Europe

The Latest: Pope Francis prays at Fatima basilica

The Latest on Pope Francis at Fatima (all times local):

9:50 a.m.

Pope Francis has prayed at the tombs of two Portuguese shepherd children he is going to make saints at the Catholic shrine in Fatima, one of the world's foremost pilgrimage sites.

The pontiff paused and prayed silently in the basilica overlooking the shrine's vast square, where a huge crowd is gathered.

Outside, huge banners images of siblings Francisco and Jacinta Marto, 11 meters (36 feet) long, are draped on the sides of the basilica. Francis will canonize those children, who said the Virgin Mary appeared to them in visions 100 years ago, at a Mass in Fatima on Saturday morning. The pair died in 1919.

Before the ceremony, a statue of the Virgin Mary was paraded around the square in bright sunshine as people threw petals at it.

Officials expect around 1 million people to attend the ceremony.

___

9:25 a.m.

Pope Francis is meeting privately with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa at the start of the second day of his visit to the Fatima shrine in Portugal.

The high point of the pontiff's visit Saturday is the canonization Mass for two Fatima shepherd children who reported visions of the Virgin Mary 100 years ago.

Francisco and Jacinta Marto, siblings aged 7 and 9 respectively, died two years after the 1917 apparitions in the Spanish flu pandemic.

The visions drew huge popular interest, bolstering the persecuted Catholic Church in Portugal.

At the shrine, pilgrims were reciting the rosary or praying quietly as they await the pope's arrival and the Mass. Despite forecasts of rain, the sun is blazing.

Many people had spent the night camped out along the barricades in the shrine's vast square, which were draped in Fatima banners and scarves. Some people wrapped themselves in foil and blankets to guard against the chill.