On the 13th of each month, from May to October, 1917, the Mother of God appeared to three little shepherds of Fatima, Portugal: Francisco Marto, aged 9, his sister Jacinta, aged 7, and their cousin Lucia Dos Santos, aged 10. She told them that the Hearts of Jesus and Mary were already too much offended, and that people had to pray and make penance, or great chastisements would fall upon mankind. As foretold by the Blessed Virgin Mary, the two youngest seers were to die shortly after the Apparitions, whereas Lucia was to stay to spread the devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Lucia will turn 93 on March 22, 2000. She is a Carmelite nun in Coimbra, Portugal. Jacinta was born on March 11, 1910, and died on February 20, 1920, aged nearly 10 years. Francisco was born on June 11, 1908 and died on April 4, 1919, aged nearly, 11 years....
The Vatican recently announced that Jacinta and Francisco Marto will be declared "blessed" next May 13, and that Pope John Paul II himself will go to Fatima to preside over the ceremony of beatification. The two young seers will therefore become the two youngest blessed non-martyrs in the history of the Church since St. Dominic Savio, who died just before his 15th birthday, in 1857. They represent two extraordinary examples for young people, since they reached a high degree of holiness in only a few years.
A special bond unites Pope John Paul II to the Shrine of Fatima in Portugal. It is on May 13, 1981. that took place the attempt against the life of the Holy Father, in St. Peter's Square, when the Turk Ali Agca, an absolutely precise marksman, shot the Pope, aiming, at his head and his heart: (Ali Agca even said later in jail: "When I fire, the matter is finished.") Two bullets wounded the Holy Father's index finger, elbow, and intestinal area. Ali Agca had carried out this attempt with the utmost precision, and if the Pope survived, it really was a miracle. John Paul II was the first to recognize it; shortly after his emergency treatment, he confided to his surgeon: "This was the first anniversary of the Virgin's appearance at Fatima (on May 13, 1917). One hand fired, but another guided the bullet."
To show his gratitude, John Paul II went twice after to the Shrine of Fatima, one year later, on May 13, 1982, and ten years later, on May 13, 1991, then also thanking the Virgin Mary for this other miracle of the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. On May 13, 2000, it will therefore be the third visit of the Holy Father to this Shrine. Here are excerpts from the homily during his first visit on May 13, 1982:
"If the Church has accepted the message of Fatima, it is above all because that message contains a truth and a call whose basic content is the truth and the call of the Gospel itself. 'Repent, and believe in the Gospel' (Mk 1:15): these are the first words that the Messiah addressed to humanity. The message of Fatima is, in its basic nucleus, a call to conversion and repentance, as in the Gospel. This call was uttered at the beginning of the twentieth century, and it was thus addressed particularly to this present century.
The call to repentance is linked, as always, with a call to prayer. In harmony with the tradition of many centuries, the Lady of the message indicates the Rosary, which can rightly be defined as 'Mary's prayer', the prayer in which she feels particularly united with us. She herself prays with us. The Rosary prayer embraces the problems of the Church, of the See of Saint Peter, the problems of the whole world. In it we also remember sinners, that they may be converted and saved, and the souls in Purgatory... Can the Mother, who, with all the force of the love that she fosters in the Holy Spirit, desires everyone's salvation, keep silence on what undermines the very bases of their salvation? No, she cannot!
As early as 1916, the Angel of Peace appeared three times to the three children, teaching them this prayer: "My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You. I ask forgiveness for those who do not believe, nor adore, nor hope, nor love You." He also asked the shepherd children to constantly offer sacrifices and prayers to God: "In every way you can offer sacrifice to God in reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for sinners. In this way you will bring peace to our country, for I am its guardian angel, the angel of Portugal. Above all, bear and accept with patience the sufferings God will send you."
When Mary appeared for the first time to the three children, on May 13, 1917, saying that She was from Heaven, Lucia asked Her:
"And shall I go to Heaven?".
"Yes, you will," the Lady said.
"And Jacinta?" "She will go too."
"Francisco, too, but he will first have many Rosaries to say."
Francisco could see then Our Blessed Mother, but only Lucia could hear the words of Our Lady. When Lucia told Francisco what Our Lady had just said about him, he cried out excitedly: "Oh, Our Lady, I will say all the Rosaries you wish!".
One event during these Apparitions of the Virgin Mary that deeply impressed the children is the vision of hell, on July 13, 1917.
Since that date, the three children never spared any sacrifice for the conversion of sinners.
To obtain the graces and cures wished for, Our Lady invariably replied to "pray the Rosary every day". Then She added: "Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say many times, especially whenever you make some sacrifice: Ô 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." Then Our Lady opened her hands, to show that hell really exists. Here are the very words of Lucia, as reported in her memoirs (written in 1942):
"The rays of light seemed to penetrate the earth, and we saw as it were a sea of fire. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight nor equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. The demons could be distinguished from the damned human souls by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals.
"Thankfully this vision only lasted for a moment, and we must thank our Heavenly Mother who had prepared us for this vision, by promising to bring us to Heaven with Her; otherwise I think we would have died of fright. We immediately lifted our eyes to Our Lady who said to us with a tone of goodness mixed with sadness:
"You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners fall. To save them, God wishes to establish the devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If you do what I tell you, many souls will be saved, and there will be peace... If my requests are heeded (the consecration of Russia to My Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays), Russia will be converted and there will be peace; if not, then Russia will spread her errors throughout the world, bringing new wars and persecution of the Church..."
Some people say that one must not talk to children about hell for fear of frightening them, but Our Lady did not hesitate to show it to three of them, even though she knew they would have been horrified. Often Jacinta would exclaim: "How horrible it is in hell!" Shaking all over, she would kneel down and recite the prayer Our Lady taught them: "Oh My Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need." She would remain for a long time in prayer, and invite the two other seers to do the same. "Francisco, Lucia, are you praying with me? We must pray a lot to prevent souls from going to hell! So many go there!"
At other times Jacinta would ask Lucia: "Why does Our Lady not show hell to sinners? If they saw it they would sin no more so as not to fall into it! You must tell Our Lady to show hell to all those people (those present during the Apparition). You'll see how they'll convert." And then she would reproach Lucia: "Why didn't you tell Our Lady to show hell to the people?... How much compassion I feel for sinners. If only I could show them what hell is like! Listen,:1 am going to Heaven, but you are staying here, so if Our Lady lets you, tell everyone what hell is like so they won't sin any more and go to hell."
In the book Crossing the Treshold of Hope, Italian journalist Vittorio Messori asked John Paul II why so many churchmen dared not talk about hell. Here is what the Holy Father replied:
"Let's remember that not so long ago, in sermons during retreats or misions, the Last Things - death, judgment, heaven, hell, and purgatory - were always a standard part of the program of meditation and preachers knew how to speak of them in an effective and evocative way. How many people were drawn to conversion and confession by these sermons and reflections on the Last Things! (...)
"It is necessary to respond honestly by saying yes: To a certain degree man does get lost; so too do preachers, catechists, teachers; and as a result, they no longer have the courage to preach the threat of hell.... And yet, the words of Christ are unequivocal. In Matthew's Gospel He speaks clearly of those who will go to eternal punishment (cf. Mt 25:46)..."
The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared a last time to the three children on October 13, 1917, and left them with these words: "People must not offend our God any more, because He is already so much offended." And at the same time took place, before almost one hundred thousand people, the great miracle foretold the month before, the "dance of the sun", that all, believers and non-believers alike, could see with their own eyes. But what confirms above all the truth of the Apparitions is the behaviour of the three little seers who, by their prayers and sacrifices, were the first ones to fulfill the requests of the Lady of Fatima. They were even ready to accept martyrdom rather than to betray the secrets confided to them by Our Lady.
Here are now excerpts from an article written by Louis Even in 1972, entitled "The last days of Jacinta and Francisco":
Once the Apparitions were over, knowing that the Virgin Mary would come to get him soon, Francisco made every sacrifice he could to give consolation to Jesus. To do this, he would spend his days praying Rosaries, or stay alone for long hours in church, going right up to the altar, to "console the Hidden Jesus in the tabernacle." Whereas Jacinta prayed and offered sacrifices for the Holy Father and the conversion of sinners, Francisco wanted above all to "console Our Lord and Our Lady, who are already too much offended."
Both Francisco and Jacinta were struck by the epidemic and deadly Spanish influenza, two days before Christmas 1918. Several people told Francisco that they had prayed for his cure, but he answered: "This is useless; I am to die." Towards the end of February, his state grew worse. Francisco had not yet made his First Communion, and he prepared for it, asking Jesus to allow him this great favour before his death. On April 2, finding her little boy getting worse, his mother called the parish priest. He confessed Francisco, and promised to bring him Holy Communion the next day, which he did. This was both his First Communion and Holy Viaticum. The next morning, at about six o'clock, he called his mother: "See, Mamma, look at the beautiful light near the door!" After a minute: "Now, I don't see it anymore!" His face brightened, with an angelic smile.' And he expired gently. It was April 4, 1919.
Jacinta was to survive her brother by more than ten months. She suffered very much, but offered everything to Jesus. Her love for Jesus and Mary was intense. She made great progress in virtue, radiating it like a saint. The program of her life had become: "Suffer all that God wills." In Canon Barthas's book, The Lady of Light, one reads:
"Jacinta had been known as a plaintive and delicate little girl, loving games and dancing around. Now grace has transformed her soul. She has become patient, strong, and even hard in the face of suffering. She knows that nothing counts here below, except to save one's soul and the souls of others."... One day, in the spring of 1919, she said to Lucia, with sobs in her voice: "Our Lady has appeared to me. She said that I'll have to go to two hospitals, but not to be cured. I am to suffer very much. I shall die soon. I shall die alone, without having received the Hidden Jesus! If only Our Lady would bring Him with Her when She comes to me!"
On another occasion, she said to her cousin: "I shall go to Heaven very soon, Lucia, and you must remain on earth to explain to people how God wants to establish devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary all over the world. And when you speak of this to people, Lucia, don't be afraid to tell exactly what is true. Tell everyone that God gives us His grace through His Mother's Immaculate Heart; that the Sacred Heart of Jesus wishes to be venerated together with the Immaculate Heart of Mary..."
Jacinta was first admitted to the Hospital of St. Augustine at Ourem, then to a Libson hospital, where she knew she was to die. At Lisbon, before being admitted to the hospital, she spent some fifteen days at an orphanage directed by Sister Maria of the Purification Godinho. The 24 orphans of the house used to call Mother Godinho their "godmother". Jacinta was much comforted to learn that the blessed Sacrament was kept in the orphanage, and was thus able to receive Holy Communion every day of her sojourn there. Mother Godinho liked to talk with Jacinta, whose thoughts and colloquies were far above those of a child of that age. One day, Jacinta said to Mother Godinho:
"I would gladly go to a convent, but I would rather go to Heaven as soon as possible. To be a nun, one must be very pure in body and mind."
"Do you know what it means to be pure?" Mother Godinho asked her.
"Yes, yes, I know. To be pure in body means to be chaste, and to be pure in mind. means not to commit sins; not to look at what one should not see, not to steal or lie, and always to speak the truth, even if it is hard."
"Who taught you these things?"
"Our Lady, but some of them I thought out myself. I love to think." Mother Godinho kept note of some of Jacinta's words that revealed a child out of the ordinary.
"The sins which cause most souls to go to hell are sins of the flesh... Certain fashions will be introduced that will offend Our Lord very much. People who serve God should not follow the fashions. The Church has no fashions. Our Lord is always the same... The Blessed Mother can no longer restrain the hand of Her Divine Son from striking the world... There can be no salvation without confession.".
Jacinta had an operation at the San Stefano Hospital of Lisbon on February 10, 1920; two ribs of her left side were cut away. Jacinta suffered most terribly, but was able to say to Mother Godinho on February 17: "Listen, godmother, I don't have to complain any more. Our Lady came again to see me, and said that she will soon come to take me. She has taken away all my pain." There was indeed no more trace of suffering on her little face.
Jacinta added that "in this last visit, Our Lady had complained again of the sins of the world, and was so sad in saying so. Men must give up luxury and do penance; they must not continue in sin as they have done up to now." And Jacinta added: "I feel sad, so sad for Our Lady!"
On Friday, February 20, towards six o'clock in the evening, Jacinta said that she would die and asked for a priest. Father Fereira, of the church of the Holy Angels, came, heard her confession, and promised to bring her Holy Viaticum the next morning. But that very evening, about half past ten, Jacinta breathed her last in perfect peace, alone as had been predicted to her by Our Lady, with no other attendant than the night nurse.
The body was placed in the sacristy of the church of the Holy Angels, where it remained four days. The coffin was left open, and the body exhaled a sweet odor, which struck the doctors, who said that it should normally be the contrary after an illness of that sort and an unhealed wound. A great number of people came with beads and medals, making them touch Jacinta's dress which they considered to be the relic of a saint.
Since 1952, the bodies of Jacinta and Francisco are buried in the basilica of Fatima. On May 13, 1989, Pope John Paul II decreed that they had lived a life of heroic virtue, and declared them "Venerable". And on next May 13, the entire Church will have the happiness to proclaim: "Blessed Francisco and Jacinta of Fatima, pray for us!" And protect our youth!