Jacinta Marto and Francisco Marto are the youngest children declared Saints by the Catholic Church, without having been martyred. This brother and sister were two of the three children who saw Our Blessed Lady at Fatima in 1917 – the third child was their cousin, Lucia dos Santos. At the time of Our Lady’s appearances, Jacinta was seven and her brother was nine. Appearing to them for the second time, Our Lady said She would take them to Heaven ‘soon’ – and in less than two years, both children were dead. It is important to note that the siblings were canonised not because they saw the Mother of God at Fatima, but because they lived lives of heroic virtue despite their very tender ages.
So how did they lead heroic lives?
For Francisco, the effect of seeing Our Blessed Lady was that he developed a strong contemplative nature; he loved nothing more than to go away to a quiet and solitary place where he would pray for hours at a time. When his sister and cousin asked him the reason for his prayers, he said it was simply to console God. As he had became more ill, Francisco would spend all his time not at school – he said there was no point – but in the parish Church, close to the Tabernacle, praying in order to console Jesus, so often left there alone and abandoned. Francisco died in April 1919, of the Spanish influenza which was sweeping the world at that time.
For Jacinta, her naturally spirited and sometimes wilful nature gave way to a deep sense of making reparation on behalf of sinners. Having experienced the vision of Hell at Fatima, her thoughts frequently turned to the loss of souls and so her prayers reflected her intense sorrow that so many souls were heading toward eternal damnation through their own choosing. Her second intention was always for the Holy Father, for whom she had the deepest love. Jacinta missed her brother terribly after his death and Lucia would often find her weeping and, when asked what was she was thinking about, the child would reply – “Of Francisco. I would give anything to see him again.” Dying alone was the greatest fear of the child but still she accepted this as another means of offering sacrifices on behalf of poor sinners. She had endured an operation to remove two ribs and drain the pleural cavity, which was badly infected – this being done with only local anaesthesia because her little heart would not have withstood general anaesthesia. She accepted the operations even though she told the doctors it would make no difference as she would die regardless. She never complained once. The day before her death, Jacinta asked the hospital Chaplain to bring her Holy Communion in Viaticum, stating she would be dead ‘the next day’. The Priest told her she was not that ill. He was wrong.
Jacinta died of the same influenza which had taken her brother. She died on 20 February 1920, at the tender age of 9 years – she died in hospital and alone, as the Lady had foretold. The Lady had been right – She had promised to take these two to Heaven ‘soon’. At the start of the Appearances, the light of God shown to the children depicted the two little ones ascending to Heaven, while Lucia was in the light being poured out upon the earth – she would remain ‘some time longer’, as the Lady of the Rosary had said. And in those years that followed, Lucia would write much about her little cousins, Jacinta and Francisco. Lucia tells us that before going to the hospital where she would die alone, Jacinta said to her –
“Tell everybody that Gods grants us graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary; that people are to ask Her for them; and that the Heart of Jesus wants the Immaculate Heart of Mary to be venerated at His side. Tell them also to pray to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for peace, since God has entrusted it to Her. If I could only put into the hearts of all, the fire that is burning within my own heart, and that makes me love the Hearts of Jesus and Mary so very much!”
Jacinta and Francisco teach us that the path of holiness is open to every one of us – it is there, if only we would choose to walk it as they did. If two young children can reach the heights of great sanctity, then all of us can do so. They also teach us that this path is different for each of us – for Francisco, the path involved true contemplation and living in the presence of God through deep prayer, seeking nothing except to love and console the Lord. For Jacinta, the path involved reparative suffering, willingly borne and offered for the intentions of others – usually, for sinners.
Prior to the canonisations, the Church spent some time deliberating in whether or not it was even possible for two such young children to live truly holy lives, to the extent they could be declared Saints. Reading the accounts of their lives, that discussion seems almost unnecessary, as those two lives speak clearly and loudly. In her wisdom, this was the conclusion of the Church and so she places these two little child Saints before us, as examples of how to lead the Christian life to an heroic degree. Now, every 20th February – the date of Jacinta’s death – we recall their example, ask their prayers from Heaven, and hope to walk our own paths as well as they most assuredly did.
Saint Jacinta and Saint Francisco, pray for us.
You can read the full story of Our Lady of Fatima here.