On May 13th, the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of Our Lady of Fatima, Pope Francis canonized Jacinta and Francisco Marto.
These siblings were two of the visionaries of that extraordinary event, along with their older cousin Lucia. With this, they have become to the two youngest non-martyrs ever to be declared saints.
Most people know the story of how Mary appeared to these three shepherd children in the Covo di Ira in Fatima, Portugal. They were for all intents and purposes ordinary children of their day. They did their chores and their duties as children did, with reluctance since it took them away from play time. To fulfill their duty to pray the rosary, they would only say the first two words of each prayer “Our Father” and “Hail Mary,” as a quick short cut.
But then Mary made herself present to them and everything changed.
At first Francesco had difficulty with the vision and could not apprehend clearly. Lucia even asked, “Will I go to heaven?”
“Yes,” replied Mary.
“And will Jacinta?”
“And will Francesco?”
Finally Mary replied “Yes, but only after many rosaries.”
This always gave me pause. If young Francesco needed that much work, I shudder to think how many rosaries it would take to lift up my soul.
Regardless, over the course of the next few months, Mary showed the children several things and the children lived that witness despite the persecution of the local government and the pressures of the people.
But that in-and-of itself is not why Francesco and Jacinta are saints.
I once had a student say to me that if he ever witnessed a miracle that he would have no more struggles in faith. But I do not believe that is a healthy way to look at the spiritual life. That isn’t to say that a miraculous vision would not be life-changing. But holiness is not about having an epiphany that leaves you permanently changed. Holiness is an internal disposition. It is where you shape your soul by the choices you make to embrace God and avoid evil. Judas saw miracles and still betrayed the Lord.
Mary told the two Marto children that would die soon after the visions ended. When the Spanish Flu ravaged the world, these two were not spared.
Francesco used the time he had to prepare for Holy Communion. He examined his conscience constantly from his sick bed to prepare to receive the “Hidden Jesus.” Francesco helps remind us of the relationship between the Eucharist and Private Revelation.
Near where I live, someone was claiming to have visions of the Virgin Mary. However, the main reason why I cast doubt on this is because the apparitions, to which people were invited, occurred while Holy Mass was happening at the church across the street. It is implausible to me that Mary would make people choose between her and the Eucharist. As we see in Francesco, the real Virgin Mary will always lead us to her Son in the Blessed Sacrament.
Francesco stayed sick at home and worried that he would not survive to receive his First Communion. But after much spiritual preparation, a priest came to his sickbed and administered the Eucharist.
Francesco died two days later.
He was 10-years-old.
Jacinta endured worse.
Her sickness lingered and she was taken several hospitals. To help reduce the swelling and the pneumonia they stuck a tube in her chest and removed two of her ribs. Because of her condition, they could not administer full anesthesia for these procedures so she was in great pain.
One day a nurse entered the sick girl’s room and noticed that she was sobbing. When asked what was wrong, Jacinta said, “Mary appeared to me and told me that I will die alone and in great pain. But I will do it to suffer for sinners.”
Even on my best day, I do not know that I could ever summon up that much courage. Jacinta was not a stoic warrior. She was a little child asked to endure more than the bravest people in the world could handle. Every time I read that story my heart breaks for her and my soul blushes in shame to compare itself to her holiness.
She told her confessor to perform Last Rites on her because she would die the next day, but he told her that she was healing.
When he returned the next day, she was dead.
She was 9-years-old.
For me, Sts. Jacinta and Francisco do what all saints do: inspire. When I think of them, I do not so much remember their extraordinary visions. I think of their incredible faith. I have lived twice as many years on this earth as both of them combined. And yet they achieved a holiness that I do not think I could attain if I had 10 lifetimes.
Or at least I cannot attain it on my own. They became so holy not because the saw Mary. They became holy because they saw Mary and lived her message. How prophetic are the words of Our Lord, “Unless you change and become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:3)
So all I know is: when I grow up, I want to be like the Little Saints of Fatima
Copyright 2017, WL Grayson