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Fatima shrine given €80m facelift to counter zealotry

The shrine of Fatima, one of Europe's most visited Catholic pilgrimage sites, has undergone an €80m (£56m) facelift, to welcome more pilgrims than the 800,000 who come annually to this once remote corner of Portugal.

Fatima's refurbished Holy Trinity church will be inaugurated next week in a ceremony conducted by a papal envoy, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, to mark the 90th anniversary of the supposed last appearance of the Virgin Mary to three shepherd children. Fatima's new church, big enough for 9,000 seated worshippers, is low and oval, built without internal columns so cameras can sweep unobstructed over services for live television broadcasts.

The work is also intended to smarten up the sanctuary's image and eliminate what its rector, Luciano Guerra, calls "exaggerations in the devotion to Fatima". Pilgrims from the poor north of Portugal often make the stony final approach crawling on hands and knees, with cloths to bind their bleeding wounds. Such extremes of zeal lend the sanctuary an atmosphere of medieval fanaticism that church authorities seek to discourage.

The gathering on 12 October will also celebrate the life of Pope John Paul II, who was particularly fond of the shrine, 70 miles north of Lisbon. The late pope attributed his narrow escape from death after being shot in St Peter's Square in 1981 to the divine intervention of the Virgin of Fatima.

John Paul visited the following year. He beatified two of the young shepherds, Francisco Marto and his sister Jacinta, who had died in childhood. Their cousin Lucia became a cloistered nun and lived until 2005.

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