"It is a sign of great hope, not only for what this willingness of the Pope to make himself a pilgrim again here in the Cova da Iria means, but also for the opportunity it may represent for the local economy, which has felt strongly the impact of this crisis," the cardinal said during the press conference preceding the May international anniversary pilgrimage.

Pope Francis confirmed to the bishop on 29 April his intention to visit Fatima in 2023, on the occasion of World Youth Day, which will be held in Lisbon.

The confirmation was made during a private audience between Cardinal António Marto and Pope Francis at the Vatican.

For António Marto, the pope's visit to the Cova da Iria "emphasises the importance of the place" and the message left behind by the Virgin of Fatima.

"It renews the strong connection between Pope Francis and Fatima, which surprised me," he stressed.

The effects of the pandemic are also felt in the Shrine of Fatima, according to its rector, Carlos Cabecinhas, who, however, assured journalists that the economic and financial situation, being difficult, does not "jeopardise the stability of the institution".

"This type of situation has an extremely large and negative impact on the annual budget of the shrine. Last year we decided to go ahead with a restructuring process, precisely with the responsible perspective of someone who knew that we were not living through a specific moment of a year, but a situation that would be prolonged," he explained.

According to the rector, "the economic and financial situation of the shrine is stable as it has always been", but "these are difficult times".

"We are all aware of the difficulty, but the shrine has a situation that allows it to continue, with responsibility, to cope and respond to its commitments," he assured.

Carlos Cabecinhas announced that the shrine will resume, "as soon as the pandemic situation allows it, the activities with the sick and the elderly, who are the most fragile and who deserve the most attention"

"But we will not neglect young people, who are also among the most fragile, not already for health reasons, but because of social conditions and, so often, the lack of horizons and hope," he added.

The rector also said that this year, the shrine will create conditions "to move forward with a listening and service centre for those people who need spiritual support to face life situations.