchester, during which Azhar was allegedly attacked by unknown persons in the city.
Mr Michael presented Mr, Azhar with a shield in recognition of his services for promoting human rights during a ceremony held at the Pakistani consulate general in Manchester.
Chaudhry Zahoor Ahmed, the counsel general and Barrister Amjad Malik, Chairman of the Overseas Pakistani Foundation governors were also present on the occasion, said the press release.
The press release maintained: “Later in the day barrister Malik held a ceremony in his office where he awarded Azhar a lifetime membership of the Overseas Pakistani Foundation.
“Mr Malik also appointed Mr. Azhar the coordinator of overseas minorities,” said the press release.
The Overseas Foundation has offered Azhar the use of its offices to perform the role the organization has created for him, the release added.
Note: ANS founder, Dan Wooding, contributed to part of this story. Dan’s latest book is called “Mary, My Story from Bethlehem to Calvary, which tells the story of Jesus through the eyes of his beloved mother. To find out more, please go to: http://marythebook.com/
Photo captions. 1) Pope Francis prays in front of a statue of Our Lady of Pope Francis prays in front of a statue of Our Lady of Fátima during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano, pool). 2) A 1917 photo of cousins, from left, Jacinta Marto, Lucia de Jesus dos Santos and Franciso Marto. The Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to the children that year and them and had given them three “Secrets.” (Agence France-Presse). 3) The Minister for Human Rights of Pakistan greets the Portuguese Prime Minister. 4) Kamran Michael awards shield to Choudrey Azhar. 5) Book cover. 6) Sheraz Khan.
About the writer: Sheraz Khan is a Pakistani-British journalist. He lives in Scotland. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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