THE TRUE STORY
“The Lady in the Light”
by the Rev Father John De Marchi, IMC, 1952.
Re-published by Patrimonium Publishing, 2016.
THE COST OF HEAVEN: Francisco’s Offering
But what had happened to the children after the wonders of October, 1917? The story of Fatima moves along, and for Francisco and Jacinta, it is nearly done. If it is not evident now, it will be made abundantly clear that Jacinta, at the age of seven, was a kind of earthbound angel, whose virtues, even when told with deliberate restraint, will sound to many like pious exaggerations.
Let’s think then for a little while of Francisco, who at the time of the great October events, was nine. He was enrolled in the village school at Fatima and he was not a model pupil. Indeed, in the declared opinion of his male instructor, Francisco was something of a dolt, and whether through personal dullness or sheer disinterest, he made few academic strides. Our own belief is that he could have presented his instructor with a rather original excuse for his failings – a preoccupation with God.
Francisco was a truant. He went to school as seldom as possible, and in this, at least, he was a great success. But unlike most truants of the author’s acquaintance and recollection, he did not practice the compensations of truancy: light larceny, sloth, or forbidden adventure. Francisco spent most of his time in church. Giving his heart to his Lady and her Son, he prayed virtually without rest, and if he was, in the favour of heaven, the least of the children, he did not resent his humble place, for it was glory enough for Francisco to have been included at all. He was a brave little boy, and he was a fair-minded, good little boy, dragging his limping nature after him with heroic acts of will.
He was now, of course, with his little sister and their cousin, a valid celebrity to many. It was a distinction he shunned with proved consistence. He held only one abiding ambition which he disclosed one day to two visiting ladies who had posed that classic question so often presented by adults to little boys:
What do you want to be when you grow up?
“Do you want to be a carpenter?” he was asked.
“Surely you would like to be a doctor?”
“No, not that, either.”
“Then I know what you would like to be – a priest! Then you could say Mass all the time and you could preach.”
“No, madam; I don’t want to be a priest.”
“Well, then, what do you want to be?”
“I don’t want to be anything. I want to die and go to heaven.”
Ti Marto, who was present at this interview, has reported the incident to us. To this prudent, perceptive parent, the simple, automatic response of his son to this question of personal ambition was a crowning proof of his sincerity.
There is no evidence of childish self-dramatisation in Francisco’s daily devotion. His interior life was not only intense, it was very much his own. We get only glimpses, from the observations and chance discoveries of Lucia.
One day, Lucia recalls, when she was tending sheep with her cousins, she realised that Francisco had been missing for a considerable time. Fearing that for some reason he might be lost, she sent Jacinta in search of him, and though his sister wandered all over the pasture, calling his name in her thin, clear voice, there was no response. Lucia herself then, truly concerned, staged a systematic search. She found Francisco behind a stone wall, prostrate on the ground. When she touched his shoulder gently, and even when she shook him, he did not seem aware of her presence. Only when she shouted, “Francisco – what are you doing?” did he respond. He seemed to be dragging himself from the stupor of heavy sleep, or from a trance.
“Are you all right?” Lucia asked him.
“Yes,” he said. “I began saying the prayer of the angel; then – well, I started thinking, that’s all.”
“You didn’t hear Jacinta calling and calling you?”
“I never heard her,” he said. “I never heard anything.”
Lucia has made it clear that his desire for heaven and his love of God and the Lady were the guiding motives of Francisco’s few concluding years. His repeated acts of contemplative prayer were never staged for effect. They were for himself alone, and for the objects of his love. At odd times, Lucia recalls, he would disappear. On another occasion, at lunchtime, they missed him, and Lucia found him in secret prayer, behind a tall rock that had screened him from their view.
“Francisco,” she said, “come and have your lunch”
“Please, let me be,” he said. “You have yours with Jacinta, then call me when it is time for the Rosary.”
“But what have you been doing?”
“I’ve been thinking of God,” he said with almost tearful sincerity. “I’ve been thinking of our Lord and of all the sins that have made Him unhappy. Oh, Lucia, if only I could comfort Him.”
If this dialogue appears a bit unreal for a nine year old, there is nothing we can do to change it. This is the faithful record of Francisco Marto’s years of grace.
Lucia’s memoirs, sketching for us with such a certain, affectionate hand, the virtues of her cousins, are understandably bare of praise for herself. The truth is that they all advanced in virtue. Their heroic self-denials were secret and were continued by Jacinta and Francisco until their separate days of death. The simple and unsophisticated people of the region who believed in them came with problems and petitions as to saints already canonised, and while there is no overwhelming documentation to support such a claim, it does appear quite likely that within their own lifetimes the sacrifices and prayers of these children did purchase miraculous results.
In Fatima the village church is not far from the primary school and it became the practice of the children on their way to school to kneel and meditate before the Blessed Sacrament, referred to most always, and without affectation, as the “Hidden Jesus.” Jacinta and Francisco, with their foreknowledge of death, seemed to feel themselves exempt from the dull routine of books. Consequently they would often remain before their Hidden Jesus for many, many hours. Even here, the villagers and the visitors to town would give them no rest. They would hover close to the children, pleading with them to place their petitions before the Virgin Mother.
“They seem always to guess where we are,” Jacinta said, “and they will not let us talk with Jesus.”
But this pursuit of the children occurred not only in church.
We were met one day by a poor woman who knelt down before Jacinta begging her to request from our Lady a cure of the terrible disease with which she was afflicted. Jacinta, seeing the sick woman in such a pitiful way, tried to help her to her feet but could not. She then knelt down next to the woman and prayed three Hail Marys with her. “Our Lady will cure you,” she promised the woman, and then instructed her to get up. Day after day she kept praying for the woman until she was cured and came back to give thanks to our Lady.
There have been many indications of the value of Jacinta’s intercession while she was still alive, as witness this incident referred to in Lucia’s memoirs:
One of my aunts (Victoria), who lived in Fatima, had a son who was a real prodigal. I don’t know why, but he had some time before abandoned his father’s house and nobody knew what had become of him. In great affliction of mind my aunt came one day to Aljustrel to ask me to pray to our Lady for this son and, unable to find me, she put her request to Jacinta, who promised to comply. After some days, he came home and asked his parents’ forgiveness, and later went to Aljustrel to recount his misfortunes. Having spent all that he had stolen – according to his own story – he had been arrested and imprisoned in Torres Novas. He eventually managed to escape, and hid himself among some unknown hills and pine woods. Thinking that he was completely lost, he was seized with a sudden terror of the wind and darkness, and as a last resort fell on his knees and prayed. He declared that after a few moments Jacinta appeared and, taking him by the hand, led him on to the road which leads from Alquidao to Reguengo, making signs to him to continue on that way. At daybreak he found himself on the road to Boleiros, and recognising exactly where he was he went straight to his parents’ house, overcome with emotion.
Now he had declared that Jacinta had come to him and that he recognised her perfectly. I asked Jacinta whether she had in fact been there with him. She answered no, and that she did not even know those hills and pine woods, where he had been lost.
“I only prayed,” she said, “and asked our Lady very much to help him, because I was so sorry for our Aunt Victoria.”
This was her answer. How, then, can the fact be explained? God alone can answer.
Francisco, according to Lucia, at about this same time secured through his selfless prayers, the freedom of a man arrested for a grievous crime which, presumably, he did not commit. So strong was the evidence against the alleged felon, however, that it was not a promising task.
“Listen,” Francisco said to Lucia and Jacinta when informed of the unhappy gentleman’s case, “you two go to school and leave me alone with Hidden Jesus.”
It does seem, examining the record, that the boy had a way with him, and we should perhaps include here the success of Lucia’s prayers in behalf of her mother, who became gravely ill at this time.
It is her sister, Maria dos Anjos, who has supplied us with these details:
Our mother was so ill that we thought she would die. She had long attacks of breathlessness, and the doctor said she suffered from her heart. It was a great sorrow to us because we had just lost our father. It was then that I said to Lucia, who was sitting on a bench by the hearth:
“Listen, Lucia, father is dead and if mother dies we shall be orphans; if you really saw our Lady, ask her to make mother better.”
Lucia didn’t reply but she got up and went to her room and put on a thick woollen skirt because it was winter and raining hard, and went off in the direction of the Cova da Iria. When she came back she was carrying a handful of earth and told my sister, Gloria, to make an infusion with it for mother. She had also made a promise to our Lady to return there with her sisters and go on the knees from the street to the chapel for nine days running, and during the same time to feed nine poor children.
Gloria prepared the infusion and gave it to mother.
“What sort of tea is this?” she asked.
“It’s made of flowers,” we said, and she drank it all.
Then the attacks gradually began to get less and she no longer suffered from breathlessness, but breathed easily and well. And her heart also improved, and within a very short time she was able to get up.
She was able to work again after this and did not seem like an old woman. We began at once to go to the Cova to fulfil the promise. For nine days, after supper – because in the daytime we had to work, and also we didn’t want to be seen – we went on our knees from where the main gate is now to the little chapel. Mother also came with us, but she walked behind.
As for Francisco, a rather good glimpse of him has been provided by a former schoolmate, now a priest, who is the current director of the Seminary of Leiria:
I had the good fortune to attend the same school as Francisco Marto, from February to June of 1917. Francisco distinguished himself from the others by reason of his humility and kindness, virtues which, however, caused him much suffering, thrown as he was among companions under the influence of a teacher without Christian formation. He was very backward at his lessons, and was still in the lowest form, a misfortune which drew upon him the strictures of his teacher and schoolfellows. It is obvious, however, that he was occupied with the sublime thoughts which the angel had brought to birth in his mind, and that he cared little or nothing for the ordinary instruction of the school Francisco would humbly bow his head and, we may be sure, with his soul united to God, received the censures of his master and companions.
At the break which we had at midday he would eat his lunch and stay quietly with a few other boys until the teacher gave the sign for them to go into school again. I remember playing with him and enjoying it because Francisco was always pleasant and friendly with everyone.
In the evening he went his way and I mine which was in the opposite direction, and for this reason I do not know how he passed the rest of the day. From February to May, the life of Francisco in the school at Fatima was more or less as I have described and such was the attitude of his teachers and fellows toward him. In the last half of May the news of the apparitions spread through the village, and the attitude of the school toward him began to alter somewhat. The teacher, a good professor but a bad educator, took advantage of Francisco’s scant interest in his lessons to dub him a fraud and a liar. He never ceased to point out his defects, I don’t know whether with the intention of shaming him into greater efforts, or to induce us to take his part against the little seer.
We, mere children as we were, naturally followed the teacher’s lead, and often joined him in humiliating poor Francisco. The worst of it was that our words were sometimes translated into actions, and he sometimes had to spend the recreation period pinned against the wall unable to free himself from the ill treatment meted out to him by certain stronger boys among us. This all took place during the last half of May and the whole of June. After the long vacation I entered the seminary and lost touch with the seers….
Another burden borne patiently by Francisco was the denial to him of his treasured Hidden Jesus until the day before his death. In 1917, during the peak period of the apparitions, both Jacinta and Francisco had made their first confessions, an occasion remembered very well by Ti Marto:
About that time, it must have been after the second apparition, I took the two of them to the church to make their confessions. I went with them to the sacristy and said to Father Ferreira:
“Father, here are my two children; they want to go to confession. Your Reverence can ask them any question you like.” (I confess that I put a little malice into those words!) Then the priest replied:
“These things (the apparitions) do not belong to confession, my friend!”
“That’s true,” I said, “and if they don’t belong I needn’t bring them here again.”
But the children made their confession, though Father Ferreira thought they should wait another year for Holy Communion.
The next year, in May, they went back to be examined in the catechism.
Jacinta answered well, but Francisco got muddled somewhere in the Creed – I can’t remember where – and so in the end Jacinta was allowed to make her Communion while Francisco could not. He went home in tears, but there was nothing to be done!
From the day of his Lady’s visit to the Cova da Iria on October 13, 1917, until the morning of Francisco Marto’s death, a little less than eighteen months had passed. He must, by then, have recited all the Rosaries she had asked of him.
He first fell ill around the middle of October, 1918, together with Jacinta, his other brothers and sisters and his mother, all victims of the malignant influenza epidemic of that winter. Ti Marto alone of the family was spared, and he began, in his faithful way, to operate within the stricken household what he called his “hospital.”
When my wife went down with it too (he has rather recently recalled), I had all I could do taking care of the lot of them, going about my own work at the same time, and running all the errands as well. It kept a man on his toes, I can tell you, but God’s hand always seemed close enough to help me. I never had to beg from anyone, and somehow there was always money enough.
Francisco, along with Jacinta, seemed from the beginning to realise clearly that this illness was less a burden or punishment than a passport to heaven. If one could sift with the author through the inundating weight of evidence, he would realise that never for a moment was the supernatural out of their thoughts. For a period of two weeks, after being stricken, these youngest members of the family appeared to rally against the disease. But a relapse set in, and for Francisco, at least, it was so severe that he could move neither hand nor foot.
But unlike other victims of illness, they found the question of death or recovery robbed of its mystery. Our Lady appeared to them and dissolved any possibility of a riddle with her simple statement that she would come for Francisco first and for Jacinta not long after that. Their dry and fevered lips cracked under the strain of their smiles: There was no dirge for them, but only joy in their Lady’s words. They waited anxiously for Lucia’s next visit to their beds.
“Oh, Lucia,” Jacinta revealed to her, “our Lady was here. She came to us both. She is going to take Francisco very soon, and she had a question for me.”
“What was the question, Jacinta?”
“She asked would I like to convert more sinners, and I told her yes I would – yes, yes, I would. She said then that I must go to two hospitals, but not to be cured. I am to make further sacrifice for the love of God, and to atone for the sins of people against our Lady’s Immaculate Heart. That is what she told me, Lucia.”
“And you – you will not be with me when I go wherever it is that I must go. My mother will take me there, and I will have to remain alone.”
Of Francisco’s illness, his mother has told us this:
He took any medicine we gave him and he was never difficult. What it was he liked, or what it was that he did not like, he would not say. Just take them all – milk if I gave it, an egg if I offered that. The meanest medicines he swallowed without making a face. He was so good and cheerful that we kept feeling he was getting better, but he always smiled and told us it was no use – our Lady was coming to take him to heaven, he would say.
In January, for the second time, his condition improved – so much so that he was able to leave his bed and go out for brief periods. It made us all very hopeful, but did not seem to impress Francisco. He always told us the same thing – that we must not be deceived, and that our Lady was coming for him.
During this brief space of time when Francisco was sufficiently repaired to go on short walks by himself, his one destination was the Cova da Iria. Here, for as long as his slight store of strength would permit, he would kneel in ecstatic recollection of the Lady of the apparitions, who was to him not only the solace of his present trial, but the patroness and guarantor of the paradise he had glimpsed.
Ti Marto, looking back, recalls it was clear that some knowledge or certainty illumined the mind of his son. He was much too happy to be engaged in some marathon stage-play for which he had neither the talent nor the strength. Ti Marto became convinced that the boy would die as he so confidently and repeatedly declared. This assurance he reported to Francisco’s godmother who, in the country tradition, wanted to make a pledge of the child’s own weight in wheat should he be cured.
Thus his seeming rally from his illness did not last. He was soon back in bed and his condition grew rapidly more grave. The influenza ravaged him, and fever shrivelled and parched him like an old apricot left baking in the sun. His cheerfulness, and the smile that hovered everlastingly on his cracked lips were an agony for his parents to watch.
Lucia, of course, was better able to understand this tonic joy of hope and love that had conquered her cousin’s physical misery. Better than his parents she knew the source of Francisco’s unfailing happiness. She came faithfully each day to visit with him and with Jacinta.
“Do you suffer very much, Francisco?”
He nodded his little head. “But I do it for our Lord and our Lady,” he said. “I wish I could suffer even more, Lucia, but honestly, I can’t. Is the door closed tight?”
Lucia looked around and assured him it was. He searched then feebly but effectively among the bed-clothes until he was able to draw forth the penitential cord he had been wearing for these many, many months.
“I can’t manage it any more, Lucia. Please take it from me before my mother finds out.” He passed the coarse length of rope to his cousin who folded it and carefully kept it from the chance view of anyone entering the room. A little later on she was to accept a similar cord from the dying Jacinta, and secretly, before her own departure to the convent at Vilar, burn them in an open field consistent with the inviolate practice of all three children never to dramatise their penances and never to cheapen with pious display their love for God and His Mother.
“Lucia,” the boy said, and she turned to him again, the cord out of sight. “I haven’t much time, Lucia. Jacinta must pray very hard for sinners and for you, because you are not so lucky to be going with us. Our Lady has said that you will have to remain for many years. Pray for the Holy Father, Lucia – do you hear?”
“‘I hear, Francisco,” she said, and quietly, devotedly, remained sitting next to him.
In the fourth and most recent of her memoirs, in which Lucia, under obedience, treats of these secret things, she has interestingly emphasised that while Jacinta’s every effort seemed directed at the solitary object of converting sinners and salvaging souls from hell, the primary motive of Francisco was the direct consolation of God and of our Lady, who had seemed to him so very sad.
Lucia’s visits continued through the spring. It was the beginning of April now.
Olimpia Marto recalls:
We were always glad to see Lucia come into the house, because it was beyond the gift of anyone else to liven the days of my Jacinta. My little girl would pass hour after hour with her hands held over her face, as if to hide what she was thinking, and when I would ask her what was on her mind, she would answer, “Nothing.” But it was different, always different when Lucia came. It was her way, it was her gift to bring happiness. Like a sweep of sunshine she was, and I knew that when she was with Jacinta there were no secrets between them. They would talk and talk for hours and yet never a word of what was said were we able to catch. As soon as anyone came near, their voices would stop, and it was to all of us a great mystery.
“What was Jacinta telling you?” Olimpia would ask when Lucia was about to go home. “What were you saying to Francisco in his room?”
But there was never a violation of their most intimate common possession, the secrets told them by their Lady. Lucia would simply smile in her amiable way and go on.
Alone, the sick children prayed almost without ceasing, adding Rosary to Rosary in an unending attempt to polish each remaining hour. And then at last, in his final days, Francisco found himself unable to pray. Concentration was too difficult.
“Mother, I can’t pray; my head keeps going around and around until I do not know what I am thinking.”
“Pray with your heart then, dear,” Olimpia would advise. “It will be enough for the Lady to understand.”
His condition grew worse. The mucus thickened in his throat, and his fever, though it seemed hardly possible, rose higher; he was without ability to take any food; he weakened and weakened as death came crowding near.
“Father,” he said to Ti Marto, “I want to receive Holy Communion before I die.”
“Of course you will, son, and I will go see to it right now.”
With something less than crowning confidence, Ti Marto set off for the presbytery. Once before, Francisco, as a candidate for first Communion, had been denied his “Hidden Jesus” by Father Ferreira. But at just this time Father Ferreira was away, and in his place was Father Moreira, of Atouguia, who consented at once to come to the boy.
“On the way back to the house,” Ti Marto tells us, “we said the Rosary. I remember it very well because I had forgotten my beads and had to count the Aves on my fingers.”
Meanwhile Lucia had been hastily summoned at Francisco’s request. As his prime confidante he needed her perhaps more than any living person.
This is her own account now. Lucia speaks:
He had asked his mother and the rest of the family to leave the room because he wanted to tell me a secret. When they had gone he turned to me and said, “I am going to confession now, Lucia, and then I shall die. I want you to tell me if you have seen me commit any sin, and then I want you to ask Jacinta if she saw me commit any, either.”
“Well,” I said to him, “you were sometimes disobedient to your mother when she told you to remain at home. Sometimes you ran off to be with me; other times you ran off just to hide.”
“I know,” he said, “I did do that. Now go ask Jacinta if she remembers anything else.”
I went in to see Jacinta who listened to me gravely and gave the matter some thought.
“You can tell him,” she said, “that before our Lady ever appeared to us he stole a tostao (about a penny) from Jose Marto, of Casa Velha, and that when the Aljustrel boys threw stones at the boys from Boleiros, he threw them too.”
I went back and gave her message to Francisco and he told me, “I have confessed those already but I will confess them again. Perhaps it is because of those sins that our Lord is so sad. I will never commit them again. I’m very sorry for them.”
Joining his hands, he then said the prayer we had learned so well from our Lady: O my Jesus, forgive us and deliver us from the fires of hell; take all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need.” He then turned to me and very solemnly asked, “Lucia, will you pray to our Lord, too, and ask Him to forgive me my sins?”
“Certainly I will,” I told him, “but if our Lord had not forgiven them already, Francisco, our Lady would not have told Jacinta the other day that she was coming to take you to heaven so soon.”
It was at this time that Father Moreira arrived with Ti Marto and heard Francisco recite those little sins that loomed so large in his own mind and his fervent heart. Ti Marto, standing well aside, continued to worry whether or not the priest would give the Eucharist to his son, since he feared that Francisco in his present weakness might do less than well with the catechism questions the priest would be required to ask. But it had all gone well, he learned from the priest, and to both of them Father Moreira was able to say:
“Tomorrow I will bring our Lord.”
On the radiant spring morning of April 3, 1919, the fields of the serra were rich with flowers, and the bright day glad with the singing of birds. Francisco tried vainly to raise himself in bed when he heard the tinkling of the little bell announcing the priest’s arrival with the Sacred Host. Strength failed him, and he fell back weakly.
“You can receive our Lord lying down,” he was assured.
The priest then, wishing peace to this house and all who lived within its walls, placed the body of Christ on the tongue of the little boy who loved Him so well.
Francisco died on the following morning, at ten o’clock, when strong sunlight was pouring through the open windows of his room. It is said that his shrunken face glowed with a kind of rapture, and that with sweet willingness, and in the absence of pain, he went to his Lady and to Jesus Christ our Lord.
He was buried the following day in the little cemetery at Fatima, just across the road from the parish church. There was a nice procession. Four boys were dressed in white, and they carried the little coffin. Several men in green capes preceded the surpliced priest and gave a dressed-up touch to the occasion. Behind these, weeping, walked Lucia, and with her the members of the Marto family, all save Jacinta, herself too ill to attend.
There was at first no monument to mark his grave except a simple cross placed there by Lucia’s hand.