Update, April 20: Pope Francis will canonize Blessed Jacinta Marto and Blessed Francisco Marto, two of the shepherd children who witnessed the Marian apparitions in Fatima, when the Holy Father visits the site of the apparitions May 13.
Update: The Vatican announced April 11 that Pope Francis will hold an ordinary public consistory April 20 for cardinals to vote on several canonization causes, including that of Blesseds Francisco and Jacinta Marto. Upon receiving formal approval from the cardinals, the Church will set a date for the canonizations.
The Vatican announced March 23 that Pope Francis has approved the final miracle needed for the canonization of two Fatima seers, Blessed Francisco Marto and Blessed Jacinta Marto. The news ramps up speculation that the pope will canonize the two young shepherds during his May 12-13 trip to Fatima, an event marking the centenary of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s first appearance to Francisco, Jacinta and their cousin Lucia dos Santos exactly 100 years earlier.
The path to canonization of the holy siblings began in 1952, although many had called for it since their untimely deaths in 1919 and 1920, respectively. The diocesan phase of their cause of canonization was completed in 1979, at which time it was sent to Rome, and it forced the decision on an issue that had been debated in Rome for several decades: Could children have the spiritual maturity to reach the heroic virtue needed for canonizations for those other than martyrs? Reversing a 1939 decision by Pope Pius XI, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints decided to allow children who reached the age of reason to be canonized. The two shepherd siblings of Fatima were beatified in 2000 by Pope St. John Paul II on his third and final pastoral visit to Fatima. They will be the youngest non-martyrs to be canonized.
|The Shepherd Children
Blessed Francisco Marto 1908-19
Blessed Jacinta Marto 1910-20
Patrons of prisoners - Feast day Feb. 20
Three children saw Mary appear to them in Fatima, Portugal, from May to October 1917. Both Francisco and Jacinta Marto died less than three years after their last vision of Mary.
At the time of their beatification, they were the youngest non-martyrs 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. The apparitions didn’t change their personalities but 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.
In his homily at their beatification, John Paul II said, “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!”
Pope Francis’ visit to Fatima will be brief, lasting about 30 hours. It will include formal meetings with various Portuguese civic officials, including the president and prime minister, and the country’s bishops. As the papal trip’s primary purpose is a pilgrimage honoring the centenary of the Fatima apparitions, the highlight of the journey will be when the pope celebrates Mass outside the shrine’s Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima. The trip’s official schedule, released by the Vatican on March 20 mentions nothing about a potential canonization, but should it take place, it undoubtedly will be during this event.
Four popes have visited Fatima since the apparitions — the first was Blessed Pope Paul VI in 1967 for the event’s 50th anniversary. Pope St. John Paul II’s first pilgrimage to Fatima as pope was in 1982 when he famously left the bullet that nearly killed him on May 13 of the previous year in the crown of Our Lady’s statue in Fatima. He credited her intercession for saving his life during this assassination attempt.
Many expect the beatification of the third Fatima visionary, Sister Lúcia, to be celebrated soon. Three years after her 2005 death, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI waived the ordinary five-year waiting period for Sister Lúcia’s cause to be opened. News came last month that the diocesan phase of her cause for beatification had been completed, and the cause advances through the normal procedures at the Holy See’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Read more about the lives of Blessed Francisco Marto and Blessed Jacinta Marto here.
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.