A Day In The Life Of: A Rent-a-Pilgrim
Any Roman Catholics who have vowed to make the pilgrimage to Fatima in Portugal which is famous for religious visions but can't fulfil their promise, help is at hand -- rent-a-pilgrim.
For 2,500 euros (1,671 pounds), Pilgrim Gil will make the journey in your place -- and send you a certificate stamped along the way to prove he walked your every step.
Carlos Gil, 42, who owns a small computer company, took up this mediaeval practice four years ago when he suddenly "felt an urge to walk to Fatima" and said charging each client was simply a way to keep doing what he loves.
"I make the trip to Fatima once or twice a year because it elevates my spirit," said Gil. "Sometimes the trip is so intense that I forget I'm doing it to fulfil my client's promises."
Like a true pilgrim, Gil begins his seven-day journey to Fatima on foot from his home in Cascais, a small town on the outskirts of Lisbon, about 160 kilometres from the shrine. It takes him another six days to walk back.
Fatima's claim to fame is the Sanctuary of Fatima, built after the Virgin Mary was reported to have appeared six times to three shepherd children on a hillside near the town in 1917.
One of the children, Lucia dos Santos, became a nun after having the visions and is said to have foretold the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in May 1981. She died in 2005 while the other two children died in 1919 and 1920.
Pope John Paul later placed one of the bullets that nearly killed him in the crown of the statue of Fatima.
Ever year about 3.5 million visitors flock to the shrine to celebrate the Virgin's appearance -- and Gil goes in the place of some of the would-be pilgrims although he would not say how many people he walks for each year.
"It is a romantic way for my clients to thank God for what they have, like buying a candle or a plaster statue of Fatima," he said.
To guarantee to his clients that he made the trip on foot, Gil has a system of handing his customers a certificate after every journey with various stamps from places along the way.
"That way they know I kept their promise," he said.
He insists he makes the trips because it makes him feel good and the money he charges is used to compensate for time-off from his company and expenses along the way.
"As long as I'm not making a profit, I don't see a problem in this," he said. "It doesn't matter if you can't make the trip yourself because you are I and I am you, if you know what I mean."
Those who wish to hire Pilgrim Gil can do so through his website peregrino.org, which is translated into three different languages and includes a credit card payment system.
Pope Francis canonises two children at Portugal's Fatima shrine
Pope Francis was greeted by crowds of hundreds of thousands as he made saints of two shepherd children at the Fatima shrine complex in Portugal.
"We declare the blissful Francisco Marto and Jacinta Marto saints," the pontiff said to loud applause.
It is 100 years since the two - and a third child - reported seeing the Virgin Mary while tending sheep. The third is also on the way to sainthood.
Portugal boosted security and re-imposed border controls temporarily.
Some 500,000 worshippers gathered in the town of Fatima, north of Lisbon, for the ceremony on Saturday, the Vatican said in a statement.
Roman Catholic pilgrims converged on the Fatima Sanctuary from countries as far away as China, Venezuela and East Timor.
The town's local bishop first read out the request for the two "little shepherds" to be canonised before the Pope declared them both saints of the Catholic Church. Earlier on Saturday, the official Twitter account of the Pope posted a message with reference to the Virgin Mary.
"Whenever we look to Mary, we come to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness," it said.
The pontiff also met Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa for a private meeting ahead of the ceremony.
Plea for harmony
On Friday, Pope Francis flew into Fatima in a helicopter and travelled through the town in his "Popemobile".
At a candle-lit vigil he called for harmony between all people at the Chapel of the Apparitions and spoke of wars "tearing our world apart".
The chapel is built on the very spot where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared.
The Pope will leave Fatima soon after Saturday's mass, ending a 24-hour trip.
Two of the children - Jacinta and Francisco Marto - have now been canonised for the miracles attributed to them. They died in the 1918-1919 European influenza pandemic.
The so-called three secrets of Fatima were written down by their cousin, Lucia dos Santos, who died in 2005 aged 97. The beatification process for her began in 2008.
The Church attaches great value to their visions, as Mary is believed to have revealed truths to help mankind. The Church says the first vision came on 13 May 1917.
In a video message to the people of Portugal, the Pope said he was going to present himself to Mary "and I need to feel you close, physically and spiritually, so that we are one heart and one mind".
What are the three secrets?
They are prophecies written down by Lucia, years after the apparitions that the three said they had witnessed. She spent her adult life as a nun at a convent in Coimbra.
The first two secrets in Lucia's account were revealed in 1942.
- The first described a terrifying vision of hell, with a "great sea of fire", demons and human souls
- The second is interpreted as Mary's prediction that World War One would end and that World War Two would start during the papacy of Pius XI
- Mary also called for the "consecration" of Russia, saying: "If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church"
- Lucia sealed the third secret in an envelope, which was handed to the Vatican in 1957 and only revealed in 2000
- It described an angel demanding "penance!", then the Pope and other clergy climbing a mountain, only to be killed by soldiers firing bullets and arrows.
According to Pope Francis's predecessor, Benedict XVI, the visions described in the three secrets are "meant to mobilise the forces of change in the right direction".
They are not like the Bible - a text he describes as a "public revelation".
The Fatima visions are "private revelations", he writes. Their purpose is "to help live more fully" in accordance with Christ's teaching.
The late Pope John Paul II was shot by a Turkish gunman on 13 May 1981.
He believed that his survival was due to Mary's divine intervention, and that the third secret had predicted the attack on him.
John Paul donated the bullet to Fatima, and it was inserted into the crown adorning a statue of Mary there.
What about Pope Francis's visit?
He follows John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who also made pilgrimages to the Fatima Sanctuary.
Security is high at the site, with Portugal deploying 6,000 police and emergency workers. Concrete blocks have been placed on approach roads, to stop any terrorist "ramming" attack with a vehicle.
Only nine border crossings are open, with systematic checks, as Portugal has suspended the Schengen open borders pact.
Local accommodation is far more expensive than usual, as hotels and residents cash in on the papal visit.