Francisco and Jacinta Marto are among the youngest saints of the Catholic Church. Francisco was 9 and Jacinta 7 when Our Lady of Fatima appeared to them in 1917. Francisco died only two years later and Jacinta the following year—one hundred years ago today. Despite their young age, they lived incredibly holy lives after seeing Our Lady. Known today as the Fatima children, they show us that even young children can live extraordinarily holy lives and do great things for God.
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The Fatima Children
Francisco and Jacinta Marto were the youngest siblings in a Portuguese family of seven children. Along with their cousin Lucia, they took care of their family’s sheep. Francisco had a placid disposition, some musical talent, and enjoyed being alone. He also liked playing games with other children but wasn’t competitive, and often gave up treasured possessions rather than fight for them. He liked animals, playing with snakes and lizards (to his mother’s horror), and once buying a captive bird for a penny to set it free.
Jacinta was affectionate, emotional and spoiled, and also enjoyed music and dancing. She pouted if she wasn’t given her own way and was jealous of Lucia’s attention. When Lucia was sent out to watch the sheep, Jacinta moped until she was allowed to go with Lucia and the sheep too. She loved flowers, often gathering armfuls to make garlands for Lucia. She also loved their sheep, naming them and playing with the lambs.
They were both illiterate, despite a brief period at school following the apparitions.
In 1916, Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia were watching their sheep when an angel appeared to them. He said he was the Angel of Peace and asked them to pray with him. He taught them to pray, “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love You!”
Lucia later said that “the presence of God made itself felt so intimately and so intensely that we did not even venture to speak to one another” (Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words). They remained enveloped in this supernatural atmosphere for some time, and still felt it the next day. They didn’t mention it to anyone, for the Apparition felt too intimate, too hard to speak about.
The Angel of Peace appeared to them again and told them to pray much and to make sacrifices. When Lucia questioned him about how they were to make sacrifices, he said, “Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners.” The children then began to give their lunch to the sheep or to poor children, and to pray for hours at a time, and to offer other mortification to God.
Lucia said, “These words were indelibly impressed upon our minds. They 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.”
Our Lady of Fatima
On May 13, 1917, the three children were watching their sheep as usual in an area called the Cova. They had eaten their lunch and prayed an abbreviated rosary (saying only the titles of the prayers, and not the whole prayer) when they saw a flash of lightning. Worried that a storm was coming, they gathered the sheep and started heading home. Halfway , they saw another flash of lightning and then a dazzling lady appeared on a holm oak tree.
The children stood within the light radiating from the lady. She wore a pure white mantle, edged with gold, and held a rosary. She told them not to be afraid and requested that they return each month on the 13th for the next six months. Lucia asked if she and her cousins would go to heaven, and was assured that they would, though Francisco would have to pray many rosaries. He couldn’t hear the Lady speak, although he could see and feel her presence.
Lucia told her cousins to keep this apparition a secret, as they’d kept the angel visits a secret. However, Jacinta was so excited by the vision that she soon told her family. Her mother brushed it off as a child’s imagination and her siblings teased her about it, but her father believed in his daughter’s honesty and had a simple appreciation for the working of God.
June 13th is the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, which was usually celebrated with great festivities in Fatima. However, the three children went to the Cova to keep their appointment with the Lady. A small crowd accompanied them. They all said the rosary, and then the children saw Our Lady appear. She asked them to keep coming on the 13th, to keep praying the rosary, and taught them the Fatima prayer.
On July 13th, the Lady gave the Fatima children three secrets. While the children had already faced scorn from those who didn’t believe in the apparitions, the secrets caused even more problems. All three children refused to tell the secrest, even when the local Administrator took them into custody and tried to bribe and threaten them. Despite their young ages, he put them in jail with other criminals. He kept them there for two days, so that they missed meeting the Lady on August 13th. Instead, she met them on the 19th.
On September 13th, nearly 30,000 people gathered at the Cova for the next apparition. They prayed the rosary with the children. When Our Lady appeared, she asked them to keep saying the rosary, responded to Lucia’s intercessions for sick people in the village, and told them to come next month for a miracle.
On October 13th, a crowd once again gathered with the Fatima children. This time, the Lady revealed that she was the Lady of the Rosary. She asked that they keep saying the rosary and build a chapel there in her honour. She also predicted the end of the war. Then the miracle of the dancing sun appeared to the entire crowd, while Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia saw visions of Mary, Joseph and Jesus.
After the Apparitions
In 1918, Francisco and Jacinta Marto caught influenza. Jacinta had another vision of Mary, in which Our Lady told her they would soon go to heaven. They offered their pain and suffering for the conversion of sinners, continuing to pray their rosaries. They also went to Eucharistic adoration whenever they could.
When asked by two women what he wanted to be when he grew up, Francisco said he wanted to go to heaven. He was given his First Holy Communion just a day before he died. He called the Eucharist “the hidden Jesus.”
Jacinta spent the next year in hospitals far from home, as doctors attempted to save her life. She suffered through an operation to remove two of her ribs because of pleurisy. On February 19, she asked to receive Holy Communion and Last Rites, but the priest said her condition wasn’t that serious. She died alone that night, as she’d predicted she would.
Both Francisco and Jacinta Marto are buried in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima. In 1935, when their bodies were exhumed, Jacinta was found incorrupt, but her body had begun to decompose by 1951 when she was reburied in the Basilica.
Young Saints in the Church
In 1927, Pope Pius XI refused to canonize Jacinta and Francisco Marto because of their age. He said “causes for minors” couldn’t be accepted, as he didn’t believe children could fully understand or practice heroic virtues. In 1979, three hundred bishops signed a petition to Pope Saint John Paul II for the canonization of Jacinta and Francisco. They said the children were well-known and admired, and were attracting people to sanctity. Favours had also been received as a result of the children’s intercessions.
Pope Saint John Paul II beatified the children in May 2000, and Pope Francis canonized them in May 2017. They share the feast day of February 20, the anniversary of Jacinta’s death. They are the first brother and sister who are not martyrs to be canonized. The Catholic Church now recognizes many other cool saints who have done great works at young ages, even in their first decade of life.
Resources about the Fatima Children
- The Holy Heroes Glory Story about the Fatima children is one of our favourites; my kids have listened to this over and over again. It does have some scary parts (the townspeople threaten the children to reveal the secrets) but is a beautiful telling of the story that teaches children about the rosary and making sacrifices (or accepting suffering) for the salvation of sinners.
- Our Lady of Fatima is a readable, engaging biography of the Fatima children. This would be a great family read-aloud or chapter book for older children. Author William Thomas Walsh is the author of numerous saint biographies and based this book on conversations with Lucia (then Sister Maria das Dores) and her then-unpublished memoirs.
- Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words is a collection of Lucia’s letters and memoirs, written at the request of her bishop about the events of her childhood. The memoirs are a bit rambling but still very readable, as Lucia writes with clear yet beautiful simplicity.
- 100 Years of Fatima is an easy-to-browse website about the Fatima children and their message. It includes biographies of the children, details of the apparitions, commentary, and links to EWTN programs about Fatima.
- Fatima Movie is a full-length movie about the Marian apparitions of 1917. Producer Natasha Howes says, “It’s an incredibly edifying movie that portrays the truth, beauty and goodness of the Catholic faith on the big screen, and will encourage Catholics to turn to our Blessed Mother to intercede for us in these difficult times.”
Saints Francisco and Jacinta Marto, pray for us.
Join Catholics worldwide in offering a Global Spiritual Bouquet to Our Lady of Fatima, with the goal of protecting families, upholding the sanctity and dignity of all human lives and securing the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Visit WorldRosary2020 to submit your prayer commitments. Father Carlos Cabecinaas, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary, will present the bouquet in a solemn and beautiful ceremony on May 13 and October 13, 2020, in the Chapel of Apparitions in Fatima, Portugal.