St. Francisco Marto and St. Jacinta Marto

St. Francisco Marto
1908-1919

St. Jacinta Marto
1910-1920

Patrons of prisoners

Feast day Feb. 20

Three holy children saw the Blessed Virgin Mary appear to them in Fatima, Portugal, from May to October 1917. As with all saints, holiness is particular to their own state in life — and these seers are no exception. While it would be inappropriate to discuss all three as saints at this time — since the eldest, Lucia, is not yet beatified — the two younger children were beatified in 2000. Both Francisco and Jacinta Marto died less than three years after their last vision of Mary.

While some who have witnessed an apparition of the Blessed Mother have been beatified/canonized, not all have been, as being the recipient of such a privilege is not what makes one a saint. The life of holiness is the cause. At the time of their beatification, they were the youngest nonmartyrs ever raised to this dignity by the Church, which many regard as the fulfillment of Vatican II’s teaching on the universal call to holiness.

The visions of Fatima changed the lives of the three young children who saw Mary at the Cova da Iria. She appeared to average Portuguese peasant children. Although illiterate, they were not dumb.

As Lucia lived many years after her two cousins — dying in 2005 at the age of 97 — she wrote memoirs of those events, including character details of her fellow seers. Francisco is described as a musically gifted boy, pensive and easygoing. Jacinta loved to sing and dance, and she was quite affectionate.

The apparitions didn’t change their personalities but they did help form their holiness. Francisco chose to “console Jesus for the sins of the world” in private prayer. A jarring vision of hell given to the children in one of the apparitions made a big impression on Jacinta. It prompted her desire to save sinners with prayer and penance, making sacrifices as instructed by Mary. Both Francisco and Jacinta participated in strict self-mortifications in response to this as well.

The holy siblings knew their deaths wouldn’t be far off because Mary told them that she’d take them to heaven soon. During World War I, they were just two of the multitude of victims from influenza the world over. Despite their lingering illnesses, Francisco and Jacinta were consistent in making Eucharistic holy hours, lying prostrate for hours at a time in response to the holy angel’s directive at the apparitions.

Francisco embraced his suffering lovingly, without complaint. He refused to go to the hospital, and died a day later on April 4, 1919, with a smile on his lips. Jacinta went on to suffer even more greatly. After going to the hospital, she received an operation and several minor procedures, all of which were attempts to preserve her life. None of them worked. She offered her continuing pain for the conversion of sinners. The hospital chaplain came to hear Jacinta’s confession on Feb. 19, 1920. At that time, she asked also for holy Communion and anointing, but the priest denied her, saying he would return the next day. But she didn’t last that long.

In his homily at their beatification, Pope St. John Paul II said these holy children of Fatima show us the fruits that can be borne of a total oblation to our Blessed Mother. “Devoting themselves with total generosity to the direction of such a good teacher, Jacinta and Francisco soon reached the heights of perfection,” he said. He concluded by imploring, “May the message of their lives live on forever to light humanity’s way!”

Francisco and Jacinta were canonized on May 13, 2017 by Pope Francis. 

Michael R. Heinlein is a graduate of The Catholic University of America. He is editor of The Catholic Answer magazine and teaches high school theology.