Saints Francisco and Jacinta Marto were illiterate Portuguese shepherd children, who, together with their cousin Lucia, encountered apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal in the year 1917. They were deeply pious children, especially concerned for the reconciliation of sinners to Christ. Saints Francisco and Jacinta would pass away soon after the events of 1917, victims of the Spanish Flu pandemic. They are among the Catholic church's youngest saints.
God is glorious in his saints!
Welcome to the Christian Saints Podcast. My name is dr Darren Ong, recording from Sepang in Malaysia. In this podcast, we explore the lives of the Christian saints, from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Today, we commemorate Saints Franciso and Jacinta Marto
Francisco and Jacinta Marto, together with their cousin Lucia were the three children who encountered several apparitions of the Virgin Mary near Fatima, in Portugal in the year 1917. At that time Jacinta was 7, Francisco was 9, and Lucia was 10. They were illiterate peasant children, but with an unusual devotion to their Christian faith.
The timing of these revelations were very significant – 1917 was a really turbulent time. The horrors of the first world war had ravaged the globe for the past few years. In the following years the Spanish flu pandemic would exact a terrifying death toll. Unlike today’s COVID pandemic, the Spanish flu was also deadly for young people and children, indeed both Jacinta and Francisco would perish in this epidemic. The Bolshevik revolution was about to break out in Russia, ushering in turmoil and instability, and a horrifying persecution of the church in that country.
Let us read this account from Franciscan media aboout the apparitions at Fatima
Between May 13 and October 13, 1917, three Portuguese shepherd children from Aljustrel, received apparitions of Our Lady at Cova da Iria, near Fátima, a city 110 miles north of Lisbon. At that time, Europe was involved in an extremely bloody war. Portugal itself was in political turmoil, having overthrown its monarchy in 1910; the government disbanded religious organizations soon after.
At the first appearance, Mary asked the children to return to that spot on the thirteenth of each month for the next six months. She also asked them to learn to read and write and to pray the rosary “to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war.” They were to pray for sinners and for the conversion of Russia, which had recently overthrown Czar Nicholas II and was soon to fall under communism. Up to 90,000 people gathered for Mary’s final apparition on October 13, 1917.
Less than two years later, Francisco died of influenza in his family home. He was buried in the parish cemetery and then re-buried in the Fátima basilica in 1952. Jacinta died of influenza in Lisbon in 1920, offering her suffering for the conversion of sinners, peace in the world, and the Holy Father. She was re-buried in the Fátima basilica in 1951. Their cousin Lúcia dos Santos, became a Carmelite nun and was still living when Jacinta and Francisco were beatified in 2000; she died five years later. Pope Francis canonized the younger children on his visit to Fátima to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first apparition–May 13, 2017. The shrine of Our Lady of Fátima is visited by up to 20 million people a year.
Jacinta and Francisco would die soon after these apparitions, victims of the Spanish Flu pandemic – Jacinta in particular is the youngest saint in the Roman Catholic church who was not martyred. But their cousin Lucia would live a long life, and most of what we know from these events at Fatima come from her memoirs. Sister Lucia wrote at length about the piety and innocence of her cousins, especially Jacinta. This following passage from those memoirs I think captures a lot about their character. For context: the Marian apparition revealed to the children a vision of hell, and this inspired the children, Jacinta in particular to yearn and pray for the conversion of sinners – and Jacinta was inspired to perform acts of sacrifice so that sinners would return to God.
Jacinta took this matter of making sacrifices for the conver-
sion of sinners so much to heart, that she never let a single oppor-
tunity escape her. There were two families in Moita 10 whose chil-|
dren used to go round begging from door to door. We met them
one day, as we were going along with our sheep. As soon as she
saw them, Jacinta said to us:
“Let’s give our lunch to those poor children, for the conversion
And she ran to take it to them. That afternoon, she told me she
was hungry. There were holm-oaks and oak trees nearby. The
acorns were still quite green. However, I told her we could eat them.
Francisco climbed up a holm-oak to fill his pockets, but Jacinta
remembered that we could eat the ones on the oak trees instead,
and thus make a sacrifice by eating the bitter kind. So it was there,
that afternoon, that we enjoyed this delicious repast! Jacinta made
this one of her usual sacrifices, and often picked the acorns off the
oaks or the olives off the trees.
One day I said to her:
“Jacinta, don’t eat that; it’s too bitter!”
“But it’s because it’s bitter that I’m eating it, for the conversion
These were not the only times we fasted. We had agreed that
whenever we met any poor children like these, we would give them
our lunch. They were only too happy to receive such an alms, and
they took good care to meet us; they used to wait for us along the
road. We no sooner saw them than Jacinta ran to give them all the
food we had for that day, as happy as if she had no need of it
herself. On days like that, our only nourishment consisted of pine
nuts, and little berries about the size of an olive which grow on the
roots of yellow bell-flowers, as well as blackberries, mushrooms,
and some other things we found on the roots of pine trees – I can’t
remember now what these were called. If there was fruit availabie
on the land belonging to our parents, we used to eat that.
Jacinta’s thirst for making sacrifices seemed insatiable. One
day a neighbour offered my mother a good pasture for our sheep.
Though it was quite far away and we were at the height of summer,
my mother accepted the offer made so generously, and sent me
there. She told me that we should take our siesta in the shade of
the trees, as there was a pond nearby where the flock could go
and drink. On the way, we met our dear poor children, and Jacinta
ran to give them our usual alms. It was a lovely day, but the sun
was blazing, and in that arid, stony wasteland, it seemed as though
it would burn everything up. We were parched with thirst, and there
wasn’t a single drop of water for us to drink! At first, we offered the
sacrifice generously for the conversion of sinners, but after midday,
we could hold out no longer.
As there was a house quite near, I suggested to my companions
that I should go and ask for a little water. They agreed to this, so I
went and knocked on the door. A little old woman gave me not only
a pitcher of water, but also some bread, which I accepted gratefully.
I ran to share it with my little companions, and then offered the
pitcher to Francisco, and told him to take a drink.
“ I don’t want to.” he replied.
“I want to suffer for the conversion of sinners.”
“You have a drink, Jacinta!”
“But I want to offer this sacrifice for sinners too.”
Then I poured the water into a hollow in the rock, so that the
sheep could drink it, and went to return the pitcher to its owner.
The heat was getting more and more intense. The shrill singing of
the crickets and grasshoppers coupled with the croaking of the
frogs in the neighbouring pond made an uproar that was almost
unbearable. Jacinta, frail as she was, and weakened still more by
the lack of food and drink, said to me with that simplicity which
was natural to her:
“Tell the crickets and the frogs to keep quiet! I have such a
Then Francisco asked her:
“Don’t you want to suffer this for sinners?”
The poor child, clasping her head between her two little hands,
“Yes, I do. Let them sing!”
I don’t think I will discuss the apparitions at Fatima in this epsiode. They probably deserve their own episode, if I get around to doing one. For today, on their feast day, I feel more like reflecting on the examples that Jacinta and Francisco showed in their short lives. In their devotion to Christ and to Mary, their compassion for the poor, and for sinners who are separated from God.
One lesson and encouragement I gain from what these children experienced is that God does not abandon us. 1917 was one of the darkest times in the history of human civilization, with multiple calamities – wars, revolutions, plague happening or about to happen. And yet here comes Mary at Fatima, to offer us hope and consolation, pointing to our true rescue in Jesus Christ. A hundred years later, at another time of great suffering, multiple disasters – we can remain confident that God has not abandoned us, that Mother Mary is ever interceding for us.
One of those calamities would take the lives of little Francisco and Jacinta, as they were both victims of the Spanish Flu pandemic only a couple of years later. Their cousin Lucia would live a long life as a Carmelite nun, and it is through her writings and memoirs that we remember the miracle at Fatima. Pope Francis visited the shrine at Fatima on the 100th anniversary of the first Marian apparitions. This visit was also when Francisco and Jacinta were made saints, with feast day on February 20. The Pope discussed the significance and impact of what the children experienced at Fatima in his homily there:
“[There] appeared in heaven a woman clothed with the sun”. So the seer of Patmos tells us in the Book of Revelation (12:1), adding that she was about to give birth to a son. Then, in the Gospel, we hear Jesus say to his disciple, “Here is your mother” (Jn 19:27). We have a Mother! “So beautiful a Lady”, as the seers of Fatima said to one another as they returned home on that blessed day of 13 May a hundred years ago. That evening, Jacinta could not restrain herself and told the secret to her mother: “Today I saw Our Lady”. They had seen the Mother of Heaven. Many others sought to share that vision, but… they did not see her. The Virgin Mother did not come here so that we could see her. We will have all eternity for that, provided, of course, that we go to heaven.
Our Lady foretold, and warned us about, a way of life that is godless and indeed profanes God in his creatures. Such a life – frequently proposed and imposed – risks leading to hell. Mary came to remind us that God’s light dwells within us and protects us, for, as we heard in the first reading, “the child [of the woman] was snatched away and taken to God” (Rev 12:5). In Lucia’s account, the three chosen children found themselves surrounded by God’s light as it radiated from Our Lady. She enveloped them in the mantle of Light that God had given her. According to the belief and experience of many pilgrims, if not of all, Fatima is more than anything this mantle of Light that protects us, here as in almost no other place on earth. We need but take refuge under the protection of the Virgin Mary and to ask her, as the Salve Regina teaches: “show unto us… Jesus”.
Dear pilgrims, we have a Mother, we have a Mother! Clinging to her like children, we live in the hope that rests on Jesus. As we heard in the second reading, “those who receive the abundance of the grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:17). When Jesus ascended to heaven, he brought to the Heavenly Father our humanity, which he assumed in the womb of the Virgin Mary and will never forsake. Like an anchor, let us fix our hope on that humanity, seated in heaven at the right hand of the Father (cf. Eph 2:6). May this hope guide our lives! It is a hope that sustains us always, to our dying breath.
Confirmed in this hope, we have gathered here to give thanks for the countless graces bestowed over these past hundred years. All of them passed beneath the mantle of light that Our Lady has spread over the four corners of the earth, beginning with this land of Portugal, so rich in hope. We can take as our examples Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta, whom the Virgin Mary introduced into the immense ocean of God’s light and taught to adore him. That was the source of their strength in overcoming opposition and suffering. God’s presence became constant in their lives, as is evident from their insistent prayers for sinners and their desire to remain ever near “the hidden Jesus” in the tabernacle.
In her Memoirs (III, 6), Sister Lucia quotes Jacinta who had just been granted a vision: “Do you not see all those streets, all those paths and fields full of people crying out for food, yet have nothing to eat? And the Holy Father in a church, praying before the Immaculate Heart of Mary? And all those people praying with him?” Thank you, brothers and sisters, for being here with me! I could not fail to come here to venerate the Virgin Mary and to entrust to her all her sons and daughters. Under her mantle they are not lost; from her embrace will come the hope and the peace that they require, and that I implore for all my brothers and sisters in baptism and in our human family, especially the sick and the disabled, prisoners and the unemployed, the poor and the abandoned. Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray to God with the hope that others will hear us; and let us speak to others with the certainty that God will help us.
Indeed, God created us to be a source of hope for others, a true and attainable hope, in accordance with each person’s state of life. In “asking” and “demanding” of each of us the fulfillment of the duties of our proper state (Letters of Sister Lucia, 28 February 1943), God effects a general mobilization against the indifference that chills the heart and worsens our myopia. We do not want to be a stillborn hope! Life can survive only because of the generosity of other lives. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). The Lord, who always goes before us, said this and did this. Whenever we experience the cross, he has already experienced it before us. We do not mount the cross to find Jesus. Instead it was he who, in his self-abasement, descended even to the cross, in order to find us, to dispel the darkness of evil within us, and to bring us back to the light.
With Mary’s protection, may we be for our world sentinels of the dawn, contemplating the true face of Jesus the Saviour, resplendent at Easter. Thus may we rediscover the young and beautiful face of the Church, which shines forth when she is missionary, welcoming, free, faithful, poor in means and rich in love.
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Saints Francisco and Jacinta are among the youngest saints in the history of the Christian church – mere children when they died. To end this episode, I would like to read from this wonderful passage in the gospel of Mark chaper 10:13-16, concerning Jesus’ love for children:
13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.