The Heroic Sanctity of
Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta of Fatima
Cornelia R. Ferreira
- Address given at the “Fatima: Last Chance
for World Peace” Conference in Tuy, Spain on October
- Your Excellencies, Reverend
Fathers and Religious, ladies and gentlemen:
It is my privilege today to tell you a little about two beautiful child saints of the 20th Century, Blesseds Francisco and Jacinta, as well as their cousin Lucy, who will all be canonized one day. I can only provide a snapshot of their virtues in this talk, but you can find many more details in Sister Lucy’s inspirational Memoirs.
There are many messages and lessons for Catholics in the events of Fatima. The more one meditates on them, the more one realizes they are Heaven’s instructions for saving souls in the decades of diabolical disorientation that were to follow Fatima. The instructions can be summarized in the words of Our Lord: “Unless ye be like little children, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” (cf. Matt. 18:3)
The three young seers are perfect illustrations of Our Lord’s words. Blessed Francisco and his younger sister, Blessed Jacinta, achieved the perfection necessary to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven in an astoundingly short time. We know they went straight to Heaven when they died because Our Lady Herself said so. This was not merely because they were children, as otherwise all baptized children who die before the age of reason would enter Heaven immediately. No, Francisco and Jacinta earned Heaven by practicing to a heroic degree the virtues God considers to be childlike: obedience, trust, simplicity, humility, love, zeal. Their cousin Lucy, whom Our Lady promised to take to Heaven after she spent a longer time on earth, also displayed the same holiness as they.
All three were completely obedient to the requests of the Angel of Portugal and Our Lady. In their zeal to convey the Mother of God’s sacred message to the world, they docilely suffered calumny, persecution, kidnapping, imprisonment and even threats of death at the hands of the Masonic enemies of the Faith. It was their trust in God and their utter simplicity that enabled this complete obedience to Her wishes. Theirs was a vibrant, living faith in which every moment was spent in the presence of God. God and Our Lady were as real to them as any family member or friend, and They were loved above all things. These young children gave up every innocent pastime and activity and became completely detached even from the necessities of life such as food and drink.
The keynote of the children’s heroic sanctity was provided by the Guardian Angel of Portugal a year before the appearances of Our Lady. The keynote was suffering. The Angel told them they had been chosen by Jesus and Mary to suffer in reparation for the sins by which God is offended, and for the conversion of sinners. They were to suffer by offering constant prayers and sacrifices and by bearing with submission all the crosses which God would send them. They were to offer up everything they did or suffered as a sacrifice.
It is highly significant for us to note that in a prayer of reparation to the Blessed Trinity, which the Angel taught them, the specific sins offending Jesus were listed as the “outrages, sacrileges and indifference” against Him in the Blessed Eucharist. The Angel called these sins “crimes” and commanded the children to make reparation and console Jesus for these crimes fifty years before they became routine in the Church! The prayer to the Holy Trinity also reveals that it is through the merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary that the conversion of sinners is to be sought.
The Angel’s commands made an indelible impression on the children as they were accompanied by an infused knowledge of God. As Sister Lucy tells us in her memoirs, the Angel’s words “were like a light which made us understand who God is, how He loves us and desires to be loved, the value of sacrifice, how pleasing it is to Him and how, on account of it, He grants the grace of conversion to sinners. It was for this reason that we began, from then on, to offer to the Lord all that mortified us.” The children threw themselves wholeheartedly into suffering as victim souls from that day in 1916.
At first, they didn’t seek out mortification, except to spend hours on end with their foreheads touching the ground, repeating the prayer to the Holy Trinity as the Angel instructed. It was only after the apparitions of Our Lady that they saw the need for voluntary sacrifices. She told them, “Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say many times to Jesus, especially whenever you make some sacrifice: ‘O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” This became the formula the children used to offer up all their sacrifices and crosses. After some priests recommended that they pray for the Holy Father because he needed many prayers, Jacinta added “and for the Holy Father” to the formula.
Although the children completely obeyed all the requests of Heaven, they each were called to take a different aspect of the messages to heart, in line with their temperaments. This is very helpful for us as each has highlighted one of the main points of the total Fatima Message.
A Seven-Year-Old Victim Soul
Let’s consider Jacinta first. Even at the young age of perhaps five or six, Jacinta was very sensitive about the feelings of Jesus. She obeyed her mother instantly when told not to play with some village children who engaged in “improper talk,” being struck by the fact that the Child Jesus doesn’t like such talk. She loved to kiss and hug the crucifix with great devotion, even before she knew why Jesus was nailed to the cross. When Lucy described Our Lord’s sufferings, Jacinta was moved to tears. She asked Lucy to repeat the story many times, and each time she would weep and grieve, saying: “Our poor dear Lord! I’ll never sin again! I don’t want Our Lord to suffer any more!”
This compassion for Jesus was an intimation of the grace she would receive of compassion for sinners. She became so sensitive to the sufferings of souls in hell that she would spend her remaining days as a reparatory victim for sinners. She was only seven when Our Lady showed the children a vision of hell, with demons and human souls burning in a sea of fire amid shrieks and groans. This vision filled her with such horror, Lucy tells us, “that every penance and mortification was as nothing in her eyes, if it could only prevent souls from going there.”
Jacinta would often exclaim, “Oh, hell! Hell! How sorry I am for the souls who go to hell! And the people down there, burning alive, like wood in the fire!” She would remain on her knees for long periods of time, repeating the prayer Our Lady told them to say after each decade of the Rosary: “O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fire of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are most in need.” Our Lady had said to “pray very much and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and to pray for them.” So Jacinta would urge Francisco and Lucy: “We must pray very much to save souls from hell! So many go there! So many!”
Her greatest desire was that Our Lady would show hell to other people, as she was convinced this would convert a great many who wouldn’t want to go there. If Jacinta were here today, she would probably consider it a terrible tragedy that hell is hardly mentioned in catechesis or sermons so as not to “scare” children and even adults.
One day Jacinta asked Lucy which sins sent people to hell. Lucy named missing Mass on Sunday, stealing, and bad language. So, when Jacinta was ill, she insisted on attending Mass on a week day, saying she was going for sinners who skipped Mass on Sunday. When she heard bad language, she covered her face in sorrow, saying, “Don’t those people realize that they can go to hell for saying those things?” She would ask Jesus to forgive them because they didn’t know they were offending God, and she would immediately pray for them the prayer of Our Lady: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins…, etc.” Sometimes she’d give up a meal, offering this as “a sacrifice for sinners who eat too much.”
Constantly seeking opportunities for mortification, Jacinta inspired Francisco and Lucy to join her in giving their lunches to poor beggar children they regularly met whilst tending their sheep. Their lunch would then be acorns. Even then, Jacinta devised another sacrifice: eating unripe bitter oak acorns rather than the more palatable holm oak ones. One hot day they even gave away their water to the poor children. They later accepted water from a neighbor, then thought better of it and gave it to their sheep. Jacinta developed a splitting headache from the heat and lack of nourishment and the noise of the crickets and frogs, but gladly offered it up. Perhaps their constant heroic sacrifice of food weakened Jacinta and Francisco so that they eventually came down with the influenza that caused their deaths.
Now, after the vision of hell in July 1917, Our Lady prophesied the outbreak of World War II because of the sins of mankind. Only the establishment of devotion to Her Immaculate Heart through the Consecration of Russia and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays could prevent this and assure peace, She said. Having received with the other children an infused knowledge and great love for the Immaculate Heart in June, a month earlier, Jacinta mourned because she was too young to receive Holy Communion, and so could not make reparation in this particular way for sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In Jacinta’s attitude towards the coming war we see not only that her life was lived on a supernatural plane, but also that the Holy Ghost’s gifts of wisdom and understanding were highly developed in this little child. She was consumed not so much by the thought that so many people would die in the war, but that “almost all of them” would go to hell, as she put it. “If only they would stop offending God,” she said, “then there wouldn’t be any war and they wouldn’t go to hell!”
Who today dares say that wars are the fruit of sin? How many naturalistic reasons are given the blame instead: poverty, nationalism, religious differences, social inequality....? How blind we are to count on man to end war through naturalistic means: money, development, human rights, dialogue! And how many souls are lost through war every day because the Immaculate Heart of Mary is ignored or scorned!
Jacinta’s Heroic Mortifications
The 1918 “Spanish flu,” which actually began in the United States, was a world pandemic which caused terrible damage to the lungs, killing most people very rapidly. It seems to have had some similarity to today’s “bird flu”. It would raise Jacinta’s mortifications to new heights. She spent the first phase of her illness at home, offering up everything without demands or complaints. Many visitors stayed for long periods, even bringing their sewing along, as they sensed something supernatural about her. Overhearing their conversations, she would correct what she considered improper: “Don’t say that; it offends the Lord our God.” She taught prayers to the children who also loved to visit; she prayed the Rosary with them, and counseled them not to sin so as to avoid offending God and going to hell.
One day, Our Lady appeared to her and asked if she wanted to convert more sinners. When Jacinta generously agreed, she was told she would go to a hospital and stay there alone and suffer a great deal for conversions, in reparation for sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and for love of Jesus. A few months after this apparition, as Francisco was on the point of dying and entering Heaven, Jacinta told him with childlike naturalness and simplicity: “Give all my love to Our Lord and Our Lady, and tell them that I’ll suffer as much as They want, for the conversion of sinners and in reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” Soon after, Jacinta spent two months in hospital in Ourém, suffering greatly. Because she did not improve, and her parents couldn’t afford a longer stay, she was sent home with a large open, festering wound in her chest that needed bandaging every day. The wound became infected and the pus poured over her chest as she grew weaker.
Yet she continued to devise further mortifications. She cheerfully accepted food she disliked, whilst refusing what she liked. She forfeited sleep at night by not turning over in bed to relieve her pain. The children had the habit of often reciting the Angel’s prayers, even during the night. As the Angel taught them, they would prostrate themselves, with their foreheads touching the ground. In spite of her pain, Jacinta forced herself to continue that penitential practice, but confided to Lucy that she could no longer touch the ground with her head because she would fall over, so she only prayed on her knees.
Our Lady appeared to Jacinta a second time to tell her that she would go to a hospital in Lisbon where she would suffer much more and then die alone. Jacinta was terribly frightened at the thought of dying alone, but when Lucy told her not to think about it, she replied that she wanted to, as that increased her suffering, giving her more to offer up. Her one consolation was that Our Lady had said She would come to take her to Heaven. Like St. Thérèse, the Little Flower of Fatima resolved to spend her Heaven doing good on earth.
In January 1920, Jacinta left for Lisbon. In February she entered the hospital, where she was operated upon for purulent pleurisy. Imagine her suffering as two ribs on her left side were removed using only a very imperfect local anesthetic that could not suppress all the pain. The wound was as large as a hand, but during the operation her only words were: “Ouch! Jesus! Ouch! My God!” The pain was renewed each time the bandages were changed, but she was only heard to invoke Our Lady. “Patience!” she said. “We must all suffer in order to go to Heaven!” The hospital staff were greatly edified by Jacinta’s behavior. They observed that she forced herself to hide her sufferings. She never complained, and prayed a great deal. And her purity was such that she wept when she had to be unclothed for the surgeons.
Our Lady appeared to Jacinta and told her the day and hour of her death. She died as prophesied, completely alone at 10:30 at night on February 20, 1920. She was nine years old. We can be sure that the Blessed Mother had come to take Her beloved daughter straight to her eternal reward! In her coffin, four days later, her body looked asleep and beautiful, and in spite of the time it had lain exposed to the air, and the purulent nature of her illness, it emitted a perfume like fragrant flowers.
Before leaving for Lisbon, Jacinta displayed her deep love for Jesus and Mary and a remarkable understanding of the revelations of Fatima in these instructions to Lucy:
“You will remain here to make known that God wishes to establish in the world devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary … Tell everybody that God 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!” (Emphasis added.)
Consoling Jesus and Mary
Though all three children were mystics and contemplatives, Francisco was the most contemplative. It was part of his nature, as he loved to contemplate the beauties of nature. He was also tender-hearted and meek by temperament, to the point of exasperating Lucy with his meekness.
The Fatima revelation that inspired his heroic sanctity was: The Virgin Mary and God Himself are infinitely sad because of sins, and it is up to us to console Them. This was the message he highlighted for us. Jesus made St. Margaret Mary and the 20th Century Spanish nun, Sister Josefa Ménendez, feel His sorrow, and He did the same for the Fatima children, especially Francisco.
The children were given an infused knowledge and love of God in the light which issued from Our Lady’s hands. Lucy refers to this more than once in her memoirs. Francisco told Lucy why he loved to see Our Lady: “What I loved most of all was to see Our Lord in that light from Our Lady which penetrated our hearts. I love God so much! But He is very sad because of so many sins! We must never commit any sins again.” Whereas Jacinta’s reparations were for the conversion of sinners, Francisco’s was more to console the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. “They are so sad!” he said. “If we can console them with these sufferings, how happy we shall be!”
Although the vision of hell considerably affected him, what wholly absorbed him, said Lucy, “was God, the Most Holy Trinity, perceived in that light which penetrated our inmost souls. Afterwards, he said: ‘We were on fire in that light which is God, and yet we were not burnt! What is God? … We could never put it into words…. But what a pity it is that He is so sad! If only I could console Him!’”
Lucy once asked him if he preferred to console Jesus or to convert sinners so that no more souls would go to hell. He replied that he would rather console Our Lord. He said, “Didn’t you notice how sad Our Lady was … when She said that people must not offend Our Lord any more, for He is already much offended? I would like to console Our Lord, and after that, convert sinners so that they won’t offend Him any more.” And so he offered up his sacrifices first to console Jesus and Mary and then for sinners and the Holy Father. Whereas Jacinta said in Heaven she would pray for sinners, the Holy Father and Lucy, Francisco said he would spend his time there consoling Jesus and Mary. Indeed, he asked Lucy to tell Jacinta that it was her job to pray for sinners and the Holy Father when she got there, because he was afraid he’d forget when he saw Jesus!
Affected by the sadness of God, Francisco completely lost his appetite for playing games with the two girls. He also gave up playing his flute and singing, his favorite activity when they were out on the mountains. Instead, he spent hours by himself, hidden behind some shrub, praying on his knees or absorbed in contemplation, sacrificing his lunch. When asked what he’d being doing, he replied, “I am thinking about God, Who is so sad because of so many sins!” In 1918, Lucy caved in to village pressure to join the carnival festivities. Francisco sternly reminded her they had promised Our Lady not to participate in parties and dances anymore. He told her to inform her friends she could not join them for that reason. Lucy followed his advice, with the result that her friends also gave up such gatherings and joined her in praying the Rosary on Sundays.
Francisco also delighted in consoling Our Lord by spending many hours in church, visiting the Hidden Jesus, as he and Jacinta named Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Once he spent the whole morning in front of the tabernacle, praying for a lady who had asked his intercession for her. Afterwards, with the assurance characteristic of saints closely united to God, he told Lucy that the favor would be granted in a few days, and that’s exactly what happened. After he fell ill, he instructed Lucy: “Go to the church and give my love to the Hidden Jesus. What hurts me most is that I cannot go there myself …”
During the apparition of May 13, 1917, Our Lady promised that all three children would go to Heaven, but Francisco first had to say many Rosaries. From then on, he said seven or eight a day until his illness progressed. It greatly afflicted him when he was too weak to recite even a single one.
But like Jacinta, he never complained about his illness. “He always appeared joyful and content,” so much so that Lucy had to ask him if he was suffering. “Quite a lot,” he replied, “but never mind! I am suffering to console Our Lord, and afterwards, within a short time, I am going to Heaven!” “He took everything his mother gave him, and she could never discover what he disliked.” But he couldn’t tolerate even a teaspoon of liquid on the day before his death. Still, when asked, he insisted he felt well and no longer suffered.
Francisco also had many visitors, including strangers, whilst he was ill. He generally remained silent with the adults, speaking only when he had to. But the visitors felt a holy awe in his presence. One woman, who didn’t believe in the Apparitions, commented, “It seems to me that when we go into Francisco’s room, we feel just as we do when we go into a church.”
Francisco’s holy death was preceded by an act of great humility, simplicity and sensitivity of conscience. In preparation for his last confession, he asked Lucy to tell him if she recalled any of his sins and she reminded him of some disobedience. He asked Jacinta the same question. She had to think for a few minutes to recall a couple of incidents. Francisco said he’d already confessed those, but he would do so again because perhaps it was because of them that Our Lord was so sad. After making a firm purpose of amendment in case he recovered from his sickness, he prayed Our Lady’s prayer: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell….” Then he told Lucy to also ask Jesus to forgive him. She agreed, but told him not to worry because Our Lady would not have said She’d take him to Heaven if Our Lord had not already forgiven his sins. This astounding conversation between two children indicated the high degree of wisdom, understanding and union with God which they possessed.
Their childlike simplicity regarding death and the beatific vision was manifest in Lucy’s last conversation with Francisco on the eve of his death:
That night I said goodbye to him.
Goodbye, Francisco! If you go to Heaven tonight, don’t forget me when you get there, do you hear me?”
“No, I won’t forget. Be sure of that.” Then, seizing my right hand, he held it tightly for a long time, looking at me with tears in his eyes.
“Do you want anything more?” I asked him, with tears running down my cheeks too.
“No!” he answered in a low voice, quite overcome.
As the scene was becoming so moving, my aunt told me to leave the room.
“Goodbye then, Francisco! Till we meet in Heaven, goodbye!”
Francisco died on April 4, 1919, ten and a half months before Jacinta. He was ten. Several days before his death, he had promised a woman who asked him to pray for the reconciliation of her husband and son that he would ask Our Lady for this grace when he went to Heaven. Just a few hours after he died, the father and son were reconciled.
The Great Promise of Fatima
Six years later, in 1925, the Blessed Virgin and the Child Jesus appeared to Lucy (in Pontevedra) and confirmed the correctness of the children’s devotion to reparation and compassion. Our Lady was holding Her heart encircled with thorns. Both she and Jesus told Lucy to have compassion on this Heart that is “pierced at every moment” by “the blasphemies and ingratitude of ungrateful men.” Jesus said, “There is no one to make an act of reparation to remove them,” and the Virgin told Lucy, “You at least try to console Me.” She then made the great promise of assistance at the hour of death with the graces necessary for salvation for all those who would practice the Five First Saturdays devotion with the intention of making reparation to Her.1
Jesus explained (on May 29, 1930) the reason for five Saturdays: It is because there are five blasphemies against the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The blasphemies He listed2 are nothing else but the heresies of Protestantism and the Orthodox Church; how offended, therefore, must Jesus and Mary be by the ecumenical movement, which seeks common ground with Protestants and Orthodox, instead of their conversion. Yet how many Catholics make reparation at least through the Five First Saturdays devotion?
Today is the first Saturday of October and the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. If anyone here has never made the Five First Saturdays, what more perfect time to start than today, whilst attending this conference on Fatima? After all, it’s Our Lady, with great motherly love, who has brought you here on this special day. And when you have made the Five First Saturdays once, why not keep on with them and make them over and over again to prove your love and devotion to Her Immaculate Heart?
And God is never outdone in generosity, as we know. This is the great Message of Fatima: devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a guarantee of salvation. This promise had first been made in the Apparition of June 13, 1917. Mary had said that She would soon take Francisco and Jacinta to Heaven, but Lucy had to remain for some time on earth because Jesus wished to use her to establish in the world devotion to Her Immaculate Heart. She then added: “I promise salvation to those who embrace [this devotion], and these souls will be loved by God, like flowers placed by Me to adorn His throne.” The children saw “a heart encircled with thorns which pierced it,” and “understood that this was the Immaculate Heart of Mary, outraged by the sins of humanity, and seeking reparation.” Jacinta and Francisco lived devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, consumed by the need for reparation and consolation.
The salutary effect they had on people was summarized by Lucy in a commentary on the visitors to their sick beds who sensed something different, something supernatural about the children:
I am not surprised that people felt like that, being accustomed to find in everyone else only the preoccupation with material things which goes with an empty, superficial life. Indeed, the very sight of these children was enough to lift their minds to our heavenly Mother, with whom the children were believed to be in communication; to eternity, for they saw how eager, joyful and happy they were at the thought of going there; to God, for they said that they loved Him more than their own parents; and even to hell, for the children warned them that people would go there if they continued to commit sin. Externally, they were … children like all others. But if these good people, so accustomed to the material side of life, had only known how to elevate their minds a little, they would have seen without difficulty that, in these children, there was something that marked them out as being different from all others.
Indeed, they were different. They were saints — saints of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. May their prayers at the throne of God, along with those of their cousin Sister Lucy, soon bring about that happy era of peace in which the plan of God will be fulfilled for the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of His Mother.
Notes:1. This is how Our Lady described the Five First Saturdays devotion: “Announce in My name that I promise to assist at the hour of death, with all the graces necessary for salvation, all those souls who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months shall go to confession, receive Holy Communion, pray five decades of the Rosary, and keep Me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary, all with the intention of making reparation to My Immaculate Heart.” In 1926, Lucy asked the Child Jesus who appeared to her if the confession could be within eight days. Jesus answered in the affirmative, adding it could be longer still, provided the person is in the state of grace and has the intention of making reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. And if the person forgets to make the intention, he can do so at his next confession, “taking advantage of the first opportunity to go to confession.”
2. They are: blasphemies against the Immaculate Conception; against Her Virginity; against the Divine Maternity, refusing at the same time to accept Her as the Mother of all mankind; those who try publicly to implant in children’s hearts indifference, scorn or even hatred against this Immaculate Mother; those who outrage Her directly in Her holy images.
Sources:Sister Lucia, Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words: Sister Lucia’s Memoirs, ed. Fr. Louis Kondor, SVD, trans. Dominican Nuns of Perpetual Rosary (Fatima: Postulation Centre, 1976), the edition without photographs.
Frère François de Marie des Anges, Fatima: Intimate Joy, World Event. Book II: Mary’s Immaculate Heart and Your Salvation (Buffalo, New York: Immaculate Heart Publications, 1993).
Sara Francis Fujimara, “Purple Death: The Great Flu of 1918,” Perspectives in Health Magazine, Vol. 8, No. 3, 2003, posted at www.paho.org/ English/DD/PIN/Number18_article5.htm.
“The Pandemic of 1918-1919 Claimed at Least 30 Million Human Lives,” posted at roche.com/pages/facets/ 16/spanflu.htm.David Brown, “Changes Cited in Bird Flu Virus,” Washington Post, October 6, 2005, p. A03.
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