Pope Francis prayed for peace in Ukraine at a ceremony that looked to a prophecy about peace and Russia that stems back more than a century to purported visions of the Virgin Mary to three peasant children in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917.
The significance of the prayers needed some explaining to those unfamiliar with Catholic history.
The Pope on March 25 consecrated Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary with a prayer asking for peace in the world, Catholic News Agency reported.
At the end of a penitential service in St. Peter's Basilica, Francis carried out the act, saying: "Mother of God and our Mother, to your Immaculate Heart we solemnly entrust and consecrate ourselves, the Church and all humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine.
"Accept this act that we carry out with confidence and love. Grant that war may end and peace spread throughout the world."
Francis invited bishops, priests and ordinary faithful around the world to join him in the consecration prayer, which opened with the pontiff entering St. Peter's Basilica before an estimated 3,500 people, The Associated Press reported.
'FREE US FROM WAR'
"Free us from war, protect our world from the menace of nuclear weapons," the Pope prayed.
It ended with Francis sitting alone before a statue of the Madonna.
There, he solemnly asked forgiveness that humanity had "forgotten the lessons learned from the tragedies of the last century, the sacrifice of the millions who fell in two World Wars."
In his homily, Francis said that the consecration "is no magic formula but a spiritual act."
"It is an act of complete trust on the part of children who, amid the tribulation of this cruel and senseless war that threatens our world, turn to their Mother, reposing all their fears and pain in her heart and abandoning themselves to her," he said.
Since Russia invaded its neighbor on Feb. 24 in what it calls a "special military operation", the Pope has implicitly criticised Moscow, Reuters reported.
He has strongly condemning what he has called an "unjustified aggression" and denouncing "atrocities," but he had not mentioned Russia by name.
He used the words Russia and Russians on March 25, although as part of a prayer and a homily.
"We have forgotten the lesson learned from the tragedies of the last century, the sacrifice of the millions who fell in two world wars ... we have closed ourselves in nationalist interests," Francis said in the prayer, whose formal title was "An Act of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary."
Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, the Vatican envoy who has remained in Ukraine since Russia launched the invasion last month, said before the service, he would read the prayer from an improvised altar in a kitchen in a safe room in the embassy in the capital Kyiv.
In the Portuguese town of Fatima, papal ambassador Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, a close aide of the Pope, read the same prayer near the spot where Mary is said to have appeared repeatedly in 1917 to three shepherd children.
The Fatima story dates to 1917, when according to tradition, siblings Francisco and Jacinta Marto and cousin Lucia said the Virgin Mary appeared to them six times and confided three secrets, AP's Nicole Winfield reported.
The first two described an apocalyptic image of hell, foretold the end of World War I and the start of World War II, and the rise and fall of Soviet communism
The link with Fatima is essential to understanding the religious and political significance of Friday's consecration Reuters reported.
The Church says that in the apparition of July 13, 1917, Mary asked that Russia be consecrated to her, otherwise it would "spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church" and that "various nations will be annihilated".
After the 1917 Russian revolution and during the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union, the "Message of Fatima" became a rallying point for anti-communism in Christianity.
Similar acts of consecration of the world were performed by past popes in 1942, 1952, 1964, 1981, 1982 and 1984.
On March 27 Pope Francis said the "cruel and senseless" war in Ukraine, now into its second month, represents a defeat for all humanity, in his weekly Angelus address, Vatican News reported.
The Pope launched another powerful appeal for an end to the "barbaric and sacrilegious" act of war, warning that "war does not devastate only the present, but the future of a society as well."
Hee pointed to statistics that show half of all Ukrainian children are now displaced, the Pope said this is what it means to destroy the future, "causing dramatic trauma in the lives of the smallest and most innocent among us."