The Shepherd Children
In the early spring of 1917, Lucia dos Santos , Francisco Marto, and Jacinta Marto were simply children. Jacinta was known to pout if she did not get her own way; Francisco would rather play his flute than say his Rosary; and Lucia helped invent a shortcut to praying the Rosary by reciting the words “Hail Mary” in lieu of the entire prayer.
The children lived in the harsh Serra de Aire mountain region of Portugal, a rocky peasant farming area that seemed, progressively, more like Palestine in the time of Jesus Christ than it did the nearby bustling modern city of Lisbon. Here, creature comforts were few. There was no electricity, gas, running water or indoor toilet.
While most of the world awaited the outcome of World War I , Portugal was settling into a new ruling revolutionary government that was both anti-religious and anti-clerical. But in the children’s hamlet of Aljustrel in the Serra de Aire, about 100 miles north of Lisbon, the simple peasant people remained devout and faithful. They were used to hard labor, working from sunup till sundown in the harsh, rocky soil.
Each morning Lucia, the eldest of the trio at age 10, would wake at dawn and dress in the usual peasant fashion: a long-sleeved blouse of coarse white cotton, a long colored wool skirt that hung to her ankles, and a long headscarf that fell to her waist. Then she’d walk her flock up the lane to meet her cousins, Francisco, 9, and his sister Jacinta, 7, and they’d combine their sheep to graze.
One of their favorite places was the Cova da Iria, a small bowl-shaped cove in the mountaintops. There was a muddy pond to water the sheep, Holm-oak trees to provide shade from the blazing sun, and shrubs and hiding places for the children to play. The children said their Rosary before eating a simple lunch of bread, cheese and olives.
It was on such a typical day that Our Lady of the Rosary first appeared to the children in a blaze of light atop a Holm-oak tree in the Cova da Iria. For six months, from May 13 through October 13, 1917, the Lady relayed three divine secrets and instructions to rid the world of sorrow and restore Christian devotion. Jacinta
But the children suffered greatly at the hands of the disbelieving ruling class, who ridiculed and briefly imprisoned them.
Jacinta, who was frail and delicate for a peasant, was the most affected by the apparitions, especially visions of hell shown to the children on July 13. But Jacinta was gifted with a pretty face and spiritual understanding far beyond her years, and so became the most loved and revered of the Fatima prophets.
She was a devout child and loved the little lambs, often carrying them home across her shoulders. Once while taking the herd back home, Jacinta walked in the middle of the herd, cradling a lamb in her arms. She told Lucia she wanted to look like a portrait of Jesus in which He is amid the flock, carrying a lamb.
Before the apparitions began, Jacinta could be a trying playmate: pouty and defiant one minute, sweet and timid the next. Afterwards, she wanted people to have devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary to save their souls. Fearing many sinners would not repent Jacinta gladly suffered great pain and illness, offering her sufferings to the Lord to save their souls.
Francisco also was frail for a peasant, but handsome and musical, which made his popular. He loved playing his flute while others danced. He was a compassionate boy who could not bear the sufferings of others. His main concern after the apparitions began was to console the Lord, whom he felt must be sad from all of the sufferings of the world.
A quiet and submissive boy by nature, Francisco was agreeable to a fault; Lucia once noted that if he’d won a game and someone challenged him, Francisco would give in, saying, “You think you won? That’s all right! I don’t mind!” She said that if Francisco had lived to manhood, his greatest defect would have been his attitude of “never mind!”
While Francisco lay dying of the Spanish flu at age 11 — fulfilling Our Lady of Fatima’s prophesy that She would soon come for him — he did not cry out in pain; he told Lucia that he did so for the Lord, to ease His sadness.
Jacinta died a year later, alone in a hospital, fulfilling yet another Fatima prophecy.
Lucia was the storyteller of the trio, the most outgoing among them, and a leader among the other children of Aljustrel. Francisco and Jacinta preferred Lucia’s company to other children and often sought her out. Lucia also was the least attractive of the three. She is described as chunky and homely, with a square dark face and overpowering eyebrows that overshadowed her beautiful eyes.
After the deaths of her cousins Lucia was lost and alone, and so on May 13, 1921, four years after the first apparition, she accepted an offer to go to private school run by the Dorothean order of nuns. In 1934 Lucia took her final vows as a nun, becoming Sister Maria Lucia of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart. She later transferred to the Carmelite order where she remained a Carmelite nun at the Carmels Santa Theresa in Coimbra , Portugal .
Excluded from the world at her own request, Sister Lucia has met with only a handful of visitors each year since. She has unwillingly written her life story and exposed the three secrets of Fatima only at the bequest of the Catholic Church, preferring to remain in isolation, poverty and prayer.
Sister Lucia’s last reported vision of the Virgin Mary came on June 13, 1929 as she prayed in the chapel of her convent. Mary asked that the Holy Father, in union with all the bishops of the world, consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in order to save that country from atheism and communism. And so from her convent cell, Sister Lucia waged a written campaign.
Finally on March 25, 1984 Pope John Paul II consecrated Russia and the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with bishops throughout the world participating. Within a year Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev visited Rome to pay his respects to the Holy Father, and by 1989, Sister Lucia was able to finally write: “The terms for the conversion of Russia have been met. God will not let us down.”
In the years since, both Francisco and Jacinta have been nominated for sainthood and await final canonization. Sister Maria Lucia dos Santos , passed away in her cloistered convent in Coimbra, Portugal on Sunday February 13, 2005, at the age of 97.