THE WHOLE TRUTH ABOUT FATIMA
2. Three children of Christendom
EVEN before the account of the apparitions and stupendous miracles of 1917, the history of Fatima evokes our wonder first of all by the atmosphere of a living Christendom in which it suddenly plunges us. To deliver Her great message destined to enlighten our whole twentieth century, Our Lady did not choose to appear in an industrial city, already devoured by the leprosy of pauperism, laicism and paganism that were making inroads everywhere. No, She chose to manifest Herself in a poor village, with a long Christian history, lost in the great mountainous region of the Serra da Aire, about eighty miles north of Lisbon. There, in 1917, as in many countries of our Christian Europe, the morals, the piety and the virtues of old remained as though miraculously preserved. This choice is an initial revelation of the predilections of the Heart of Mary.
What is marvellous about Fatima is that, because these events are so close to our times, and immediately aroused such an immense interest, we know everything, even to the smallest details, about the lives and souls of the seers, about their families, and about their village, before, during, and after the apparitions.
“ THE HISTORY OF FATIMA AS IT REALLY HAPPENED ”
The history of Fatima was written long ago, and rewritten many times over. Let it suffice for us to recall the works of Canon Barthas, especially his magnificent work, It Was Three Small Children, or Fatima 1917-1968, which remains an incomparable source of information.
The recent publication of the Memoirs of Sister Lucy in their integral and authentic version, in 1973, necessarily reduces the value of all the partial accounts, however good they might have been, that were done beforehand. From now on these texts necessarily become the primary and irreplaceable source of all histories of the apparitions, for an obvious reason: because they come from the hand of the seer, who applied herself with extreme care to “ relate the history of Fatima as it really happened ”, striving only to write, so to speak, under the movement of grace:
“ … I must thank God for the assistance of the Holy Spirit, which I can feel suggesting to me what I should say or write. If sometimes my own imagination or my own understanding suggest something to me, I sense immediately that it is lacking the divine unction, and I stop my work until I am sure, in the deepest recess of my soul, of what God wants me to say in His place. ”
In fact, these texts drawn up by Lucy, always under strict obedience, in great haste and under heroic conditions – “ in a remote corner of the attic, lit by a single skylight, my lap serving as a table and an old trunk as a chair... ” – these texts have a grace of their own about them, and themselves bear witness to this ‘ inspiration ’, this ‘ divine unction ’ faithfully sought by the seer.
However these four Memoirs have a grave defect, at least for less informed readers: they do not present us with a synthetic and chronological view of the events. This is due only to the circumstances in which they were written: written up under obedience, in all haste, and without a plan embracing the whole, they all summarize, under different aspects and with a certain internal disorder, the history of Fatima. For Sister Lucy confesses as much and excuses herself for writing “ in haste and according to what I could remember ”, and “ without troubling myself about the order or style ”. “ I write here what I can remember ”, she says again, “ just like a crab, which goes first backwards, then forward, without worrying where it is going... ”
It remains for us then to make our choice from among all these marvellous texts; to order them, adding the minimum of necessary explanations, and in short, to highlight them as best as possible to allow the reader to appreciate their spontaneity and freshness right away. Adding some subtitles can also contribute something. But let us repeat that all these accounts taken in themselves are so perfect, so full of their own special flavour, that we cannot do any better than quote them literally. Any attempt at a paraphrase would lose something.1
The work of Father de Marchi, Testimonies on the Apparitions of Fatima, can also serve as a source-book, which happily completes the Memoirs of Lucy. The author, who himself spent long hours at Fatima interviewing the witnesses of the events of 1917, quotes their fascinating accounts word for word. Moreover this account has the guarantee of Sister Lucy that she “ read it attentively, and was able to point out the necessary corrections ”.2
Having mentioned then these few indispensable facts, we will strive to let the witnesses speak for themselves. This is the best way of “ relating the history of Fatima as it really happened ”.
ALJUSTREL: A LIVING CHRISTENDOM
“ Minutes from Fatima is a group of modest houses, perhaps twenty in all, lined along a narrow, rugged road, and separated by courtyards and gardens: this is the hamlet of Aljustrel. ” There lived the two families of our seers, the dos Santos and the Marto families.
TWO EXEMPLARY FAMILIES
Antonio and Maria Rosa dos Santos had six children. In 1917, the eldest, Maria dos Anjos (26), was already married. Then came Teresa (24), Manuel (22), the only boy, Gloria (20) and Caroline (15). Lucy (10) was the youngest, born on March 22, 1907, and baptized on the 30th in the parish church of Fatima.
Jacinta and Francisco were her first cousins because their mother, Olimpia de Jesus,3 was the sister of Antonio dos Santos. From a first marriage Olimpia had two sons, Antonio and Manuel. Her second marriage was to Manuel Pedro Marto, and the family grew with seven other children: José, Teresa, who died at the age of two, Florinda, a second Teresa, John, then Francisco, our seer who was born on June 11, 1908, and baptized on June 20. Finally came our little Jacinta, born on March 11, 1910, and baptized on March 19, Feast of St. Joseph, in the church at Fatima, in the same baptistery where Lucy and Francisco had been baptized.
THE MARTO FAMILY.
The two families, who had lived in the village a long time, were also well esteemed there. At the time of the apparitions, Canon Formigao, who was then entrusted with the ecclesiastical inquiry, took the testimony of one of the distinguished members of the parish, Manuel Goncalves, an authorized witness on the families of the seers: “ The parents of Francisco and Jacinta are excellent, profoundly Christian, respected and esteemed by all. The father has the reputation of being the most serious man in the town. He is incapable of deceiving anyone. ” Ti Manuel, as those who knew him called him, had never been to school, but he lacked neither experience nor personality. He had fought in the war at Mozambique in 1895-1896. Father de Marchi, who interrogated him at length, allows us to see his soul as it was, simple and loyal, serious and wise, but humorous also. Endowed with a faithful and precise memory, an indefatigable narrator, his testimony is of capital importance for the historians of Fatima. This is all the more so since “ his evaluations, which were in general very judicious, were full of good sense and the spirit of faith. ”
“ Mr. Marto ”, relates Father de Marchi, “ was devoted to the truth. We must not ‘ make up ’ things, and make them other than what they are, he would say to me frequently. When he would hear some chapter or passage from a book on Fatima being read, it was rare for him not to have a correction to add, or something to be made more precise. ‘ That’s not exactly it! ’ he would exclaim. Then he would supply a mouthful of details... ”
In short, he was a humble and limpid soul, extraordinarily endearing, as we will discover during this whole account. Along with Olimpia, an excellent Christian whose personality was perhaps a little more reserved, they were a very devoted couple. This was so much the case that once when Canon Barthas attempted to photograph her alone, Olimpia exclaimed, “ do not cut me in two, wait for Manuel! ”
THE DOS SANTOS FAMILY.
The Dos Santos family was less exemplary. Olimpia herself recalled that at the time of the apparitions, her brother was a heavy drinker. Although he was never an alcoholic, nevertheless around 1916-1917 he began to frequent the tavern, to the point where his neglect of the land brought hardship into the family. Manuel Goncalves said of him to Canon Formigao: “ He rarely goes to Church, but he does not have any evil sentiments. ” For several years he had not made his Easter duty, but he still attended Mass. Since he did not get along with the parish priest, he went to Vila Nova de Ourem.
However, the education of his children never suffered on account of these deficiencies, because his wife, Maria Rosa, made up for it with uncommon virtue. She was a real homemaker. “ Brought to sorrow, humiliated by the listlessness of her husband, she brought up her children with great firmness, which however did not take away the joy of their home. ” Because of her untiring devotion towards everybody, she enjoyed the esteem of all: “ Generally ”, writes Lucy, “ there would be several young girls in our house who would come to weave and to sew... They often said that the best days of their lives were the ones they had spent in our house. ” It is a valuable testimony. Very often also, the neighbours, during their work in the fields, would leave their children with Maria Rosa for her to take care of them. When a marriage feast would take place, she would be asked for her services as cook. Finally she often worked as a nurse, and with what charity!
“ People would come to ask her advice on lesser symptoms, or they would ask her to come to the house if the sick person could not move. Thus she spent days and sometimes nights in the house of the sick person. If the illness was prolonged and the state of the sick person demanded it, she would send my sisters to spend some nights with them, so that the members of the family could get some rest. ”
Moreover, the census of 1920 tells us that at Fatima, out of a total of 1179 women, only 91 knew how to write, and Maria Rosa was one of these.4 Conscious of this privilege, she made good use of it:
“ On Sunday afternoon, all the young people would gather in our courtyard... They would spend the afternoon playing, and conversing with my sisters. At Easter-time they would pick the sugar-plums... My mother would spend these afternoons sitting at the kitchen door which looked out over the courtyard, where she could see everything that was going on. Sometimes, she had a book in her hand and would be reading... For me, she would say, there is nothing better than reading in my own house, in peace. Books bring us so many beautiful things! And the lives of the saints are so beautiful!
“ On other occasions (Lucy continues), she would talk with some of my aunts, or the neighbours. She always kept an air of seriousness, and everybody knew that whatever she said was like a word of scripture, and that we had to obey her without delay. I never heard anyone dare to say a disrespectful or unfitting word in her presence. The people often would say that my mother was worth more than all her daughters. ”
The truth is that Maria Rosa’s daughters resembled her, and it is surely to her that Lucy owes her serious attitude and the natural authority she enjoyed over her companions, even at her young age.
LIFE AT ALJUSTREL
“ BLESSED ARE THE POOR... ”
The two families, like the majority of the families of the parish which then numbered 2,500 souls, spread out over twenty similar hamlets, lived by cultivating their lands, and from their small flocks. Life was rugged and poor, because the rocky soil of the Serra was barely fertile, except in the shallow parts where the thicker humus would permit good harvests of wheat or maize. The vineyards and olive trees were a good supplement to the grain cultivation.
Although they were poor, neither the Martos nor the dos Santos were in want: “ Although they had such a large family to raise, the Martos were proud that their children never had to go barefoot, as was often the case in Portugal until quite recently. They had a house, built for Olimpia’s first marriage, and everybody can still see it today, with the little bedrooms, so moving in their simplicity, where Francisco and Jacinta were confined to bed during their last illness. ”
Likewise, one can still visit today the dos Santos house, relatively vast with its six rooms. In the courtyard, the numerous dependencies even bear witness to a certain comfort. The family also possessed some lands on the hill of the Cabeço and at the Cova da Iria. In short, at the price of constant labour on the part of everybody, – from the age of seven or eight the children were put in charge of tending the sheep5 – the two families had enough to live on, and their lot was not comparable to the extreme indigence of the Soubirous parents.
“ THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. ”
At Aljustrel they led the life of peasants, hard and simple, but also calm and joyous, completely impregnated with a solid piety and a profound faith, to a degree that we could hardly imagine today in our society, which is so secularized.
The heart of the Christian life was first and foremost the Sunday Mass. Let us listen to Olimpia, the mother of Francisco and Jacinta:
“ May God keep us from letting a Sunday go by without Mass, either we or the children, as soon as they are old enough to understand! Even if we had to go to Boleiros, to Atouguia, or even to Santa Cararina (over six miles away), whether there is rain or thunder, I can never remember having missed Mass, even when I was nursing my children... ”
And thus, this whole laborious and monotonous life was given rhythm and illumined by the sequence of the great feasts of the liturgical cycle. There was also, each Sunday, the paternal authority of the parish priest which he exercised, without dispute, over each of his sheep. After the departure of good Father Pena, who was so beloved in the village, it was the young Father Ferreira who succeeded him in 1913. Although more rigid and less appreciated, he was not obeyed any less. For Maria Rosa, “ the word of the parish priest was the word of God, and she observed rigorously, without any discussion, the commands which he laid down. ” Later on we will see that, because of her unlimited confidence in her parish priest, Maria Rosa doubted the genuineness of the apparitions for so long.
At Fatima, the devotions for the month of Mary, the month of the Rosary and the ‘ month of the (poor) souls ’, in honour of the departed, were all solemnly observed. At the call of the parish priest, the church was filled each night for the recitation of the Rosary.
We must listen to the whole, long testimony of Maria dos Anjos, the elder sister of Lucy, to discover with astonishment what an incomparable Christian education our three young seers enjoyed, for on this point the Marto parents were hardly inferior to Maria Rosa.
“ It was our mother who taught us the catechism, and she would never let us go out and play before having learned our lesson by heart. I do not want to be ashamed, she would say, when Father will have my children recite their catechism. But she was not ashamed, because Father was always satisfied with us, and at the church he would even entrust us with other children to teach, although we were still children ourselves. I was thus no older than nine years old when I became a catechist.
“ But our mother was not content with the recitation of formulas at the snap of a finger; she also wanted us to understand Christian doctrine, and she gave us detailed explanations. To know the catechism, and not to know the explanations makes no sense, she would say. We also asked her many questions, and she answered as well as the priest in church. Once I asked her how the fire of hell could not consume and destroy the damned, like the wood one puts in the fireplace. She answered, ‘ Then you don’t know that if you put a bone in the fire, it will appear to burn without being consumed? ’ And we, very frightened, set ourselves to reflect on that point, and to take the resolution not to commit any sins, so as not to fall in this terrible fire.
“ It was not only for us that our mother taught the catechism. Other children also came to the house to learn it, and not only from Aljustrel, but from Casa Velha, and even from Boleiros. Even distinguished persons came to her to have themselves instructed.
“ During the month of May and the month of the dead, as well as during Lent, we would recite the Rosary every day before the fireplace, or in the common room. And when we would go out with the sheep, she would recommend that we always have the Rosary in our pockets. ‘ Over there you will recite the Rosary in honour of Our Lady after you eat ’, she would say, ‘ and some Our Fathers in honour of Saint Anthony, so as not to lose the sheep ’... ”
“ And we would always add some Our Fathers for the souls of our deceased relatives. In the morning before rising, and in the evening, before going to bed, after having recited the act of contrition and some Our Fathers, she would not let us forget our Guardian Angel... ”
“ She wanted us to be humble and industrious. And woe to us if anyone caught us in a lie! It was even one of the things she was the most severe on. The smallest fib would immediately result in a beating with her broom.
“ She taught us devotion to the things of the Church, and especially to the Blessed Sacrament, right from the beginning. ”
THE RELIGION OF FATIMA.
High Mass on Sunday, the catechism learned by heart and explained to children, the practice of daily family prayer, devotions to the Blessed Sacrament and to Our Lady, the angels and saints, prayer for the dead, moral education on the virtues and vices, all this in the great light of the last ends, Judgement, Heaven and Hell, such was the religion which these poor people lived with humility, and heroism. This was what the clergy preached to them. Maria Rosa also read to her children the Missâo abreviada, a manual of religion destined for the people of the country, to “ prolong the fruit of the missions ”. There they taught a strict religion, but one of exact doctrine and solid devotion. They went right to the essentials and all the principal truths of the faith were put in clear relief. It was clear and limpid.
What is striking is that Our Lady, when She came to the Cova da Iria, did not propose any other ideal. This is what Fatima is first of all: the most urgent reminder ever that the true religion that pleases God and saves souls, is indeed this traditional religion, still faithfully lived in the beginning of the century in many regions, where Christendom remained very much alive. And when tomorrow, a new Christendom will rise up over the rubble, by the grace of Our Lady of Fatima and according to Her promise, the same dogmas, the same devotions, the same moral doctrine will still be its soul and very essence. Everything else is a deadly illusion.
Here moreover is the source of true peace and happiness. Our three seers who so perfectly came into their own in this atmosphere, prove it magnificently. As her Memoirs bear witness, Sister Lucy retains a fascinating memory of her childhood years, when the ruggedness of her life and the severity of her mother went together, in the most natural way, with her natural gaiety, her childish games, and the quasi-perpetual festive atmosphere that reigned in the village, as well as her first friendships and the first mystical graces she was favoured with. To her we must now turn. In hearing her we will be penetrated with the irresistible charm of this peaceful life in Christendom, and we will become acquainted with its three most beautiful fruits: the candid and serious, joyful and profound souls of our three little seers.
LUCY: THE HAPPY CHILDHOOD OF A PRIVILEGED SOUL
A PRECOCIOUS AND FAVOURED CHILD
In her second Memoir, which is an enthralling opening of an autobiography, Lucy writes:
“ It seems to me that our dear God favoured me with the use of reason even when I was a very young child. I can remember being conscious of my acts, even on the knees of my mother. I can remember being put in the crib and put to sleep, to the sound of different songs. And since I was the youngest of five daughters and one son which Our Lord was pleased to give to my parents, I can remember various quarrels among them, because they all wanted to take me in their arms and talk to me. At that moment, so that no one would be victorious, my mother would take me back in her arms, and if she was occupied and could not keep me there, she would entrust me to my father, who in his turn would cover me with kisses and caresses.
“ The first thing I learned was the Hail Mary because my mother had the habit of taking me in her arms while she would teach my sister Caroline, who was five years older than I. ”
Let us observe right away, since all the witnesses agree, that Lucy was an extraordinarily precocious child. She retains very precise memories of her very first years, which she artfully relates, showing a real literary talent. Listen to her relate, in such a lively and alert tone, how as a very young girl she took part in all the feasts of the village where she was cuddled by all:
“ My two eldest sisters were already grown up. My mother, knowing that I repeated everything I heard like a parrot, wanted them to take me with them everywhere they went. They were, as we say in our locality, the leading lights among the young people. There was not a festival or a dance that they did not attend. At Carnival time, on St. John’s Day, and at Christmas, there was certain to be a dance. Besides this, there was the vintage. Then there was the olive picking, with a dance almost every day. When the big parish festivals came round, such as the feasts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Our Lady of the Rosary, St. Anthony, and so on, we always raffled cakes; after that came a dance, without fail. We were invited to almost all the weddings for miles around, for if they did not invite my mother to be matron of honour, they were sure to need her for the cooking. At these weddings, the dance went on from after the banquet until well into the next morning. Since my sisters had to have me always with them, they took as much trouble in dressing me up as they were wont to do for themselves. As one of them was a dressmaker, I was always decked out in a regional costume more elegant than that of any girl around... You would have thought that they were dressing a doll rather than a small child.
“ At the dances they deposited me on top of a wooden chest or some other tall piece of furniture, to save me from being trampled underfoot. Once on my perch, I had to sing a number of songs to the music of a guitar or the concertina. My sisters had already taught me to sing, as well as to dance a few waltzes when there was a partner missing. The latter I did with great agility, thus attracting the attention and applause of everyone present. Some of them even rewarded me with gifts, in the hope of pleasing my sisters. ”
“ THE WORLD BEGAN TO SMILE ON ME. ”
In these village balls, which retained a family atmosphere, there was doubtless nothing gravely reprehensible. Neither the good Father Pena, nor the austere Maria Rosa, who very shrewdly always found a discreet means of watching over her daughters – “ my mother, knowing that I repeated everything I heard like a parrot, wanted them to take me everywhere they went ” – neither one found anything to object to.
Yet, Lucy will avow that even for her, still so young, this disordered passion for dancing was not without danger for her soul. “ To tell the truth, the world was beginning to smile on me, and above all a passion for dancing was already sinking its roots deep into my poor heart. ”
Soon, fortunately, things would change in the village:
“ Reverend Father Pena was no longer our parish priest, and had been replaced by Reverend Father Bocinha. When this zealous priest learned that such a pagan custom as endless dancing was only too common in the parish, he promptly began to preach against it from the pulpit in his Sunday sermons. In public and in private, he lost no opportunity of attacking this bad custom. As soon as my mother heard the good priest speak in this fashion, she forbade my sisters to attend such amusements. ”
“ From that time on ”, relates Maria dos Anjos, “ cost what it might, our mother wanted us all at the house by sundown. Even on festival days, when we would have loved to amuse ourselves like the others, nothing doing! The supper hour was sacred. ” “ As my sisters’ example led others also to refrain from attending ”, Lucy adds, “ this custom gradually died out. The same thing happened among the children, who used to get up their little dances apart. ”
Lucy concludes with this anecdote which reveals clearly the exemplary docility of her mother:
“ Somebody remarked one day to my mother: ‘ Up to now, it was no sin to go to dances, but just because we have a new parish priest, it is a sin. How can that be? ’ ‘ I don’t know ’, replied my mother. ‘ All I know is that the priest does not want dancing, so my daughters are not going to such gatherings any more. At most, I would let them dance a bit within the family, because the priest says there is no harm in that. ’ ”
EVENINGS IN THE DOS SANTOS FAMILY.
Maria Rosa excelled in making good Christian joy reign in family life. In the evening, she would have her children spend the time in music and singing, prayer and holy reading.
“ At certain times of the year, my sisters had to go out working in the fields during the daytime, so they did their weaving and sewing at night. Supper was followed with prayers led by my father, and then the work began. Everyone had something to do: my sister Maria went to the loom; my father filled the spools; Teresa and Gloria went to their sewing; my mother took out her spinning; Caroline and I, after tidying up the kitchen, had to help with the sewing, taking out basting, sewing on buttons, and so forth; to keep drowsiness away, my brother played the concertina, and we joined in singing all kinds of songs. The neighbours often dropped in to keep us company, and although it meant losing their sleep, they used to tell us that the very sound of our gaiety banished all their worries and filled them with happiness. I heard different women sometimes say to my mother: ‘ How fortunate you are! What lovely children God has given you! ’
“ When the time came round to harvest the corn, we removed the husks by moonlight. There was I sitting atop a heap of corn, and chosen to give a hug all round whenever a dark-coloured corn cob appeared. ”
“ My mother was accustomed to teaching catechism to her children during the summer at siesta time. In the winter, we had our lesson after supper at night, gathered round the fireside, as we sat roasting and eating chestnuts, and a sweet variety of acorns. ”
“ Every evening, especially in winter ”, recalls Maria dos Anjos, “ our mother would read to us something from the Old Testament or the Gospel, or the story of Our Lady of Nazare or Our Lady of Lourdes... During Lent, we knew that the readings would always be on the Passion of Our Lord. Lucy immediately would retain everything by heart, and would then give her version to the children. ”
Let us note that Lucy already was demonstrating unusual qualities: attentive and reflective, with a profound piety, she was also very exuberant and overflowing with affection.
A LOVABLE AND AFFECTIONATE CHARACTER.
The few photos that we have of her, taken at the time of the apparitions, are misleading. They show us a face that is somewhat scowling and not very attractive. Of course, being a strong, robust little peasant, she did not have very delicate traits. But her big, black eyes, shining under the thick eyebrows, often lit up in a radiant smile which would transfigure her face. If the photos did not show it, numerous witnesses assure us, that Lucy was a very attractive and affectionate child. Let us hear her elder sister, Maria dos Anjos:
“ We loved her because she was so intelligent and affectionate. Even when she was older, when she came home with the flock, she used to run and sit on her mother’s lap and be cuddled and kissed. We, the elder ones, used to tease her and say: ‘ Here comes the cuddler! ’ – and we would even get cross with her. But she always did it again the next day. ”
“ THE DEVIL WOULD HAVE BROUGHT ABOUT MY RUIN. ”
Her uncle, Ti Marto, had well understood the richness of her character: “ She was very outgoing, very frank and very refined, very affectionate, even with her father. Already I predicted her future: ‘ You will be either very good, or very bad... ’ ”
Such a temperament, and so many signs of tenderness and favour lavished on the young child could undoubtedly, in the long run, have harmed her soul:
“ Amid the warmth of such affectionate and tender caresses, I happily spent my first six years. To tell the truth, the world was beginning to smile on me, and above all, a passion for dancing was already sinking its roots deep into my poor heart. And I must confess that the devil would have used this to bring about my ruin, had not the good Lord shown His special mercy towards me. ”
But thanks to the indefatigable zeal of her mother who had already succeeded in teaching her the whole catechism when she was not even six years old, the beautiful truths of the Faith, the Love of Jesus, the ardent hope of receiving Him soon struck roots in her heart that were much more profound than the first attractions of the world. The altogether gratuitous predilection of the Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary would do the rest.
THE SMILE OF OUR LADY AND HER FIRST COMMUNION AT AGE SIX
At a time when, in spite of the recent decrees of St. Pius X, pastors were so strict about the age for first communion, Lucy obtained the signal favour of being able to make her first communion at the age of six.6
We must read attentively the admirable account where Sister Lucy relates for us, so ingenuously and with such charming candour, this first mystical grace which marked her whole life so profoundly: “ I do not know ”, she writes at the end of the narration, “ whether the facts I have related above about my First Communion were a reality or a little child’s illusion. ” We must admire in this passage the prudent modesty of the seer who does not wish to give this intimate and personal grace, received at the age of six, the same degree of certitude as the great apparitions of 1916 and 1917. “ What I do know ”, she goes on, “ is that they have always had, and still have today, a great influence in uniting me to God. ”
These few pages, which for us are reminiscent of some similar texts of St. Therese of the Child Jesus or of Marie Noel, are one of the high points of the Memoirs, and to read them, one does not know what to marvel at more: the smile of Our Lady to her predestined child, or the resplendent beauty of our Church at that time, shining with a marvellous brightness even in the tiniest hamlets of Christendom. What fervour in those souls! What a spirit of faith penetrating the liturgy and family customs, what divine wisdom in the arrangements, what overflowing supernatural joy! And all this in a charming simplicity and perfectly natural atmosphere.
“ The day which the parish priest had appointed for the solemn First Communion of the children of the parish7 was drawing near. In view of the fact that I knew my catechism and was already six years old, my mother thought that perhaps I could now make my First Communion. To this end she sent me with my sister Caroline to the catechism instructions which the parish priest was giving to the children, in preparation for this great day. I went, therefore, radiant with joy, hoping soon to be able to receive my God for the first time. The priest gave his instructions, seated in a chair up on a platform. He called me to his side, and when one or another of the children was unable to answer his question, he told me to give the answer instead, just to shame them.
“ The eve of the great day arrived, and the priest sent word that all the children were to go to the church in the forenoon, so that he could make the final decision as to which ones were to make their First Communion. What was not my disappointment when he called me up beside him, caressed me and then said I was to wait till I was seven years old! I began to cry at once, and just as I would have done with my own mother, I laid my head on his knees and sobbed. ”
THE INTERVENTION OF GOOD FATHER CRUZ.
“ It happened that another priest who had been called in to help with the confessions, entered the church just at that moment. Seeing me in this position, he asked me the reason for my tears. On being informed, he took me to the sacristy and examined me on the catechism and the mystery of the Eucharist. After this, he took me by the hand and brought me to the parish priest, saying, ‘ Father Pena, you can let this child go to Communion. She understands what she’s doing better than many of the others. ’ ‘ But she’s only six years old ’, objected the good priest. ‘ Never mind! I’ll take the responsibility for that. ’ ‘ All right, then ’, the good priest said to me. ‘ Go and tell your mother that you are making your first Communion tomorrow. ’ ”
It is not without importance that Lucy had this rare privilege from a priest who undoubtedly will one day be raised to the altar and who was an expert on the knowledge of souls. We are speaking of the good Father Cruz who, in 1947, confirmed to Canon Barthas the exactness of all the facts reported by Sister Lucy in her Memoirs. Now Father Cruz was known as a saint in all of Portugal, where he was going all over preaching from parish to parish. Having become a Jesuit, he died at Lisbon on October 1, 1948, and the renown of his sanctity was so great that the process for his beatification was opened in the spring of 1951.
In 1917, he was one of the first priests to openly come out in favour of the apparitions. He came back several times to Aljustrel to counsel and encourage the three seers, whom he loved as a father. But now let us return to Lucy’s narrative:
“ I could never express the joy I felt. Off I went, clapping my hands with delight, and running all the way home to give the good news to my mother. She at once set about preparing me for the confession I was to make that afternoon. ”
THE PUBLIC CONFESSION.
“ My mother took me to the church, and when we arrived, I told her that I wanted to confess to the other priest. So we went to the sacristy, where he was sitting on a chair hearing confessions. My mother knelt down in front of the high altar near the sacristy door, together with the other mothers who were waiting for their children to confess in turn. Right there before the Blessed Sacrament, my mother gave me her last recommendations.
“ When my turn came round, I went and knelt at the feet of our dear Lord, represented there in the person of His minister, imploring forgiveness for my sins. When I had finished, I noticed that everyone was laughing. My mother called me to her and said: ‘ My child, don’t you know that confession is a secret matter and that it is made in a low voice? Everybody heard you! There was only one thing nobody heard: that is what you said at the end. ’ On the way home, my mother made several attempts to discover what she called the secret of my confession. But she obtained nothing but a stony silence.
THE WORDS OF A SAINT.
“ I am now going to disclose this secret of my first confession. After listening to me, the good priest said these few words: ‘ My child, your soul is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Keep it always pure so that He will be able to carry on His Divine action within it. ’ On hearing these words, I felt myself filled with respect for myself, and asked the kind confessor what I ought to do. ‘ Kneel down there before Our Lady and ask Her, with great confidence, to take care of your heart, to prepare it to receive Her beloved Son worthily tomorrow, and to keep it for Him alone? ’ ”
THE SMILE OF OUR LADY OF THE ROSARY.
“ In the church there was more than one statue of Our Lady, but as my sisters took care of the altar of Our Lady of the Rosary, I usually went there to pray. That is why I went there on this occasion also, to ask Her with all the ardour of my soul, to keep my poor heart for God alone.
“ As I repeated this humble prayer over and over again, with my eyes fixed on the statue, it seemed to me that She smiled, and with a loving look and kindly gesture, assured me that She would. My heart was overflowing with joy, and I could scarcely utter a single word. ”
THE FERVENT WAIT.
“ My sisters stayed up that night making me a white dress and a wreath of flowers. As for me, I was so happy that I could not sleep, as it seemed as if the hours would never pass! I kept on getting up to ask them if the day had come, or if they wanted me to try on my dress, or my wreath, and so forth.
“ The happy day dawned at last; but nine o’clock – how long it was in coming! I put on my white dress, and then my sister Maria took me into the kitchen to ask pardon of my parents, to kiss their hands, and ask their blessing. After this little ceremony, my mother gave me her last recommendations. She told me what she wanted me to ask Our Lord when I had received Him into my heart, and said goodbye to me in these words: ‘ Above all, ask Him to make you a saint! ’
“ Her words made such an indelible impression on my heart, that they were the very first that I said to Our Lord when I received Him. Even today, I seem to hear the echo of my mother’s voice repeating these words to me. I set out for the church with my sisters, and my brother carried me all the way in his arms, so that not a speck of dust from the road would touch me. As soon as I arrived at the church, I ran to kneel before the altar of Our Lady to renew my petition. There I remained in contemplation of our Lady’s smile of the previous day, until my sisters came in search of me and took me to my appointed place. There was a large number of children, arranged in four lines – two of boys and two of girls – from the back of the church right up to the altar rails. Being the smallest, it happened that I was the one nearest to the ‘ angels ’ on the step by the altar rails. ”
THE SACRED MOMENT.
“ Once the High Mass began and the great moment drew near, my heart beat faster and faster, in expectation of the visit of the great God who was about to descend from Heaven, to unite Himself to my poor soul. The parish priest came down and passed among the rows of children, distributing the Bread of Angels. I had the good fortune to be the first one to receive. As the priest was coming down the altar steps, I felt as though my heart would leap from my breast. But he had no sooner placed the Divine Host on my tongue than I felt an unalterable serenity and peace. I felt myself bathed in such a supernatural atmosphere that the presence of Our Dear Lord became as clearly perceptible to me as if I had seen and heard Him with my bodily senses. I then addressed my prayer to Him: ‘ O Lord, make me a saint. Keep my heart always pure, for You alone. ’ Then it seemed that in the depths of my heart, Our Dear Lord distinctly spoke these words to me: ‘ The grace granted to you this day will remain living in your soul, producing fruits of eternal life. ’
“ I felt as though transformed in God. It was almost one o’clock before the ceremonies were over, on account of the late arrival of priests coming from a distance, the sermon and the renewal of baptismal promises. My mother came looking for me, quite distressed, thinking I might faint from weakness. But I, filled to overflowing with the Bread of Angels, found it impossible to taste any food whatsoever. After this, I lost the taste and attraction for the things of the world, and only felt at home in some solitary place where, all alone, I could recall the delights of my First Communion. ”
“ THE CHILDREN ADORED HER ”
“ I was rarely able to obtain this solitude ”, Lucy continues. In fact very often she had to take care of the children of the neighbourhood. As Maria dos Anjos tells us:
“ She knew how to look after children and the mothers used to leave them in our house when they went out to work. When I was at my weaving and my sister Caroline at her dressmaking, we used to keep an eye on them, but when Lucy was there, even when she was quite tiny, we didn’t have to bother.
“ She loved children and they adored her. Sometimes they would collect in our yard, a dozen or so, and she would be quite happy decorating the little ones with flowers and leaves. She would make little processions with saints, arranging flowers and thrones and singing hymns to Our Lady as if she were in church. I can still remember the one she liked best:
“ To Heaven, to Heaven, to Heaven,
There shall I see my Mother again,
O pure Virgin, Thy tenderness
Comes to soothe my pain;
Day and night shall I sing
Of the beauty of Mary! ”
This hymn is a Portuguese adaptation of the French, “I shall go to see Her one day”, which made St. Bernadette weep with emotion. When she would sing it, even from before the time of the apparitions, Lucy could not forget the smile of Our Lady.
FRANCISCO AND JACINTA: TWO EXQUISITE SOULS
JACINTA: A PURE AND ARDENT HEART
Here is how Canon Formigao introduces her:
“ She is called Jacinta of Jesus... Fairly large for her age, a little slender without being scrawny, with a well proportioned face, dark hair, modestly dressed, with a skirt reaching down to the ankles. Her appearance is that of a child in good health, perfectly normal, both physically and morally. Startled at the presence of strangers, she answers only in monosyllables and in a barely perceptible tone of voice. ”
“ SHE WAS ALWAYS SO GENTLE. ”
“ Jacinta had a good heart, and God endowed her with a sweet and gentle character which made her both lovable and attractive. ” She was noticeably the favourite of her father, who declared to Father de Marchi: “ She was always so gentle! In this respect, she was really remarkable. From the time her mother nursed her she was always like that. She never got angry at anything. We never raised another child like that! It was a natural gift with her. ”
That did not prevent her, as she got bigger, from sometimes becoming capricious and moody at play, because she was lively and passionate in everything:
“ The slightest quarrel which arose among the children when at play was enough to send her pouting into a corner... Even the coaxing and caressing that children know so well how to give on such occasions, were still not enough to bring her back to play; she herself had to be allowed to choose the game, and her partner as well. ”
This however was merely the reverse side of a rich and enthusiastic temperament. Like her cousin she was very exuberant from the very beginning, and a marvellous dancer. In the prison of Vila Nova de Ourem, a tune from the waltz sufficed to make her forget her tears. Above all she had a heart of gold, capable of immense affection. She also had an astonishingly pure heart, completely docile to the baptismal grace, which already guided her thoughts and her little childish actions. Here are some striking examples.
THE THREE KISSES FOR JESUS.
The three friends often played the game of ‘ forfeits ’ together. The rule of the game is that the loser has to do whatever the winner tells him. As Lucy relates:
“ One day we were playing forfeits at my home, and I won, so this time it was I who told her what to do. My brother was sitting at a table, writing. I told her to give him a hug and a kiss, but she protested: ‘ That, no! Tell me to do some other thing. Why don’t you tell me to go and kiss Our Lord over there? ’ There was a crucifix hanging on the wall. ‘ All right ’, I answered, ‘ get up on a chair, bring the crucifix over here, kneel down and give Him three hugs and three kisses: one for Francisco, one for me, and the other for yourself. ’ ‘ To Our Lord, yes, I’ll give as many as you like ’, and she ran to get the crucifix. She kissed it and hugged it with such devotion that I have never forgotten it. ”
A remarkable action which in fact bears witness both to the crystalline purity of her soul, and her tender love for Jesus, stupefying in a child of that age.
“ OUR POOR DEAR LORD ”.
The end of the story is no less touching:
“ Looking attentively at the figure of Our Lord, she asked: ‘ Why is Our Lord nailed to a cross like that? ’ ‘ Because He died for us. ’ ‘ Tell me how it happened ’, she said. ” Lucy goes on ingenuously: “ Since it was sufficient for me to hear stories once to be able to repeat them in all their details, I began to relate to my companions in detail the story of Our Lord... In hearing of His sufferings, the little girl was moved and began to cry. Many times later on she would come and ask me to tell the story again. She would weep and grieve, saying, ‘ Our poor dear Lord! I’ll never sin again! I don’t want Our Lord to suffer more! ’ ”
This reflection of the child already shows us what a loving, sensible and resolute heart she had...
FRANK AS GOLD.
The same story shows her to be frank and loyal, preferring to accuse herself rather than see her cousin unjustly scolded. Lucy continues:
“ Just then my sister passed by, and noticed that we had the crucifix in our hands. She took it from us and scolded us, saying that she did not want us to touch such holy things. Jacinta got up and approached my sister, saying: ‘ Maria, don’t scold her! I did it. But I won’t do it again. ’ My sister caressed her, and told us to go and play outside, because we left nothing in its proper place. ”
The love of truth was so profoundly anchored in her soul that the least little lie scandalized her. Nor was she shy about reproaching whoever had fibbed, even if it was her mother:
“ When her mother would not tell the truth ”, relates Mr. Marto, “ when she would say, for example, that she was going to the garden to look for some cabbage, when in fact she was going further, Jacinta would confront her with it on her return: ‘ So then, mother, you lied to me? You told me you were going here, when instead you went there!... It is not nice to lie! ’ ‘ As for myself ’, added Mr. Marto, ‘ I never deceived them in this way. ’ ”
“ I DID NOT SEE HIM. ”
Another story which Lucy relates, shows us how seriously, and how realistically little Jacinta considered the things of faith. For the feast of Corpus Christi Lucy’s sister Caroline would be in charge of dressing up some ‘ little angels ’ who would throw flowers before the Blessed Sacrament during the procession. Lucy was always chosen and her cousin asked to be allowed to join her:
“ The two of us went along to make our request. My sister said she could go, and tried a dress on Jacinta. At the rehearsals, she explained how we were to strew the flowers before the Child Jesus. ‘ Will we see Him? ’, asked Jacinta. ‘ Yes ’, replied my sister, ‘ the parish priest will be carrying Him. ’
“ Jacinta jumped for joy, and kept on asking how much longer we had to wait for the feast. The longed-for day arrived at last, and Jacinta was beside herself with excitement. The two of us took our places near the altar. Later, in the procession, we walked beside the canopy, each of us with a basket of flowers. Wherever my sister had told me to strew the flowers, I strewed mine before Jesus, but in spite of all the signs I made to Jacinta, I couldn’t get her to strew a single one. She kept her eyes fixed on the priest, and that was all. When the ceremony was over, my sister took us outside the church and asked: ‘ Jacinta, why didn’t you strew your flowers before Jesus? ’ ‘ Because I didn’t see Him. ’
“ Jacinta then asked me: ‘ But did you see the Child Jesus? ’ ‘ Of course not. Don’t you know that the Child Jesus in the Host can’t be seen? He’s hidden! He’s the one we receive in Holy Communion! ’ ‘ And you, when you go to Communion, do you talk to Him? ’ ‘ Yes, I do. ’ ‘ Then why don’t you see Him? ’ ‘ Because He’s hidden. ’ ‘ I’m going to ask my mother to let me go to Communion too. ’ ‘ The parish priest won’t let you go until you’re ten years old. ’ ‘ But you’re not ten yet, and you go to Communion! ’ ‘ Because I knew the whole catechism, and you don’t. ’
“ After this, Jacinta and Francisco asked me to teach them the catechism. So I became their catechist, and they learned with exceptional enthusiasm. ”
This charming anecdote shows that our little peasant could not be made to believe any old thing. “ She has her wits about her and she calls a spade a spade ”, comments Dom Jean-Nesmy. “ She is told she must see Jesus, and she looks around all over and says she has not seen Him. When later on she will insist, in spite of everybody, that she saw a beautiful lady, it is because she did in fact see Her, with her own eyes! ” Like it or not for Father Dhanis [regarding Father Dhanis, see Part II of this book], Our Lady chose Her witnesses well.
FRANCISCO: A CALM AND TENDER SOUL
“ ... Francisco arrives. He is already a little man, with a woollen cap upon his head, a very short vest, a waistcoat revealing his shirt underneath, and his breeches. What a fine face the child has! He has a lively glance and a mischievous look. He answers my questions with an air of detachment. ”8
A PEACE-LOVING CHILD.
Let Sister Lucy herself describe the character of her cousin:
“ Apart from his features and his practice of virtue, Francisco did not seem at all to be Jacinta’s brother. Unlike her, he was neither capricious nor vivacious. On the contrary, he was quiet and submissive by nature...
“ In our games he was quite lively, but few of us liked to play with him as he nearly always lost. And if he won, and somebody tried to deny him his rights as the winner, he yielded without more ado and merely said: ‘ You think you won? That’s all right! I don’t mind! ’
“ I must confess that I myself did not always feel too kindly disposed towards him, as his naturally calm temperament exasperated my own excessive vivacity. Sometimes, I caught him by the arm, made him sit down on the ground or on a stone, and told him to keep still; he obeyed me as if I had real authority over him. Afterwards, I felt sorry, and went and took him by the hand, and he would come along with me as good-humouredly as though nothing had happened. ”
Like his father, he was gentle, humble and patient. Always having a joyful countenance, he was invariably polite and accommodating to all, even at the cost of considerable sacrifices:
“ If one of the other children insisted on taking away something belonging to him, he said: ‘ Let them have it! What do I care? ’
“ I recall how one day, he came to my house and was delighted to show me a handkerchief with a picture of Our Lady of Nazare on it, which someone had brought him from the seaside. All the children gathered round him to admire it. The handkerchief was passed from hand to hand, and in a few minutes it disappeared. A little later, I found it myself in another small boy’s pocket. I wanted to take it away from him, but he insisted that it was his own, and that someone had brought him one from the beach as well. To put an end to the quarrel, Francisco went up to him and said: ‘ Let him have it! What does a handkerchief matter to me? ’ ”
A ROBUST AND LIVELY BOY.
This does not mean, however, that he was listless or weak-willed. If Francisco was docile to Lucy, it does not mean that his virtue was without failings. Here we must take into account the testimony of his father, which completes that of Sister Lucy.
A robust boy in good health, “ he was more troublesome and more restless than his little sister. He was not as patient, and for some little thing would run around like a young bull calf. ” He could be mischievous, and without the firm hand of Manuel Pedro who knew how to make them obey, he too could have become capricious: “ When I saw things weren’t going well I didn’t let them get too far! And when the two were quarrelling and I couldn’t tell where the right lay I gave them both a box on the ear for their pains. To put sense into them I had to be a bit strict. ” But Manuel Pedro had great authority and usually the threat was sufficient:
“ Once Francisco refused to say his prayers and hid in the out-kitchen. I went to him and when he saw me coming he cried out at once that he would pray! That was before Our Lady appeared. After that he never failed to say them. In fact he and Jacinta would almost force us to say the Rosary.
“ This and the chip of wood which he wanted to put in his brother’s mouth (while he was sleeping) were the two worst things I ever saw him do. ”
Mr. Marto could say later on: “ even after the apparitions, I always found that my children were almost no different than the others. ” We cannot but admire the purity and extraordinary candour of their souls, and without doubt their father meant especially that they had absolutely no air of affectation.
One little incident, reported this time by his mother Olimpia, reveals Francisco’s delicate soul even from before the apparitions, as well as his vivacity:
“ One day as he was going out with the sheep, I told him to take them to Teresa’s ground which isn’t here but near the village. And he said at once: ‘ No, I don’t want to do that! ’ I was just going to give him a slap when he turned to me and said very seriously: ‘ Mother, are you teaching me to steal?... ’ I felt mad with anger and took him by the arm and pushed him outside. But he didn’t go to Oiteiro! Not till the next day, after asking permission from his godmother, who said that he and Lucy might always go there.
“ He was a clever little boy and it always surprised me how well he did the little jobs I always set him. ”
Although he was usually calm and peaceful, this was surely not out of indolence or apathy. Far from being a coward, he was on the contrary hardy and courageous.
“ He was anything but fearful. He’d go anywhere in the dark alone at night, without the slightest hesitation. He played with lizards, and when he came across any snakes he got them to entwine themselves around a stick, and even poured sheep’s milk into the holes in the rocks for them to drink. He went hunting for foxes’ holes and rabbits’ burrows, for genets, and other creatures of the wilds. ”
HIS PASSION: MUSIC AND SONG.
Like his father, who when he was alone always seemed absorbed in profound reflections, Francisco was a meditative soul. He had little taste for noisy games and the shouts of his two companions:
“ He showed no love for dancing, as Jacinta did; he much preferred playing the flute while the others danced. What Francisco enjoyed most, when we were out on the mountains together, was to perch on top of the highest rock, and sing or play his flute. If his little sister came down to run races with me, he stayed up there entertaining himself with his music and song. ”
HIS GREATEST SIN.
Along with the love of nature and the animals of the field, music was his dominating passion. The word is not excessive, for it caused him to commit the gravest fault of his short life: stealing a tostao (a very small coin!) from his father to buy a music-box that he coveted. We know this because of a moving account in the Memoirs. In 1919, shortly before dying at the age of eleven, he was feeling very bad one morning, and he called Lucy. It is she who relates the story:
“ I dressed as fast as I could and went over there. He asked his mother and brother and sisters to leave the room, saying that he wanted to tell me a secret, They went out, and he said to me: ‘ I am going to confession so that I can receive Holy Communion, and then die. I want you to tell me if you have seen me commit any sin, and then go and ask Jacinta if she has seen me commit any. ’ ‘ You disobeyed your mother a few times ’, I answered, ‘ when she told you to stay at home, and you ran off to be with me or to go and hide. ’ ‘ That’s true. I remember that. Now go and ask Jacinta if she remembers anything else. ’
“ I went, and Jacinta thought for a while, then answered: ‘ Well, tell him that, before Our Lady appeared to us, he stole a coin from our father to buy a music box from Jose Marto of Casa Velha, and when the boys from Aljustrel threw stones at those from Boleiros, he threw some too! ’
“ When I gave him this message from his sister, he answered: ‘ I’ve already confessed those, but I’ll do so again. Maybe, it is because of these sins that I committed that Our Lord is so sad! But even if I don’t die, I’ll never commit them again. I’m heartily sorry for them now. ’ ”
A SUPERNATURAL FRIENDSHIP
After having introduced all three, it remains for us to say how our three shepherds found themselves together to receive the heavenly apparitions with which they would be privileged so soon.
Without a doubt this point seemed important to Sister Lucy, because she underlines it in her Memoirs: the formation of the trio was not her own doing:
“ Before the happenings of 1917 (she writes), apart from the ties of relationship that united us, no other particular affection led me to prefer the companionship of Jacinta and Francisco to that of any other child. On the contrary, I sometimes found Jacinta’s company quite disagreeable, on account of her oversensitive temperament. ” In another place she writes, “ The affection which bound me to Francisco was just one of kinship, and that which had its origin in the graces which Heaven deigned to grant us... I myself did not always feel too kindly disposed towards him… ”
It was only the immense admiration and lively attraction of Jacinta to her older cousin which would soon form the inseparable trio of the three seers. Lucy explains for us: “ I don’t know why, but Jacinta and her brother Francisco had a special liking for me, and almost always came in search of me when they wanted to play. They did not enjoy the company of the other children… ”
A little anecdote which Lucy relates shows us what is already the supernatural character of Jacinta’s attraction to her cousin. Lucy, as we have said, was often put in charge of looking after the neighbourhood children.
“ One day, one of these little children accused another of improper talk. My mother reproved him very severely, pointing out that one does not say such nasty things, because they are sinful and displease the Child Jesus; and that those who commit such sins and don’t confess them, go to hell. The very next time the children came, she said: ‘ Will your mother let you come today? ’ ‘ No. ’ ‘ Then I’m going with Francisco over to our yard. ’ ‘ And why won’t you stay here? ’ ‘ My mother doesn’t want us to stay when those other children are here. She told us to go and play in our own yard. She doesn’t want me to learn these nasty things, which are sins and which the Child Jesus doesn’t like. ”
With Lucy, and only with Lucy, the pure and ardent soul of Jacinta was fully at ease, as if Lucy had been given to her by a supernatural disposition. Jacinta tried to remain in her company as often as possible. This was surely a providential friendship. For if Lucy had not become, as she herself says, “ the most intimate friend and confidante ” of Jacinta, we would never have known the marvels of grace which God worked in this exquisite soul, this “ lily of candour ”, this “ seraphim of love ”, to use Lucy’s own expressions.
A HARD SEPARATION.
In 1915, Lucy recalls, “ my sister Caroline was then thirteen, and it was time for her to go out to work. My mother, therefore, put me in charge of our flock. I passed on the news to my two companions, and told them I would not be playing with them anymore, but they could not bring themselves to accept such a separation. ” As their mother refused them permission to accompany their cousin, each evening they went to wait for her return from the pasture. But, Lucy adds, “ while Jacinta would run to meet me as soon as she heard the tinkling of the sheep bells, Francisco waited for me, sitting on the stone steps leading to our front door... He came to wait for me, but this was not out of affection for me, it was to please his sister. ”
1916: THE TRIO OF LITTLE SHEPHERDS.
By continuing to insist, Jacinta and Francisco (who went along to please his sister), finally got what they desired: “ my aunt, hoping perhaps to be rid of such persistent requests, even though she knew the children were too small, handed over to them the care of their own flock. Radiant with joy, they ran to give me the news... ”
After a short prayer, they decided each morning on a place where they could meet.
“ As soon as we met at the pond, we decided where we would pasture the flock that day. We won over the sheep by sharing our lunch with them. Then off we’d go, as happy and content as if we were going to a festival. ”
“ Jacinta loved to hear her voice echoing down the valleys. For this reason, one of our favourite amusements was to climb to the top of the hills, sit down on the biggest rock we could find, and call out different names at the top of our voices. The name that echoed back most clearly was ‘ Maria ’. Sometimes Jacinta used to say the whole Hail Mary this way, only calling out the following word when the preceding one had stopped re-echoing. We loved to sing, too. Interspersed among the popular songs – of which, alas! we knew quite a number – were Jacinta’s favourite hymns: Hail Noble Patroness, Virgin Pure, and Angels, Sing With Me. ”
THE ROSARY SPEEDED UP.
“ We were very fond of dancing, and any instrument we heard being played by the other shepherds was enough to set us off. Jacinta, tiny as she was, had a special aptitude for dancing. ” Thus the hours went by quickly, as they would sing, dance, and play. To stop to recite a whole five decades of the Rosary would require hard effort... So Francisco (the continuation of the story leads us to think that it was likely him) found a convenient solution which made everybody happy:
“ We had been told to say the Rosary after our lunch, but as the whole day seemed too short for our play, we worked out a fine way of getting through it quickly. We simply passed the beads through our fingers, saying nothing but ‘ Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary... ’ At the end of each mystery, we paused awhile, then simply said: ‘ Our Father ’, and so, in the twinkling of an eye, as they say, we had our Rosary finished! ”
A LIFE SATURATED WITH THE REALITIES OF THE FAITH.
Although piety and prayer did not encumber their day or extinguish the ardour of their games, their family education was so supernatural, their baptismal purity so well safeguarded by the vigilance of their parents, that they already lived as it were spontaneously in thoughts of God, whom they would consider intuitively through the beauties of nature, which evoked their wonder.
The sun, the moon, and the stars? For them they were the lamps of Our Lord, Our Lady and the angels:
“ In the evening, we would wait for Our Lady and the Angels to light their lamps. Francisco eagerly counted the stars with us, but nothing enchanted him so much as the beauty of sunrise or sunset. As long as he could still glimpse one last ray of the setting sun, he made no attempt to watch for the first lamp to be lit in the sky.
“ ‘ No lamp is as beautiful as Our Lord’s ’, he used to remark to Jacinta, who much preferred Our Lady’s lamp because, as she explained, ‘ It doesn’t hurt our eyes. ’
“ Enraptured, he watched the sun’s rays glinting on the window panes of the homes in the neighbouring villages, or glistening in the drops of water which spangled the trees and furze bushes of the serra, making them shine like so many stars; in his eyes these were a thousand times more beautiful than the Angels’ lamps. ”
A NEW ST. FRANCIS?
Indeed our little shepherd was a great friend of the birds, and he could not bear to see them captured:
“ One day we met a little boy carrying in his hand a small bird that he had caught. Full of compassion, Francisco promised him two coins, if only he would let the bird fly away. The boy readily agreed. But first he wished to see the money in his hand. Francisco ran all the way from the Carreira pond, which lies a little distance from the Cova da Iria, to fetch the coins, and so let the little prisoner free. Then, as he watched it fly away, he clapped his hands for joy, and said: ‘ Be careful! Don’t let yourself be caught again! ’
“ He always kept part of the bread he had for his lunch, breaking it into crumbs and spreading them on top of the rocks, so that the birds could eat them. ‘ Poor wee things! You are hungry ’, he said, as though conversing with them. ‘ Come, come and eat! ’ And they, keen-eyed as they are, did not wait for the invitation, but came flocking around him. It was his delight to see them flying back to the tree tops with their little craws full, singing and chirping in a deafening chorus, in which Francisco joined with rare skill. ”
As for Jacinta, she was not less sensible to the beauties of nature. “ She was enchanted to look at the beautiful moonlit nights. ” She would collect flowers, and in her excessive affection, she would throw them to her cousin as she went to meet her. Once she became a shepherdess, she was full of tenderness for her sheep. Here is a charming incident:
“ Jacinta loved to hold the little white lambs tightly in her arms, sitting with them on her lap, fondling them, kissing them, and carrying them home at night on her shoulders, so that they wouldn’t get tired. One day on her way back, she walked along in the middle of the flock. ‘ Jacinta, what are you doing there ’, I asked her, ‘ in the middle of the flock? ’ ‘ I want to do the same as Our Lord in that holy picture they gave me. He’s just like this, right in the middle of them all, and He’s holding one of them in His arms.’ ”
“ I AM A POOR SHEPHERD GIRL, I ALWAYS PRAY TO MARY. ”
But their great treasure was certainly the innumerable hymns whose couplets the excellent memory of Lucy retained by heart. Perfectly adapted to the sentiments of their souls, their very simple words nourished them and opened up to them all the great beauties of the faith. Sometimes alone, sometimes with his sister and his cousin, Francisco, perched on top of a rock, loved to repeat often this beautiful hymn:
“ I love God in Heaven
I love Him, too, on earth,
I love the flowers of the fields,
I love the sheep on the mountains.
I am a poor shepherd girl,
I always pray to Mary,
In the midst of my flock,
I am like the sun at noon.
Together with my lambkins,
I learn to skip and jump,
I am the joy of the serra
And the lily of the vale. ”
Here are the three simple and pure souls for whom “ the Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary ” had “ designs of mercy ”. Having become witnesses of the apparitions of Our Lady, in a very short time grace would conduct them to heroic degrees of sacrifice and sanctity.
But before that, to prepare their souls for the visit of the Queen of Heaven, God would send them His Angel, as a precursor:
“ Behold, I send My Angel before Thy face,
who shall prepare the way before Thee. ” (Mt. 11:10)
(1) We quote the Memoirs in the English edition of Father Kondor, with annotations by Father Alonso. Occasionally we have corrected the translation. The roman numeral indicates the Memoir being quoted, and the arabic numeral gives the page number.
(2) Using these sources as well as the archives of Canon Barthas, Dom Jean-Nesmy gave us, in 1980, a well informed, clear and concise account of the apparitions, which can be around in the first part of his book, The Truth About Fatima. With unequalled psychological insight, he reconstructs the atmosphere of the village, as well as the character of the seers. We are very much indebted to him.
(3) It is a touching Portuguese custom to give at baptism, along with a saint’s name, the patronage of Jesus or Mary in one of their mysteries: for example, “Lucy of Jesus”, “Jacinta of Jesus”, Maria of the Conception, of the Purification, of Sorrow (das Dores), etc, and now Lourdes or Fatima as well; cf. Barthas, p. 27.
(4) According to Maria dos Anjos: “Our mother could read printed matter, but she did not know how to write.” (De Marchi, p. 53).
(5) For them, going to school was out of the question. Besides, until recently there had been no school at all.
(6) We must point out that this unquestionable fact reduces to naught all the calumnies of G. de Sede against the seer. This indeed is the sure proof, both of her uncommon memory as well as her precocious intelligence and profound piety.
(7) This year, in 1913, it coincided with the feast of the Sacred Heart. Good Father Pena was transferred shortly after (Memorias e Cartas, p. 465).
(8) This portrait of Francisco is taken from the letter of Dr. Carlos Mendes to his fiancée, relating his visit to Fatima, on September 7, 1917. Cf. Barthas, Fatima, Unprecedented Miracle. p. 321.