Three lessons on the centenary of St Francisco of Fatima’s death, by Donal Anthony Foley
The 100th anniversary of the death of St Francisco Marto, one of the three seers who saw Our Lady at Fatima, Portugal, between May and October 1917, will be commemorated on Thursday 4 April 2019. Francisco and his sister Jacinta were beatified by Pope John Paul II in May 2000 while their cousin, Lucia, lived until 2005, dying at the age of 97, after more than 50 years as a Carmelite nun. Francisco and Jacinta were then both canonised by Pope Francis on 13 May 2017, the one hundredth anniversary of the first apparition at Fatima.
Jacinta and Lucia both heard the words spoken by the Blessed Virgin when she appeared to the children, whereas Francisco, who was born on 11 June 1909, had to ask the two girls what she had said during the apparitions. According to Sr Lucia’s memoirs, he was quieter than the more vivacious Jacinta, and more willing to let others to take charge.
All three saw the Angel of Peace, or Angel of Portugal, who appeared to them on three occasions during 1916, to teach them various prayers and prepare them for their meetings with the Blessed Virgin.
By May 1917, Lucia was ten, Francisco nearly nine and Jacinta seven. The first apparition of Our Lady took place on the 13th. Amongst other things, the Blessed Virgin told them that they would all go to heaven but that Francisco would need to say many rosaries first. When he was told what she had said, his joyous response was: “Oh, my dear Our Lady! I’ll say as many rosaries as you want!”
The first lesson, then, which Blessed Francisco can teach us is the importance of prayer and particularly the prayer of the Rosary, which Our Lady specifically asked for during all six of her apparitions at Fatima.
Our Lady also communicated an intense light from her hands to the children during this first apparition, a light which penetrated their hearts and souls, making them see themselves in God. Francisco later commented about this experience as follows: “I loved seeing the Angel, but I loved still more seeing Our Lady. What I loved most of all was to see Our Lord in that light from Our Lady which penetrated our hearts. I love God so much! But he is very sad because of so many sins! We must never commit any sins again.”
So this is the second important lesson we can learn from Francisco – the need to avoid further sin and make reparation both for our own sins and those of the world.
Once, when the children were on their way to school Francisco said: “Listen, you go to school, and I’ll stay here in the church, close to the Hidden Jesus. It’s not worth my while learning to read, as I’ll be going to heaven very soon. On your way home, come here and call me.”
Here there is a third lesson, and not just for children, but for all of us, of the importance of Eucharistic prayer and adoration.
An influenza epidemic swept Europe in the autumn of 1918, just as World War I was finishing, and both Jacinta and Francisco fell ill. Francisco recovered somewhat and there were hopes that he might become well, but his condition worsened again. He offered up all his sufferings as a way of consoling God for the sinfulness and ingratitude of mankind, becoming so weak that eventually he could not even pray. He died on 4 April 1919.
A century after his death, Francisco has become a wonderful example of the importance of devotion to Our Lady, and this example will no doubt exert a far wider influence in the future, and so help to bring about the time of peace for the world prophesied by her in July 1917.