THE BEATIFICATION OF THE LITTLE SHEPHERDS OF FATIMA
FRANCISCO AND JACINTA MARTO
1. The beatification of the Little Shepherds Francisco and Jacinta Marto – which is to occur on May 13, 2000, in Fatima – is for all of us, bishops and faithful of the Church in Portugal, a cause for joy and praise to God.
It is a great honor for all the Portuguese to have Pope John Paul II once again at the Shrine of Fatima.
This event will enrich our celebrations of Jubilee Year 2000, which, in the words of Holy Father John Paul II, “intends to be a great prayer of praise and thanksgiving specially for the gift of the Incarnation of the Son of God and of the Redemption worked by Him”. Amongst the Jubilee reasons for the Church to be thanking God, the Holy Father mentions the “fruits of holiness, which ripened in the lives of so many men and women”. Adults and children!
The recognition of the holiness of the two children from Fatima will lead us to glorify God and to live the Christian faith with greater zeal. The two Little Shepherds further enriched the spiritual treasure of the Church, from which we all benefit.
We dare to invite all the Portuguese to get interested in the life and testimony of little Francisco and Jacinta Marto. The road they traveled, the faith they showed and the love they lived, specially after the Apparitions, must surely raise our interest. In times contrary to the practice of the faith, their lives give testimony to the Mystery and its power. What in them and through them is revealed leaves us astonished: God’s power transforms human frailty into strength.
In 1992, on the occasion of the 75 years of the Apparitions of Fatima, we wrote a Letter on “Fatima and the Church’s Mission” and pointed to the Little Shepherds as a sign. Today we want to stress the significance of the beatification of Little Shepherds Francisco and Jacinta Marto.
Life and Christian experience of the Little Shepherds
2. The Congregation for the Cause of the Saints sums up the biography of the seers of Fatima this way: “The Venerable Servants of God Francisco and Jacinta Marto were born in Aljustrel, a village within the Parish of Fatima, Diocese of Leiria-Fatima. Francisco was born on June 11, 1908; his sister Jacinta on March 11, 1910. In their humble family, they learned how to know and to praise God and the Virgin Mary. In the year 1917, while tending the flock, together with cousin Lucia dos Santos, they had the singular grace of seeing several times the Blessed Mother of God, in Cova da Iria. From that time on, the Servants of God had no other desire than to do the will of God in everything and to contribute to the salvation of souls and peace in the world, through prayer and penance. In a short time they reached extraordinary Christian perfection. Francisco went to sleep in the Lord on April 4, 1919, and Jacinta on February 20, 1920”.
Seer Lucia dos Santos, in her Memoirs, relates and gives testimony as to how, after the apparitions, her cousins Francisco and Jacinta sought to live in accordance with the gifts they had received from God. Now, more than before, their lives focus on God, in an extraordinary way. Their first purpose becomes to love God and to please Him in everything. Therefore, they dedicate a lot of time to prayer and accept sacrifices and sufferings, which they offer up for sinners. The power of God and their fascination of God and Our Lady are such that, even in the face of threats of death, they show extraordinary fortitude and keep on confirming and defending the apparitions which they had received. The love for sinners, the sick and the poor was constant and it was expressed in attitudes and initiatives: prayer, giving out their own food, visiting and offering words of consolation and even advice.
It impresses us the way two children live through the illnesses that struck them and how they face death, which they knew, ahead of time, was coming soon. Francisco says farewell to Lucia saying: “Goodbye, until (we meet in) Heaven!…”. And Jacinta, already very ill, consoles her mother with these words: “Don’t worry, Mommy! I am going to Heaven. Once there I’ll pray a lot for you”.
Lucia says that, when she was next to the cousin, she felt “what one ordinarily feels when next to a holy person who in everything seems to breathe God”. And she adds: “Jacinta always looked serious, modest and friendly, which seemed to reveal the presence of God in all her actions and which is (only) proper of persons already late in years and of great virtue.
The lives of these two children are a convincing testimony of how divine grace can transform people, even children, by exercising in them its power and communicating to them goodness. What is impossible to men is possible to God.
The Message of the Apparitions
3. Both in the apparitions of the Angel and in those of the Virgin Mary, the message and the experience of the loving presence of God are inseparable. The seers are enveloped in the divine light communicated to them by the Lady. And they see themselves in God, as Lucia relates what happened to them on May 13: “When She pronounced these last words (‘God’s grace will be your comfort’), She opened for the first time Her hands, thus communicating to us a light so intense…that we saw ourselves in God”.
It is the divine light that engraves on the children’s hearts the message they receive. This was understood by Francisco, who, facing the interest of people, tells the cousin: “These people get so happy when we tell them that Our Lady told us to pray the Rosary and that you should learn how to read! Imagine what would happen if they knew what She showed us in God, in Her Immaculate Heart, in that great light!”.
The divine experience lived by the children is an integral part of the Message of the apparitions. The central element is the call to a change of life, to conversion, by following the ways of God. In the words of Mary is patent the merciful face of God, Who wants everybody to be saved.
God entrusts the children with a mission in favor of men: to intercede before God for sinners and to pray for peace in the world. Lucia stays in the world to make Mary known and to promote the devotion to Her Immaculate Heart.
The Message includes also the announcement of peace for the world. The Angel calls himself Angel of Peace and invites us not to be afraid. Our Lady announces the possibility and the means to obtain peace for men. One of those means, perhaps the most powerful, is prayer, the indispensable food of Christian life.
The Church can’t ignore Fatima. That is what the Holy Father said during his pilgrimage to the Shrine in 1982: “the content of the call of Our Lady of Fatima is so deeply rooted in the Gospel and in the entire Tradition that the Church feels questioned by that Message”.
The significance of the beatification
4. The beatification of these two children carries with it the confirmation, on the part of the Church, of the credibility of the apparitions of Fatima. If, as Jesus says, by the fruits one knows the tree (see Mt. 12, 33), then the holiness of the Little Shepherds, recognized and declared by the Church, certifies that God powerfully intervened in their lives and that they committed themselves to live, in a more authentic way, the Christian faith.
Since we are talking about children, this beatification recognizes that they too can live heroically the Christian virtues and be an example to the Church’s members. More, they too can be in charge of certain tasks in the Church. It is the Holy Father himself who says so: “Like Jesus, in the Gospel, places special trust in children, thus His Mother Mary has reserved for the little ones, throughout history, Her maternal loving care. Just think of Saint Bernadette of Lourdes, of the children of La Salette and, in our century, of the Little Shepherds of Fatima (…). It is true: Jesus and His Mother often choose children in order to entrust to them great tasks in the life of the Church and of mankind. (…) The Redeemer of mankind seems to share with them the solicitude for others”.
Today’s faithful – children, youths and adults – may find in Francisco and Jacinta Marto remarkable examples of integral, responsible and heroic life of faith, which can be an incentive to a better Christian life. With this beatification, the Church “presents to the faithful – for their imitation, veneration and invocation – men and women who shined for their charity and other evangelic virtues”. It is the case with Francisco and Jacinta. These children have become intercessors.
The capacity and the power of intercession of children, already during their lives on Earth, are recognized by the Church. As a matter of fact, Pope John Paul II states: “What enormous power that of the prayer of children! It becomes a model for the adults themselves: to pray with simple and absolute confidence means to pray like children. (…) It is to your prayer, dear friends, – the Holy Father writes to children – that I wish to entrust the problems of your family, the problems of all families in the world”. If we recognize this in children still living, how much more can we expect from the intercession of children the Church declares to be Saints?!
This event contains appeals to the Church in Portugal
5. The beatification of the two Little Shepherds of Fatima constitutes – it has been already said – a gift to the Church, which stimulates her to praise and thanksgiving. But this event is also a divine sign carrying some appeals that require the commitment of the entire people of God, beginning with us, bishops.
The first appeal is for us – in imitation of the seers – to recognize and accept the Apparitions and the Messages of the Virgin Mary at Fatima as an incentive to living more intensely our Christian faith, hope and charity, which are rooted in our Baptism.
The second appeal is for us to recognize that children are models to youngsters and adults. The Holy Father says: “Doesn’t Jesus present to us the child as a model also for adults? In the child there is something that can’t be missing in the one wishing to enter the Kingdom of Heaven”.
The mission of the Little Shepherds reminds us that children also have tasks to do in the Church and in society. This is so important today, when the child is esteemed, which is shown by the affection, care and attention it receives, the rights recognized to it, the education it is offered. Holy Father John Paul II pleads: “We must recognize that also to the infants and adolescents are opened precious possibilities both for the building of the Church and for the humanization of society”.
The beatification reminds the members of the Church that holiness is a vocation common to all and a characteristic of God’s People. Therefore, it is important to accept the stimulus that this event gives us to commit ourselves to the sanctification of our lives, to openness and cooperation with the Holy Spirit, Who acts in all the faithful.
The example of the new Blesseds ought to lead us to live our love for the Church and to be actively solidary with all men. The ecclesial community will, therefore, manifest itself constantly through unity, sharing, participation in the life and celebrations of the community, in collaboration with others, in the obedience to the shepherds and in being in tune with the Church. Charity towards every man will lead each faithful and each Christian community to be committed to openness and to lend a hand to the most needy.
Fatima and the Little Shepherds are spokesmen of the maternal invitation of Mary to acceptance, gratuitous love, trust, purity of life and heart and to the offering of oneself to God and neighbor, in an attitude of solidarity and unbreakable faith.
This beatification reminds us still of the ultimate vocation of the Church and of the Communion of Saints. And rekindles in us the desire to prepare, during our journey through time, for the encounter of life without end.
6.In concluding this Note, we wish to address an invitation for everyone to participate in the celebrations of the beatification of the Little Shepherds, in Fatima, and in the pastoral ministry of the young ones, who are also called to holiness and to be apostles.
In each community, those in charge of the pastoral ministry should engage in the initiatives they may find opportune in order to make the new Blesseds known and to promote the imitation of their virtues. Adoration and contemplation must figure amongst the activities to be promoted, since they were high in the Little Shepherds’ list.
Since we admire the testimony of Francisco and Jacinta, let us commit ourselves to follow Christ with higher fidelity.
To the “Lady of the Message”, Who communicated to the Seers of Fatima the appeals from God, we entrust all the faithful, to whom we address this Pastoral Note. We invoke the intercession of the Blessed Mother and of Blesseds Francisco and Jacinta Marto over everyone.
Lisbon, March 25, 2000