VATICAN CITY—If Pope John Paul II gets his wish, his excursions to holy sites in the Jubilee year 2000 will include an “extra-biblical” stop in Fatima, Portugal, where the Virgin Mary appeared to three children in 1917. The pilgrimage was announced as tentative, but likely, by Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls on Nov. 28.

The visit to the basilica and shrine there will take place on the occasion of the beatification of two of the children, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, who died at 9 and 11 years of age respectively. The third visionary, Lucia dos Santos, is a Carmelite nun born in 1907 who lives in Portugal.

The beatification is to be held May 13, on the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. That day will also mark the 18th anniversary of the assassination attempt on the Pope in St. Peter's Square. The Holy Father, who attributes his recovery from the shooting to the intercession of Mary, will have the bullet that nearly ended his life encrusted in the crown of the statue of the Virgin of Fatima.

In announcing the trip, NavarroValls acknowledged that there is not much time to make the necessary preparations. “The Virgin has achieved far more difficult miracles in the past,” he added.

Later in the year, on Oct. 8, the Marian statue will be taken to Rome and the Pope and his brother bishops will solemnly consecrate the Church and the world to Our Lady.

The Fatima trip will represent an exception to the Pope's travel schedule next year: All four of his other pilgrimages outside Rome will be to sites from the Bible.

The other sites are Iraq, where the Holy Father will visit Ur of the Chaldeans, Abraham's birthplace; Egypt, in which he will visit Sinai, scene of the key dialogue between God and Moses; the Holy Land, including Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem, at the end of March (as already confirmed officially); and Syria, to visit Damascus and follow in the footsteps of St. Paul on his great conversion trail.

Plans for each trip will be officially announced one or two months before each takes place, NavarroValls said.

Pope's Last Visit to Fatima

The last time Pope John Paul II visited Fatima was May 13, 1991, when he celebrated Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima. The event was especially significant because the date marked the 10th anniversary of the assassination attempt against his life.

“Behold your mother,” he said, citing the day's Gospel reading from John 16:27.

“The sanctuary of Fatima is a privileged place endowed with a special value: it contains in itself an important message for the era in which we are living. It is as if here, at the beginning of our century, the words pronounced on Golgotha reechoed anew,” he also said.

“Mary, who was near the cross of her son had to accept one more time the will of Christ, Son of God. But while on Golgotha, the Son pointed out one man only, John, the beloved disciple, she has had to receive everyone — all of us, the men and women of this century and of its difficult and dramatic history.

“In these men and women of the 20th century we have seen both the capacity to subjugate the earth and the freedom to escape the law of God and deny it as the inheritance of sin. The inheritance of sin shows itself as an insane aspiration to build the world — a world created by humanity — as if God did not exist. And also as if there were no cross on Golgotha where ‘death and life contended in that combat stupendous’ (Easter Sequence), in order to show that love is more powerful than death, and that the glory of God is man fully alive.

“Mother of the Redeemer, Mother of our century!

“For the second time I am before you in this shrine to kiss your hands because you stood so firmly near the cross of your son which is the cross of the whole history of humankind, and also of our century.

“Now, as ever, you rest your gaze on your sons and daughters who already belong to the third millennium. Always, and now, you watch with the greatest motherly care, defending with your powerful intercession the dawn of Christ's light in the midst of peoples and nations.

“Always, and forever, you remain, because the only Son of God, your son, entrusted all humanity to you when, dying on the cross, he brought us into the new beginning of everything which exists. Your universal motherhood, O Virgin Mary, is the sure anchor of salvation for the whole of humankind.

“Mother of the Redeemer! Full of Grace! I salute you, Mother, trust of all generations!”

In Oct. 26, 1997 remarks, he stressed the promotion of the rosary sparked by Fatima, and underlined its importance in relation to the new millennium.

“How many times in the course of history has the Church had recourse to this prayer, especially in particularly difficult moments. The holy rosary was a privileged means for averting the danger of war and obtaining the gift of peace from God. Did not the Blessed Virgin, when appearing to the three shepherd children in Fatima 80 years ago, ask that the rosary be recited for the conversion of sinners and for peace in the world?

“And how could we do without prayer for peace at the end of a century which has known terrible wars and unfortunately continues to experience violence and conflict? During these years when we are preparing for the third Christian millennium, may Mary's rosary help us to implore God for reconciliation and peace for all humanity.”

Observers expect the Holy Father to promote the rosary again in the Jubilee year 2000 to help bring about the converstion and recommitment to Christ he has called on all