By Jim Dunning
(This article was originally published in "Irelands Own" magazine. The webmaster would like to gratefully thank the author, Jim Dunning, for his kind permission in reprinting it here.)
Francisco was born on 11th June 1908, an elder brother of Jacinta and cousin to Lucia. During the Apparitions in 1917 he heard nothing and had to rely on Lucia and Jacinta to tell him what was said by the Lady who appeared to them. Indeed, he did not even see her until the second Apparition in June.
In “The Message of Fatima” by Fr. Martindale, S.J., he is described as a sturdy little boy with a round face, small mouth and a well-formed chin. He liked to hunt snakes, lizards and moles, alarming his mother when he brought them back home. Everyone found him easy going, not caring too much about anything. He loved flowers and the effects of light, especially at sunrise and sunset. His favourite occupation was playing the flute. He imitated birds but would never take them from their nests. He once ran all the way home to collect the equivalent of twopence to persuade another boy to release a bird he’d caught. A sensitive child, when preparing for his First Communion, he got muddled in reciting the Creed and was sent home in tears by the priest.
After Our Lady’s appeal to the three children to offer themselves to God and submit to suffering in reparation for sins, they began giving their lunch to the sheep and then to poor children. Francisco climbed a tree to pick acorns for them to eat, together with pine cone hearts, roots and blackberries. They also started saying the Rosary in earnest. The effect of the Apparitions on Francisco was to create a fervent desire “to console” Our Lord. On one occasion when he went missing and was found praying behind a rock, Lucia asked him what he was doing. ‘I was thinking of God who is so sad because of all the sins: if only I could comfort him!’
When gaoled by the local Mayor, a Freemason named Santos, for refusing to divulge the Secret conveyed by the Lady, the children knelt down to say the Rosary together. Other inmates joined them, one of whom kept his hat on. ‘When you pray,’ Francisco admonished him, ‘you should take your hat off.’ The man threw it down and Francisco put it on a bench.
Threatened with being boiled alive, Jacinta was taken away first. Francisco said a Hail Mary for her so she wouldn’t be frightened. He was not to know that the administrator was bluffing; he had been prepared to die rather than talk ‘If they kill us, we’ll soon be in Heaven!’
In October, 1918, just a year after the Miracle of the Sun, the Spanish influenza epidemic affected the whole Marto family, with the exception of the father, affectionately known to everyone as Uncle Marto. Francisco was docile during his illness and never complained. He was convinced Our Lady would soon come to take him to heaven.
In January, 1919, he managed to walk as far as the Cova where the Apparitions had taken place, in order to pray there. Finally, at the beginning of April, he grew so weak he could not say his Rosary, and asked if he could receive Holy Communion. Before doing so he asked Lucia and Jacinta if they could remember any sins he had committed. Lucia reminded him of small acts of disobedience; Jacinta remembered him stealing a penny and throwing stones at a rival gang from another village. Francisco said he had already confessed those things, but if he didn’t die he would never sin again. Lucia agreed to pray for him, assuring him Jesus must already have forgiven him as Our Lady had said she’d be coming soon to take him to heaven.
The priest heard Francisco’s confession on the evening of 2nd April and brought Communion to him the next morning. Unable to sit up, he received his first and last Communion lying down. Opening his eyes, he asked: ‘When will you bring me the Hidden Jesus again?’ It was a description he always used when talking of the Host in the Tabernacle. Lucia remained with him all day. During the night he called to his mother: ‘Look at that lovely light by the door.’ And then, ‘Now I can’t see it any more.’
On April 4th, at 10 in the morning, his face lit up, he smiled, and then died without any effort. He was just two months short of his eleventh birthday.
Francisco’s remains were buried in the cemetery at Fatima, but later they were transferred to the Sanctuary built on the very spot where Our Lady had appeared. When his coffin was opened, on 3rd March, 1952, the Rosary that had been placed in his hand at death was found embedded in his fingers. The little shepherd had certainly kept his promise to say as many Rosaries as Our Lady wanted! As for his ambitions, his wish to go to heaven was not for his own sake. ‘Soon Jesus will come and take me to heaven with Him and then I shall always be able to comfort Him.’
The preparatory canonical process for Francisco’s beatification began in 1949. On 13th May, 1989, Pope John Paul II approved the decree on the Heroic Virtues of the two Servants of God, Francisco and Jacinta , granting each of them the title of “Venerable”. At Fatima on 13th May, 2000, the 83rd anniversary of the first Apparition, the Pope declared them “Blessed”.
After the Apparitions began in 1917, Francisco had made it clear that he wanted to suffer as Our Lady requested. He resisted the attempts of the parish priest to make him deny what had happened. He deprived himself of food and drink for days at a time during hot weather and wore a thick rope round his waist. He prayed to console God and honour the Mother of the Lord, gradually progressing along the path of sanctity. He provides a remarkable example of a young child living a life of heroic virtue, something that should give present-day parents the confidence to encourage holiness in their own children.
~Blessed Francisco Marto, pray for us!
For more information on the Fatima children, see Blessed Jacinta Marto and also Sister Lucia dos Santos. For more information on the events of Fatima, see The Secrets of Fatima.
-Jim Dunning lives in the United Kingdom. His hobbies include watching rugby and writing short stories and religious articles.