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Fatima secret foresaw 1981 murder bid on Pope

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FATIMA (Reuters) - The Vatican has unveiled part of a mystery that has intrigued the Roman Catholic world for more than 80 years, saying that the so-called third secret of Fatima foresaw a failed bid to kill Pope John Paul in 1981.

The Vatican, which had for decades declined to reveal the secret's contents, promised full details would be divulged after "appropriate" preparation of the text for the faithful because it also contained another prophetic vision.

The secret is the subject of hundreds of books, fills thousands of web sites and even inspired a 1981 plane hijacking by a man who wanted the Vatican to reveal it.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, made the announcement to hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Fatima for a mass in which the Pope beatified two of the three shepherd children said to have received three secrets from the Madonna in apparitions in 1917.

Sodano said the third part of the secret -- the first two are already well known -- involved martyrdom and suffering, including a "bishop clothed in white" who "falls to the ground apparently dead, under a burst of gunfire."

He added that after the 1981 assassination attempt by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca "it appeared evident to his Holiness that it was a motherly hand which guided the bullet's path, enabling the dying Pope to halt at the threshold of death."

The Pope had ordered the Vatican's doctrinal department to make public the third part of the secret, after the preparation of an "appropriate commentary," Sodano added.

This was because the text contained a "prophetic vision" similar to those found in the Gospel and therefore it "must be interpreted in a symbolic key," Sodano said.

Doom and gloom predictions have percolated and been doused time and again since Sister Lucia -- the only one of the three visionaries still alive -- began writing down her recollections of the apparitions.

The first part of the Madonna's message was a vision of hell shown to the children.

In the second part, Mary predicted the outbreak of World War Two some 22 years before it started, asked for devotion to her Immaculate Heart and asked that Russia, which was about to undergo the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, be consecrated to her.

Otherwise, the Madonna is said to have told the children, to whom she appeared each month from May to October, 1917, that Russia, about to become the Soviet Union, would "spread her errors" in the world and the Pope would suffer much.