“The Lady in the Light”

by the Rev Father John De Marchi, IMC, 1952.

Re-published by Patrimonium Publishing, 2016.

Parents of Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta

Francisco Marto and his little sister, Jacinta, were Lucia’s first cousins. They lived up the road a bit on that rocky and dusty lane that leads through Aljustrel. They were the sixth and seventh children of their good and durable parents, Manuel Pedro Marto and his wife, Olimpia, who became and have remained the warm, valued friends of the author of this book.

We first met Manuel Marto in 1943, when brought to his house by Father Carlos de Azevedo, the director of the publication, Voz da Fatima. We got to Aljustrel by walking through fields that in proper season cry out with beauty, but have always been poor and stubborn under that gay dress of flowers worn in summer. What fertility these acres possess was gained the hard way, by the sweat of toiling peasants through succeeding generations. When the Lord sends rain there is a harvest of wheat for June, and in September the land yields back to the worker a fair measure of maize, and grapes for making wine. The olive groves are treasured for the oil they give, and there are the sheep. These things together provide the total and uncomplicated economy of this mountain range, or serra as it is called.

Father Carlos led us past several cottages to one that was hardly different from the rest. These dwellings, almost always of sun-stained stucco, are one story high, and to modern, metropolitan eyes would at first glimpse, suggest all the comforts of an abandoned mineshaft. The neighbourhood lacks, in a loose order of its under-privilege: plumbing, electricity, central heating, refrigeration, television, radios and, except in modest and occasional amounts, cash-money. The people here are neither gadget-blest nor gadget-bound, but sufficient to the tasks and needs of every day and, consequently, free. To sympathisers they would likely say: weep for yourselves.

A group of children (probably relatives) were playing in front of Ti Marto’s house that afternoon in 1943. Since it wasn’t Sunday, they were shoeless, and by late afternoon as efficiently filmed with earth as young potatoes rooted from the field. Father Carlos asked one of them, “Is Ti Marto home?”

“Yes, Father.”

But Senhor Marto had already heard us and had come to the gate. “

“Come in – please do,” he said to Father Carlos. In the Portuguese custom he leaned to kiss our hands, then led us into his straw-strewn yard. “I was just going with the donkey to get some firewood,” he explained.

Senhor Marto is a spry and ancient gentleman who gets around. He was past seventy then, and is past eighty now, yet the chances are fine that he will still outlive whatever donkey is currently toting the wood. He is a lean and straight-standing man whom work has fibred like an old stalk of asparagus. He is sincere and kind, and as modest as a prayer should be. Like most of the working people on the serra he can neither read nor write, yet is an intelligent and learned man. A stranger to books, he does not know the intellectual fashions or those choking deposits of pride that erudition too often leaves in the minds and spirits of men who have believed themselves to be in chaste pursuit of God. As a priest, I have been astonished and humbled by his knowledge of theology. Do not ask me how it came to him, but do believe that in the things that matter most he speaks with Pauline clarity, as though the lightning of the Lord had struck him, too. This is Marto, the father of Francisco and Jacinta. In this story he will be our witness many times.

On my first visit to Ti Marto’s house I was welcomed into the parlour or living room. It is humble here but not without comfort and a certain abiding charm. It is dominated by the hearth that heats the house when heat is required, and where, at all times of the year, the cooking is done. There are some adornments. A table along one wall holds a variety of religious objects. There are pictures, chief among them a likeness of Pius XII, his hand raised in fatherly blessing to the people of this house.

Ti Marto called from the parlour, “Wife – come here; Father Carlos has brought a priest from Rome.”

Senhora Olimpia came in. She moves rather briskly, and she is lively and spirited, and a few years older than her husband. She was the widowed mother of two children before she married Ti Marto, and had seven more by him. She came bearing a great heap of grapes, fresh-picked for her visitors, and a basin of water and a towel for the washing of our hands.

“Please eat the grapes,” she said. “We do not need them. Neither my husband nor I drink wine.” She looked at Ti Marto in pleased appraisal, as though this were a virtue we would not trip over very often. “Sometimes on Sunday,” she explained, “he stays talking in the village, but he never goes into a tavern.”

“I would like to hear about your Francisco and your Jacinta,” I said.

We began to talk, as we have talked a great deal ever since. This is not an embellished story, but a restrained and honest one, told with love and in good conscience by people who have been very close to God.


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