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From ‘Mean Streets’ to Marian miracles: Harvey Keitel to star in Fatima movie

(RNS) The announcement follows a papal trip to the Portuguese shrine and continues a big month for the story of the Marian apparitions that occurred 100 years ago.

Actor Harvey Keitel in Maryland on Nov. 14, 2009. Photo courtesy of Marine Corps/Corporal Christopher A. Green.

(RNS) The apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Fatima and the secret prophecies that three shepherd children say she vouchsafed to them are 100 years old this year — but they are getting more attention than ever.

First, Pope Francis traveled to the shrine in central Portugal earlier this month to mark the May 13 anniversary and centenary by canonizing two of the three children, a brother and sister who died in the flu epidemic two years after the 1917 events.

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And now comes word that legendary actor Harvey Keitel, famous for his role in bloody gangster films from “Mean Streets” to “Pulp Fiction,” will play a starring role in a dramatized version of the Marian visions, called “Fatima.”

The Brazilian actress Sonia Braga will play opposite Keitel, according to an announcement Thursday (May 18) from the producers at the Cannes Film Festival in southern France.

“Cannes is the perfect place to introduce buyers to this heartfelt and timely film, whose main characters were just this week canonized by the pope, and that has an impressive, built-in audience around the world,” said producer Gary Hamilton, managing director of Arclight Films.

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“Fatima is a highly commercially viable film that remains true to its miraculous message,” he added, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “The story of Fatima is what real-live legends are made of.”

The producers did not say what roles Keitel and Braga would play, but Keitel  has acted in a religiously themed film before, Martin Scorsese’s controversial 1988 movie “The Last Temptation of Christ.”

Even there, however, he played a bad guy, Judas.

There’s certainly plenty of dramatic material to work with in the Fatima story, even if it’s not along the lines of earlier Keitel movies like “Taxi Driver,” or his upcoming role in another Scorsese gangster epic, “The Irishman.”

READ: Who is Our Lady of Fatima and what is the ‘Third Secret’?

According to the children, Mary appeared to them six times that year.

Lúcia dos Santos, left, with her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto who all claimed to have a vision in 1917. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Joshua Benoliel

In one appearance, Mary said a miracle would occur on Oct. 13, 1917. Initially the children were scolded and even threatened with death for spreading what were considered baseless stories. But pilgrims from all over the world gathered in Fatima on that date and awaited Mary’s appearance. In what came to be called the “Miracle of the Sun,” many reported seeing visions in the sky while others reported miracles of healing.

Moreover, decades later the oldest of the three children and the only one to survive to old age, Lucia dos Santos, wrote that the Virgin Mary revealed three prophecies to the children: one was a vision of hell, another predicted the end of the First World War and the rise of Soviet Communism and the Second World War.

The so-called “Third Secret of Fatima” turned out to be an apocalyptic vision of a terrible persecution of Christians, including priests and bishops and in particular “a Bishop dressed in White” who was killed by soldiers as he knelt before a cross at the top of a hill. The bishop in white was interpreted as representing a pope.

The church ordered the prophecy to be kept in the Vatican secret archives, and it was until Saint John Paul II — who was nearly killed by an assassin’s bullets on May 13, 1981 — ordered the secret to be published in full. John Paul credited Our Lady of Fatima with saving his life and had the bullet that was removed from his abdomen sent to the shrine.

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But he wanted the third secret published to try to quell speculation and conspiracy theories about the prophecies; it hasn’t worked out that way.

There was no word on when production on “Fatima” would begin or when the movie was slated for release.