In the year 1917, in a mountainous region at the center of Portugal, the Mother of God appeared six times to three young children. Elsewhere on the continent the “Great War” raged, that would cost Europe an entire generation, over 37 million lives. Besides sending her own sons to die (in France and North Africa) Portugal was in political chaos at home. There was a dizzy succession of governments following a revolution in 1910. The monarchy had been replaced by a republic, with a new liberal constitution separating Church from state. Government officials, under the influence of Freemasonry, were not sympathetic to the Faith. But for the people themselves, the Faith was the air they breathed, as in the village of Aljustrel, a collection of whitewashed houses on a dusty road in the parish of Fatima.
There Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta were born and raised in homes where the catechism was their daily bread, stories from the Bible their recreation, and the word of the village priest was law. Lucia de Jesus Santos was born, the youngest of seven children, to Antonio and Maria Rosa Santos, on 22 March 1907. She was a plain child with sparkling eyes and a magnetic personality, a natural leader to whom other children looked with confident affection. Blessed with an excellent memory, Lucia was able to learn her catechism, and make her First Communion and Confession, at age six. She herself became a catechist at nine. Lucia would be the constant guide and companion to her first cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, through the trials that accompanied the apparitions of the Blessed Mother.
Lucia de Jesus dos Santos
(28 March 1907 – 13 February 2005)
Lucia was born in Aljustrel, a village in the parish of Fátima, Portugal, on March 22, 1907, and baptized a few days later on March 30. Her parents were Antonio and Maria Rosa dos Santos. She was the youngest of seven children, six girls and a boy. At age 6 she received her First Holy Communion. By 8 she was occupied with the tending of the family’s sheep, accompanied by other boys and girls of the village.
It was while in the company of her cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, that the first heavenly apparition occurred, that of the Angel of Portugal, come to prepare the young trio for their mission and for an even greater visitor.
Lucia was 10 years old when on May 13, 1917, while tending the sheep in the Cova de Iria, a woman, who later identified herself as the Blessed Virgin Mary, appeared to the children. The apparition would continue monthly on the 13th of the month until October 1917 (save August, when imprisonment by the anti-clerical authorities prevented it). During each month’s apparition, the Virgin encouraged prayer, especially the rosary, and sacrifice. She also communicated certain prophecies of the future (the end of World War I, the rise of error in Russia (communism) and its propagation throughout the world, the annihilation of nations, another war preceded by a heavenly sign if men did not convert, and the suffering and persecution of the good, especially the Holy Father). On Oct. 13, 1930, the bishop of Leiria-Fátima, José Alves Correia da Silva, declared the apparitions of Fátima worthy of credibility and allowed public devotion to the Virgin under the title of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fátima.
After the prophesied death of Jacinta and Francisco, during the flu pandemic of 1919, Lucia alone remained to carry on the mission assigned by the “woman from heaven.” At 14 she was admitted as a boarder to the school of the Sisters of St. Dorothy in Vilar, near Oporto in the north of Portugal. On Oct. 24, 1925, she entered the Institute of the Sisters of St. Dorothy as a postulant in the convent in Tuy, Spain, not far from the Portuguese border. During these years she would continue to receive private revelations explanatory of the message of Fátima. She made her first vows on Oct. 3, 1928, and her perpetual vows on Oct. 3, 1934, receiving the name Sister Mary of the Sorrowful Mother.
In 1946, seeking a more contemplative life, Lucia entered the Carmelite convent of St. Teresa in Coimbra, where she made her profession as a Discalced Carmelite on May 31, 1949. She took the name Sister Maria Lucia of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart.
In 1967, Sister Lucia traveled to Fatima to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the apparitions, presided over by Pope Paul VI. She went again in 1982, when Paul John Paul II came to the Shrine on 13 May to give thanks for the saving of his life during the assassination attempt of 13 May 1981, and again when the Pope came there in 1991, and finally in 2000, to beatify Jacinta and Francisco.
Over the years Sr. Lucia would write two books, Memoirs, recounting the events of Fatima in her own words, and Calls from the Message of Fatima, giving answers to the many questions about living the message of Fátima, which she has been asked over the years.
In the second apparition, that of June 13, Lucia asked the Lady, “Will you take us to heaven?” The Virgin responded,
Yes, I shall take Jacinta and Francisco soon, but you will remain a little longer, since Jesus wishes you to make me known and loved on earth. He wishes also for you to establish devotion in the world to my Immaculate Heart.
That mission came to an end on February 13, 2005, when after weeks of weakness Sr. Maria Lucia succumbed to the infirmities of old age. Her funeral Mass at the cathedral of Coimbra was presided over by the city’s bishop, Most Reverend Antonio Cleto. She will lie in rest at the convent where she spent so many years, until a place is prepared for her body at the Basilica in Fátima, where Francisco and Jacinta are entombed.
(11 June 1908 – 4 April 1919)
Francisco was born 11 June 1908, the sixth of seven children of Manuel and Olimpia Marto. He was a handsome boy, with light hair and dark eyes. He loved games and other children, yet without the spirit of competition. He would not complain when treated unfairly, and gave up a treasured possession (a handkerchief stamped with the image of Our Lady) rather than contend for it. He was a peacemaker, but courageous, as his conduct under questioning by the Mayor would later show. He also had a mischievous turn. He was known to drop strange and inedible objects in his sleeping brother’s mouth. He had a love for nature, and animals in particular. He played with lizards and snakes, and would bring them home, to his mother’s chagrin. Once he gave a penny, all the money he had, to a friend for a captured bird, only to set the bird free. He played a reed pipe, to which Lucia and his sister Jacinta would sing and dance. In short, he was a kind, gentle boy, not yet a Saint, but one predisposed by God for the graces soon bestowed on him.
Alone among the three, Francisco never heard the Lady’s words, although he saw her and felt her presence. After the first apparition, Lucia conveyed the Lady’s message to him, that he would go to heaven if he prayed many Rosaries. In the second apparition, Lucia asked to be taken to heaven, and the Lady replied that Francisco and Jacinta would be taken soon, but Lucia would have to wait for a time. She died February 13, 2005 at the age of 97.
In the third apparition, the children were given a secret, including a vision of hell, which so changed them that they became more like adults than children. At this time the Mayor of the district, Artur de Oliveira Santos, a Freemason, devised a scheme to discredit the apparitions by terrorizing the children. He tried to bully them into admitting they lied, threatened to boil them in oil if they withheld the Lady’s “Secret” (Francisco showed extravagant courage in anticipation of going to heaven), and jailed them to keep them from their appointment with the Lady on the day of the fourth apparition (August 13). They kept their appointment two days later.
For the fifth apparition, tens of thousands attended, having been alerted by the press to the Mayor’s controversy with the children. Among the curious was a seminary professor from Santarem, Dr. Manuel Formigao, who questioned the children afterward and became convinced of their veracity.
When the public learned of a miracle promised for the next appointed day, many resolved to be there, and on October 13 perhaps 70 thousand people were present for the miracle of the sun.
After the apparitions ended, Francisco was enrolled in school but played truant as often as possible. He preferred to spend time praying to the “Hidden Jesus” in the Tabernacle. His great concern was to console His sorrowing Lord and the Heart of His Mother. When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, Francisco answered, “I don’t want to be anything. I want to die and go to heaven.”
In August 1918, when World War I was nearing an end, Francisco and Jacinta both contracted influenza. They had short reprieves, but their decline was inevitable. In April of the following year, Francisco, knowing his time was short, asked to receive the Hidden Jesus for the first time in Holy Communion. The next morning, April 4th, at ten o’clock, he died with a glow on his shrunken face. He was buried the next day in a little cemetery in Fatima, across from the parish church, and later translated to the Sanctuary at Cova da Iria.
(11 March 1910 – 20 February 1920)
Two years younger than Francisco, Jacinta charmed all who knew her. She was pretty and energetic, and had a natural grace of movement. She loved to dance, and was sorry when their priest condemned dancing in public. Sometimes willful, she would pout when she did not get her way. She took a special delight in flowers, gathering them by the armful and making garlands for Lucia. At a First Communion, she was among the little “angels” spreading petals before the Blessed Sacrament. She had a marked love for Our Lord, and at the age of five she melted in tears on hearing the account of His Passion, vowing that she would never sin or offend Him anymore.
She had many friends, but above all she loved her cousin Lucia, and was jealous of her time and attention. When Lucia, at the age of ten, became unavailable for play, being sent by her parents to pasture their sheep, Jacinta moped in loneliness-until her mother gave in and allowed her, with Francisco, to take a few sheep to pasture with Lucia.
Her sheep too became her friends. She gave them names, held their little ones on her lap, and tried to carry a lamb home on her shoulders, as she had seen in pictures of the Good Shepherd.
Her days were playful and happy, delighting with her brother and cousin in the things of nature around her. They called the sun “Our Lady’s lamp,” and the stars “the Angels’ lanterns,” which they tried to count as it grew dark. They called out to hear their voices echo across the valley, and the name that returned most clearly was “Maria.”
They said the Rosary every day after lunch, but to make more time for play, they shortened it to the words “Our Father” at the beginning of each decade, followed by “Hail Mary” ten times. This frivolity would soon change.
In the spring of 1916, as the children watched their sheep, an Angel appeared to them in an olive grove. He asked the children to pray with him. He appeared again in midsummer at a well in Lucia’s garden, urging them to offer sacrifice to God in reparation for sinners. In a final appearance, at the end of the summer, the Angel held a bleeding Host over a chalice, from which he communicated the children. This experience separated them from their playmates and prepared them for the apparitions to come.
As might be expected, the three were changed by the visitations of the Queen of Heaven. Jacinta, talkative sometimes to a fault, became quiet and withdrawn. After the first apparition, Lucia had sworn her and her brother to secrecy. But Jacinta, bubbling over, had let slip all they had seen to her family, who then told the village. The news was received with skepticism by many, with mockery by some, and with anger by Lucia’s mother. Jacinta was so contrite, she promised never to reveal another secret.
Her reluctance to reveal anything more of their experiences was increased by the vision of hell given the children in the third apparition seems to have affected Jacinta the most. To rescue sinners from hell, she was in the forefront of the three in voluntary mortifications, whether it was in giving up their lunches (sometimes to their sheep), refusing to drink in the heat of the day, or wearing a knotted rope around their waists. Involuntary penances included for her, as for her brother and cousin, the constant mockery of unbelievers, badgering by skeptical clergy, and needling by believers to reveal the Lady’s secret.
Following the miracle of the sun, Jacinta complied with many requests for her intercessions. On one occasion she seems to have bilocated, in order to help a wayward youth find his way home. Lost in a stormy wood, he had knelt and prayed, and Jacinta appeared and took him by the hand, while she was at home praying for him.
When she came down with influenza, she was removed from her family to a hospital a few miles away. She did not complain, because the Blessed Mother had forewarned her that she would go to two hospitals, not to be cured, but to suffer for the love of God and reparation for sinners. She stayed in the first hospital for two months, undergoing painful treatments, and then was returned home. She developed tuberculosis and was sent to Lisbon, first to a Catholic orphanage. There she was able to attend Mass and see the Tabernacle, and she was happy. But her stay there was short. She was soon transferred to the second hospital prophesied by the Blessed Mother, where Jacinta was to make her final offering in dying alone. Her body came to rest in the Sanctuary built at the Cova da Iria, where the Lady had appeared to her.