THE TRUE STORY
“The Lady in the Light”
by the Rev Father John De Marchi, IMC, 1952.
Re-published by Patrimonium Publishing, 2016.
It seems agreed by all who remember Francisco Marto that he was a handsome boy, and photographs confirm this. The one or two that have been most published present him at his slick and Sunday best in an outfit almost dudish. The boy’s glance at the camera in these pictures appears both solemn and suspicious, but whether of the photographer or his own Sunday clothes, it’s difficult to know.
Sister Lucia, the surviving seer of Fatima, in her accounts of him reports that unlike his spirited sister, Jacinta, with her capacity for frolic and self-assertion, Francisco at the age of nine was such a calculating and determined pacifist that a lack of courage would appear to be the only explanation. He was devoted to games and the company of other children, yet by Lucia’s testimony was without any appetite for the routine conflicts and tests of will that go with children’s games. He was either indifferent to his personal rights or unwilling to defend them. When he was robbed of a treasured possession, Lucia recalls, he would not even protest.
Once each year, we are told, there was glad commotion in Aljustrel when Lucia’s, Francisco’s, and Jacinta’s godmother Teresa made her annual trip to the seacoast. There’s evidence that this good lady must have been godmother to everyone in sight and faithfully remembered to return from her journeys with a gift for each child she had sponsored. One of her gifts to Francisco was a lovely handkerchief on which was stamped the image of Our Lady of Nazare. He prized it dearly and displayed it with pride among his friends. But a tragic thing occurred. His precious handkerchief was pirated by one of his companions. Investigation followed. Faithful friends went sleuthing, and the culprit was revealed. But on Francisco’s part there was no call to arms. “Let him keep it,” he said; “I do not mind.” He gave way easily and, it is said in further accusation, with a smile.
Lucia has confessed that his docility and habitual yielding inspired her less than it annoyed her:
He would play with all the children without showing preference, and he never quarrelled. But if something happened that he did not like, he would sometimes leave the game. If asked why he left, he would reply, “Because you’re bad,” or simply, “Because I want to.” And although he tried his best at games, he was dull to play with because he almost always lost. His peaceful temperament sometimes used to get very much on my nerves. If I ordered him to sit on a stone, he would meekly do so, as if I had to be obeyed. Later I would be sorry for my impatience and go to him, and he would always be as friendly as if nothing had happened.
The softness of his nature is confirmed by Ti Marto who recalls that Francisco was an affectionate, obedient boy and rarely, if ever, an obstacle in the path of family discipline. But Ti Marto fails to agree with Lucia that he was a thornless personality at home, or a timid defender of his interests. He also dissents from Lucia’s view of Francisco’s and Jacinta’s comparative courage.
This is the view of Ti Marto:
He was more courageous than Jacinta. He didn’t always have as much patience, and often, for small reason, he would run around like a young bull calf. He was anything but a coward. He would go out at night, alone in the dark, without a sign of fear. He played with lizards and snakes and would roll them around a stick and make them drink out of holes in the rocks. Fearlessly he hunted hares and foxes and moles.
Senhora Olimpia recalls Francisco’s talent for capturing lizards and other portable wildlife that are unpopular indoors. She says that his habit was to bring these specimens into the house while her own inclination was to sprint for safety. She marvelled then at the boldness of her son, and today states with certainty that he was never afraid.6 Francisco was also devoted to practical jokes that carried the risk of strong reprisal, such as dropping odd and inedible items into the open mouth of his sleeping brother John, and prior to the apparitions, his parents attest, he had once or twice refused to say his prayers, in a rebellious mood that Ti Marto was quick to correct.
[6. The fact that Francisco’s parents differ from Lucia in this measuring of his spirit and fortitude can probably be psychologically explained. How often do active and strong-willed children become subdued, even apathetic, in the presence of one person who exercises a special domination, as was obviously the case with Lucia and Francisco? In her presence, of which he was always so strongly aware, he could never have exposed all the sides of his personality. Such relations between children are not unusual.]
But kindness appears to have been a controlling trait. He gave warmth and pity to all the creatures of earth. Once, it is known, he paid the great price of the only penny he possessed, or was for some time likely to acquire, to purchase freedom for a bird another boy held captive. The actual plundering of a nest filled him with horror. Music thrilled him, and he is said to have been adept at coaxing tunes from a reed pipe, in accompaniment to which both Jacinta and Lucia were happy to sing and to dance. Indications are strong that Francisco was a nice little fellow and, on the evidence, at nine years of age, neither a hoodlum nor a shining saint.