“Francisco, which do you like better: to console Our Lord, or to convert sinners, so that no more souls go to hell?” Lucia dos Santos, then 10, asked her younger cousin and fellow Fatima visionary.
Francisco, 9, replied: “I would rather console Our Lord. Didn’t you notice how sad Our Lady was that last month when she said that people must not offend Our Lord anymore, for He is already too much offended? I would like to console Our Lord, and after that, convert sinners, so they won’t offend Him anymore.”
In Francisco’s desire to assuage God’s grief, Lucia recounted, “He spoke little, and whenever he prayed or offered sacrifices, he preferred to go apart and hide, even from [his sister and fellow Fatima visionary]Jacintha and myself. Quite often, we surprised him hidden behind a wall or a clump of blackberry bushes, whither he had slipped away to kneel and pray, or, as he used to say, ‘to think of Our Lord, Who is so sad on account of so many sins.’ ”
In 2000, Francisco and Jacintha Marto were beatified, and Pope Francis will canonize them as saints when he visits Fatima on May 12-13 for the 100th anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady of Fatima.
Unlike Francisco, Jacintha was more concerned about souls going to hell, and she spent her short life after Fatima offering her sufferings for the conversion of sinners. Both siblings died in the 1918-19 Spanish flu epidemic, leaving Lucia to live to the age of 97, recounting and spreading the events and messages of Fatima.
Jacintha was most affected by the First Secret of Fatima: Hell. Lucia wrote:
“Our Lady showed us a great sea of fire which seemed to be under the earth. 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 a huge fire, without weight or equilibrium, and amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear.”
For Jacintha, the inferno made any sacrifice, no matter how great, a burden worth bearing, to save sinners from far worse.
“The vision of hell filled her with horror to such a degree that every penance and mortification was nothing in her eyes, if only it could prevent souls from going there,” Lucia said of the youngest visionary, who would tell her brother, “Francisco, are you praying with me? We must pray a lot to save souls from hell. So many go there! So many!”
On another occasion, Lucia asked Jacintha what was on her mind. She replied: “About the war which is coming, and all the people who are going to die and go to hell! How dreadful! If they would only stop offending God, then there wouldn’t be any war, and they wouldn’t go to hell.”
Sainthood isn’t for kids — or is it?
Consoling God and saving sinners from hell. Given these holy preoccupations and the spectacular events of Fatima, one would think Francisco and Jacintha would have been beatified and canonized decades ago.
But in 1937, Pope Pius XI declared that young children could not be considered for sainthood, because they cannot fully understand virtue or practice it consistently, which are both requirements for beatification and canonization.
This obstacle to declaring Francisco and Jacintha blessed was lifted in 1979. That year, the bishop of Leiria-Fatima asked fellow prelates to write then-Pope St. John Paul II to make an exception to the Pius XI rule for the Fatima children. More than 300 bishops signed a letter declaring, “the children were known, admired and attracted people to the way of sanctity. Favors were received through their intercession.”
That same year the Congregation for the Causes of Saints convened a general assembly of Cardinals, bishops, theologians, and other experts to deliberate the question of sainthood for children. The Congregation declared that just as some child geniuses showed immense talent in music or mathematics, “in some supernatural way, some children could be spiritual prodigies.”
A decade later, in 1989, St. John Paul II declared Jacintha and Francisco venerable, the first step on the ladder to canonization.
More than the existence of child geniuses, however, the paramount reason for considering children for sainthood is God’s grace, which is the source of all holiness, and can very well go where the Spirit wills, even to children.
Indeed, the Spirit was with the Blessed Virgin from her Immaculate Conception and throughout her life. And He was with St. John The Baptist from birth. So, why can’t God give the Spirit to Jacintha, 6 going on 7, and Francisco, 8 going on 9, during the Fatima apparitions from May to October 1917?
And why should the world, especially our children, be denied the saintly example of Blessed Jacintha and Francisco, whose love of God and poor sinners is sorely lacking in our time, even among the young? Surely, their sainthood would serve to spread their message and sanctity in our age.
Consoling God and saving souls. May Blessed Jacintha and Francisco Marto fill our minds with such thoughts, which they received from Our Lady of Fatima, enlivened and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Amen.