Jacinta and Francisco
by Edwin Faust
This is an edited excerpt from Mr. Faust's conference speech:
"Fatima and Pilgrimage: Conforming Our Lives to the Message of Fatima".
It is tempting to speculate how closely the experiences of the children correspond to the degrees of prayer described by the mystical doctors of the Church, such as St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. It can be said with certainty that the seers did all they could to enter actively into the dark night of the senses described by St. John of the Cross as the usual prelude to contemplation.
St. John tells us that the senses cannot bring us to God and that the more we indulge the senses the farther we put ourselves from God. So the first step in any advance towards a deeper prayer life must always be an increase in sensual denial, in asceticism. As St. Teresa of Avila so simply and so concisely stated “prayer and self-indulgence do not go together.” Ouch.
Francisco was most notably ascetic; even chastising his elder cousin Lucy for yielding once to family pressure to attend a party. Lucy obeyed Francisco’s injunction for the boy emanated an authority that belied his years. Remember, he was only nine years old during the apparitions and ten when he died. Francisco also manifested that virtue so highly praised by the mystics called detachment.
St. John of the Cross and the German mystics Meister Eckhart, John Tauler and Blessed Henry Suso tell us that Holy detachment contains the perfection of all the virtues because there we place ourselves entirely in God’s hands. We don’t want anything. Whatever He sends us is fine.
Meister Eckhart describes this in an interesting way. He says that “a man who is married to his self-will has something like a coating on his tongue that makes all suffering bitter to him. But a man whose will is in Holy detachment has his tongue coated with God and whatever comes to him, even suffering, tastes of God, tastes of that divine sweetness." I think Francisco achieved this state of detachment. He tended to view the world very much as the passing show that it is.
He even stopped attending school that he might spend his days kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament at the village church in Fatima consoling the “hidden Jesus” as he put it. When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, and all such children are pestered by such questions, he would respond that he did not want to be anything; he only wanted to die and go to Heaven. As his detachment increased, he gave evidence of having reached deep states of contemplation.
Lucy and Jacinta would sometimes find him lost in silent prayer in out of the way places: behind the wall, or lying flat on the ground, and they would have to call him insistently to bring him back to ordinary consciousness.
When Portugal, like the rest of Europe, was decimated by the influenza epidemic that followed World War I, the people in the vicinity of Fatima were not spared. All of Lucy’s family, except her, were stricken. And all of the Marto family, except the father, Ti Marto, also became seriously ill. Both Francisco and Jacinta knew that they would never recover from this illness and that it marked a road of penitential suffering that would only end with their deaths. But they accepted this calmly, even joyfully, for they had Our Lady’s promise that She would take them to Heaven.
Once when Lucy was visiting Francisco, she asked him if he suffered. “Bastante” (quite enough), he said “but it doesn’t matter. I suffer to console Our Lord, and in a little while I will be with Him.” Shortly before he died, he entrusted to Lucy a piece of rough hemp, part of a rope found by Lucy in the road a long time ago, that he and the other children had made into makeshift hair shirts. He told Lucy to take it for he was no longer strong enough to make the exertion required to hide it from his mother. He lay motionless in his bed during the last few days of his illness, and on April 4, 1919, less than two years after the last Apparition, he died peacefully with a faint smile on his 10-year-old face. He was buried the next day at the churchyard in Fatima.
Jacinta was to die the following year, after a more prolonged and excruciating illness. If Francisco manifested detachment and tranquility, which are associated with the purification of the will, his younger sister displayed what might be described as a mystical illumination, a purification of the understanding. It may be that of the three children Jacinta was most immersed in a sense of the supernatural. The Blessed Mother also continued to appear to her both at her home near Fatima, when she was ill, and during her hospital stay in Lisbon, before her death.
Still More Holy
Jacinta was the youngest of the three children — only 6 years old during the apparitions of the Angel of Peace in 1916. And considering the events of Fatima, we sometimes lose sight of just how young these visionaries chosen by Heaven were. As Jacinta was just beginning to learn her catechism from Lucy who, at nine, was by no means an expert, she was wrapped in an atmosphere of the supernatural by Heavenly visitations.
How can we imagine her experience of the faith? I will venture to speculate that of the three seers her faith was probably the purest. And in saying this I mean no disparagement of the faith of Lucy and Francisco. But they were older. And if they knew little of the world, they at least knew and understood more than Jacinta, who was barely at the age of reason.
Spared that Poison
I think Jacinta was spared from that pull of the world that contends with our belief at the same time that we are being instructed in the faith. For even as children growing up in Catholic homes, we cannot escape the awareness that we live among many people who reject Christ’s Church; and even worse, we live among other people who accept the Catholic Faith in a lukewarm and offhand manner. So while we are learning our catechism, there runs parallel to our religious instruction the spirit of irreligion, the spirit of the world that eats away at our faith even as it is being formed, like a corrosive poison that we cannot help but ingest. I think that Jacinta never had to drink this poison. She was shielded from the spirit of irreligion and her intellect was endued with an almost angelic quality, so that her instruction in the faith was not so much passed through the filter of discursive of reasoning as it was purely infused.
What a wonderful gift she received. But as with all divine gifts, the effect was to make the recipient conform more perfectly with the giver, who is Christ Crucified.
Jacinta became ill during the same influenza epidemic that sickened Francisco. But the progress of her disease was to be long, complicated and excruciating. Like her brother, she remained tranquil and resigned to her suffering which she also welcomed as a Heaven-sent opportunity to offer sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. Jacinta’s attitude towards sinners, like that of all the seers, was not one of condemnation but of great pity.
Jacinta's Burning Love
She had seen hell and she had had a foretaste of Heaven. She did not envy the wicked their forbidden pleasures, which she saw in their true light as the prelude to eternal misery. She rather pitied them for their blindness to the true and lasting joy of loving God.
Before she was taken from her home to begin her final sufferings in Lisbon, Jacinta told Lucy, “If only I could put in the heart of everybody that light I have here in my breast to burn and make me love the Heart of Jesus and the Heart of Mary so much. I don’t know how it is, I feel the Lord inside of me. I understand what He says and I don’t see Him or hear Him. But it is so good to be with Him.”
What Jacinta appears to be describing, in the simple words of a child, is an advanced stage of mystical union in which the soul abides in the Divine Presence and burns with love.
Jacinta developed pleurisy. Our Lady appeared to her and told her that she would have much to suffer, that she would be taken to a dark hospital in Lisbon, and that there she would die alone, but that Mary would come in the end to take her to Heaven.
She told her family of this communication from the Blessed Mother. Only Lucy believed her. She was taken to Lisbon through the good intentions of a priest and his wealthy doctor friends, who paid the expenses for her medical torture. Thus began what Jacinta knew would be her final agony. While waiting for arrangements to be made for her to be received at the hospital, however, she stayed at an orphanage under the care of a Franciscan nun, Mother Godinho, who quickly came to love her, and to believe that this child who had been placed under her protection was a saint. “She speaks with such authority”, she said.
She liked to draw Jacinta into conversation and she would write down the sayings and prophecies that poured from the little girl. Jacinta told her that wars are punishment for sins; that the world is preparing for itself terrible chastisements. She warned against love of wealth and luxury and counseled instead a love of holy poverty and silence.
She spoke of how much Our Lord values mortification and sacrifices. And this is very interesting to me: she said that doctors do not have the light to cure illnesses because they do not love God. So all wisdom, scientific, worldly and other-worldly is somehow rooted in Divine love.
There are also personal prophecies. She said that her older sisters, Theresa and Florinda, both had vocations to the convent, but that her parents would prevent them from fulfilling their vocations, so God would take them away from their parents through death. As she predicted, the two girls, both in their teens, died not long after she did.
Her Love for Jesus and for Sinners
And there were stories of cures effected by her intercession while she was alive, and even one report of a bilocation in which she led a wayward older cousin lost in the mountain wilderness to the path that led him back to his home and to the practice of his faith.
When she was taken to the hospital, the doctors decided on an operation. Local anesthetic was administered but apparently failed to have its full effect. And Jacinta endured what can only be described as ferocious pain as two of her ribs were removed. During the operation she cried out to Our Lord, “It is for Your love my Jesus, now You can convert many sinners, for I suffer much.” For six days she continued to suffer. Then Our Blessed Mother appeared to her and took away her pain and told her the day and hour of her death, assuring her again that She would come to take her to Heaven. Four days later, on February 20, 1920, Jacinta Marto died alone in her hospital bed, at the age of nine. When her body was exhumed in the 1950s, her face was found to be incorrupt. She is now Blessed Jacinta.