The Faith Of the Fatima Shepherds
Spirituality of Blessed Jacinta Marto
The youngest non-martyred child ever to be beatified
[editor's note: as we celebrate the last major apparition of Mary at Fatima on October 13, let us remember the incredible holiness of Blessed Jacinta, as well as her brother Blessed Francisco, both of whom died in the last great global flu pandemic]
by Father Robert J. Fox
The spiritual life of Jacinta holds an important key to the Fatima message. Opening her heart to divine graces, her vision of concern scans the entire world, while centering on the Immaculate Heart of the Mother of the Church. Therefore, it focuses of necessity also on the Pope as the visible head of the universal Church and on our divine Lord in the Holy Eucharist.
Jacinta added three Hail Mary's to each of her Rosaries for the Pope. She asked, "Why doesn't the Pope come to Fatima? Everybody else does." After her death, the Pope would come to Fatima repeatedly, even to beatify her on May 13, 2000 AD. When I gave Pope John Paul II a large portrait of Jacinta on July 25, 1979, and we discussed the portrait, I asked him to give me one sentence to guide me in my Apostolic work for Fatima. The Pope looked up and then placing his hands on me said: "You must make your work in the spirit of the sermon on the Mount."
I was expecting that this Marian Pope would say something about consecrating oneself to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Then a very holy soul told me that essentially what devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary means is living the eight beatitudes.
The perfect Christian life calls for a living of the beatitudes. No one lived the perfect Christian life better than Mary whom the Second Vatican Council called, "the first disciple of Christ," and the "Mother and Model of the Church." The Council said Mary is the perfect model of the Church. Mary is all that the Church is and hopes to become. The Heart of Jesus tells us about the love of God. The Heart of Mary tells us about the love we must also have for one another.
To reemphasize, devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary then means striving to live the Christian virtues as Mary did. Those Christian virtues are exercised perfectly when we live the beatitudes.
I remember when, shortly after the Second Vatican Council, liberal educators were saying that the Christian religion is an adult religion. Therefore they concluded we should not try to teach much of it to children until they are at least adolescents. The life of Jacinta defies that false theory. Her spirituality reached higher than many adults do who live to an advanced age.
It was after the vision of hell that the three little shepherds began to make great spiritual progress. Years ago, Sister Lucia wrote of this saying that some people hold that we ought not to teach children about hell, yet our Blessed other did not hesitate to show the terrible vision of hell to three little children, Jacinta scarcely more than six years old at the time. The vision of hell impressed Jacinta most for it was the consequence of sin that led souls there.
Jacinta often separated from the others and alone by herself would fall to her knees to pray for sinners. Then calling Lucia and Francisco she would ask: "Are you praying with me? It is necessary to pray much to save souls from hell!... How sorry I am for sinners! If I could only show them hell!" Even after she was taken sick, which eventually led to her death, she would get out of bed to bow her head to the floor, and pray as the Angel had taught for the glory of God, Jesus in the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference by which God is offended and to beg for the conversion of poor sinners. A priest finally had to tell her, as she would fall over at times doing this, that she should say the prayer in bed.
Jacinta would mortify herself of food and drink, and while ill, take food and medicine which cost her greatly, offering all for the conversion of sinners. She offered the sacrifice of being separated from her family and companions in her final illness, and going to the hospital far away and the thought of dying alone, as our Blessed Mother said she would. She was concerned that the message of our Lady would get to people even after she died. She instructed Lucia that when the right time came to tell people about the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Jacinta's high regard for the Real Presence of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament; her going to daily Mass in reparation after she became sick; her instructing the nurses to kneel before the Hidden Jesus in the tabernacle in reparation; in the hospital, asking to be moved at times to the balcony overlooking the tabernacle in the chapel; her great desire to receive Jesus in Holy Communion in reparation for poor sinners and to love Him more intensely although the Eucharist was denied her because of age; her begging to receive Holy Communion the evening before she died; all this brings out the deep knowledge she had of Eucharistic reparation as central to the Fatima message and for the conversion of sinners. Jacinta without doubt received the greatest g races from spiritual Holy Communions of desire as she once received sacramentally from the angel. Her great love for Mary's Immaculate Heart directed her always to our Lord, and she cold never separate their two Hearts.
No one can lead until one first learns how to follow. The three little shepherds of Fatima teach us how to follow the ways of Jesus and Mary. In doing so, they teach, lead us and show us, the way to lead others more by example than word, to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
The account of our Blessed Mother appearing to Jacinta in the Fatima Church to teach her how to pray the Rosary properly, by showing her 15 tableaus representing the 15 mysteries of the Rosary, reminds us that children at a very young age are indeed capable of practicing the faith with some depth. They can understand it more profoundly than the modern world is usually willing to challenge youth and lead them.
Jacinta, as she developed after the apparitions, with Mary herself as spiritual director, became a mystic and is sometimes called the youngest prophet. Her role as a prophet-that is, a messenger from heaven, and as a mystic-that is, someone who understands the mysteries of faith through deep union with God or by direct revelation, can be recognized in the life and sayings of Jacinta, especially as recorded by Mother Godinho in the Lisbon hospital.
On the twenty-fifth anniversary of Fatima, the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon spoke as follows: "Saint Paul says the Christians are a letter of Christ, ministered by us, and written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the Living God (II Cor. 3:1-3). Imitating him, we can say that JACINTA is a letter of the Holy Virgin, to be read by souls. Better than words do it (the life of Jacinta) says what our Lady came to do in Fatima and what she wants us."
When Francisco died, Jacinta was deeply grieved. She would sit on her bed in long hours of sadness. When asked by Lucia why she was so said, she would answer: "I am thinking of Francisco and of how I would like to see him." But then she would add that it was more than the thought of Francisco's death that saddened her. "I am thinking of the war which will come. So many people will die…So many houses will be destroyed and priests killed. Listen, I am going to heaven soon, but when you see that light that our Lady told us of, you must go there too." However, she accepted it when Lucia reminded her that she must remain many years to spread devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
It was revealed to Jacinta by our Lady that she would go to two hospitals before she died and exactly when she would die. She thus foretold the time of her death. The prophetic sayings of Jacinta, which she learned from Our Lady, and which were recorded by Mother Godinho in the Lisbon hospital, read as statements of a person advanced in spirituality and as one looking into the future.
In her extreme suffering before she died, Jacinta's face had looked worn and emaciated. But in death, her cheeks had filled out and had taken on a healthy color. Nurse Nadeja Silvestre said: "She did not look the same child; she had become radiant and beautiful." When Mother Godinho held vigil beside the coffin, she glanced at the little lamp nearby. She was astonished to see that the lamp contained no oil but still burned brightly. Her body which at times before death did not exude a pleasant odor, because of infection and open sores, and the extreme sufferings which afflicted her, after death exuded the scent of sweet perfume. When her body was carried into the Lisbon Church, the church bells rang while no one was at the ropes, and the tower door was locked. It was thought they were rung by angels. Jacinta once said she had heard the angels sing but "angels do not sing as men sing."
Jacinta's body was first exhumed on September 12, 1935. Seeing her incorrupt body, her father, Senhor Marto was asked what he thought now. He said that the children now belonged to the world and stated that viewing Jacinta's body "was somewhat like looking at a person grown old, whom one had known young." An eyewitness account of the second exhumation of Jacinta's body, which took place in 1951, was carried in the papers of the time as follows:
"The expression on Jacinta's face was that of great peace, and all who saw her could not help feeling that they were greatly privileged to have been granted such a favor.
The fact that Jacinta's face appeared much older than she was at the time of her death cause different reactions. Perhaps one explanation is that her body reflected her spiritual maturity at the time of her death, which came when Jacinta was not quite ten years old. Artists seem to have a difficult time capturing her features while retaining an appearance of a little girl. They always seem to depict her older, whether in statues or paintings. Is there a divine message in this? A third transfer of her body from the Cemetery of Orem to the cemetery of Fatima and finally to the Basilica in the Cova took place on May 5, 1951.
Jacinta, whose life after beatification, will doubtlessly become known to millions more of today's children, presents an heroic holy child who by the age of nine had practiced heroic virtues to inspire the children of the world during the third millennium. RJF.