Feast Day : February 25
Patronage: bodily ills; captives; people ridiculed for their piety; prisoners; sick people
Jacinta and Francisco were the sixth and seventh children of Manuel Pedro Marto and Olimpia dos Santos, humble farmers and pious Christians. They were born in the village of Aljustrel, near Fatima, not far from Leiria, Portugal—Francisco on June 11, 1908, and Jacinta on March 11, 1910. Since there was no school in their village, they were educated at home and took catechism lessons from the parish priest and a maternal aunt. From a young age, Jacinta and Francisco worked as shepherds together with their cousin Lucia. The three children thus developed a close bond. All were of a religious bent. In 1916, they announced that they had thrice seen an angel who had urged them to pray and do penance for the remission of sins and to obtain the conversion of sinners. They followed these instructions to the best of their ability. Then on May 13, 1917, Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia dos Santos, their elder cousin, were granted the privilege of seeing the Virgin Mary. She appeared to them thereafter on the 13th of each month until October 13, when a crowd (estimated at 70,000) witnessed a “miraculous solar phenomenon” immediately afterward On June 13 she communicated to the children a premonitory vision in three parts, which she ordered them not to divulge. This vision became known as the Secret of Fatima. Its substance was not revealed for many years. Municipal and Church authorities were initially skeptical of the apparitions and visions. The children were prevented from entering the parish church, were beaten and briefly jailed, but refused to recant. They refused also to divulge the secrets entrusted to them by Our Lady, even under the threat of death. “If they kill us we’ll soon be in heaven! Nothing else matters!” Francisco exclaimed. After the spectacle on October 13, the bishop finally accepted the truth of the visions, and the harassment changed to adulation. The children were even more affected by the visions of Mary than they had been by the earlier apparitions of angels. Francisco developed a special devotion to the Eucharist and spent much time in church, adoring the Sacrament of the Altar, which he called the “Hidden Jesus.” He assisted at Mass on feasts and whenever possible on weekends. He recited the 15 mysteries of the Rosary at least once daily. Jacinta began to seek silence and solitude, and at night would get out of bed to pray. She loved to contemplate Christ Crucified and was moved to tears by the Passion. She also venerated Mary, honoring her with recitation of the Rosary and with pious exclamations. More than Francisco, she was also given to penance. She wore a rope around her waist, deprived herself of food, in order to give it to the poor, and refused water, especially in the summer heat. During her June 13 visit, Our Lady told the children that she would soon be taking Jacinta and Francisco to heaven. Indeed, in October 1918, they caught influenza during an epidemic. Once confined to bed, Francisco was never able to leave it again, and died on April 4, 1919. Realizing she had only a short time to live, Jacinta stepped up her sacrifices, penances and privations. She was sent to a hospital in Lisbon, where she died alone and in the midst of great suffering on February 20, 1920. Jacinta’s body was buried first in Vila Nova de Ourem in Lisbon but subsequently was translated to the cemetery of Fatima, where Francisco’s body was interred. After the basilica was built in Fatima, the relics of both were moved there. Near to their tombs is a third, reserved for the mortal remains of their cousin Lucia dos Santos, now Sister Lucia of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Born on March 30, 1907, Lucia, a Carmelite nun at a convent in Portugal, was 93 years old in 2000. Pilgrims began to visit Fatima even before the deaths of Jacinta and Francisco. The first national pilgrimage took place in 1927. The basilica was begun in 1928 and consecrated in 1953. It faces a large square in which stands the little Chapel of the Apparitions. Many cures have been reported at this shrine, one of the greatest Marian shrines in the world. On May 13, 1967, the 50th anniversary of the first vision, an estimated 1,000,000 pilgrims gathered at Fatima to hear Pope Paul VI (r. 1963–78) say Mass and pray for peace. Lucia was induced by the bishop of Leiria (but with Our Lady’s permission) to write down the Secret of Fatima in 1941, although the third part was not recorded until 1944. The first two parts were revealed in 1942. The first part was a brief vision of hell, while the second was interpreted as a prediction of World War II, later as World War II and the fall of communism. The third part was widely rumored to foretell the Apocalypse, but during the beatification ceremony for Jacinta and Francisco in 2000 it was revealed to be a prediction of the attempt to assassinate Pope John Paul II (r. 1978– ) on May 13, 1981 (the 64th anniversary of the children’s first visit from Our Lady). When the full text of the third part was published on June 26, 2000, however, the vision turned out to have only vague reference to the assassination attempt. It depicted a bishop (said to be the bishop of Rome) and all those around him being shot by army troops, whereas only John Paul II was shot, by a lone gunman, the Turk Mehmet Ali Agca. Yet John Paul II had no doubts. He credited Our Lady with saving his life, by deflecting Mehmet Ali Agca’s bullets away from his vital organs, and has donated one of the bullets to the Shrine at Fatima, where it has been set into the crown of the statue of Our Lady. The process of beatifying Jacinta and Francisco began in 1946. The Vatican committee on canonization decided that the children had lived lives of intense holiness, especially after the appearance of Our Lady, when they had become models of prayer and penance, notwithstanding the young age at which they died. The beatification was clinched in 1999 with the acceptance of a healing miracle. A woman paralyzed from the waist down by a spinal injury had been treated by doctors for 22 years without success when she made a novena to Jacinta and Francisco. Soon thereafter she heard a voice telling her, “Now you can sit up.” She discovered that not only could she do this, but moreover she could stand and walk around unaided. Jacinta and Francisco are the youngest persons ever beatified without dying as martyrs.