The life of Ven. Francisco Marto shows us the proper and true Catholic devotion to the angels, the saints and Mary, the Queen of all. Francisco was awed at the beauty and goodness of the angel and of the Mother of God. But it was especially Jesus that occupied his attention.
It is interesting to see that Lucia described Francisco quite otherwise than his father did after he had left this world. Lucia saw a boy of phlegmatic and compliant nature; yielding toward others, one who played indifferently with any of the children, never quarreling, not demanding his rights.
His father said: “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….”
Francisco’s brother John, still living, indicated to me that Francisco risked scoldings when he had a mind to carry out some practical joke. Like the time John was sleeping with his mouth open near the stove, and Francisco dropped a chip of wood into it.
His father recalled that once or twice he refused to say his prayers because he was in a rebellious mood. He was strongly corrected. His father saw him defending his interest with a strong will. Both Lucia and his father agree on certain basic things.
According to his father he had a gentle nature, he was affectionate, obedient and seldom disturbed the family peace. Lucia said, “He would play with all the children without showing preference.” When Lucia was overbearing with him, he would obey and then she would be sorry for her impatience and go to him, “and he would always be as friendly as if nothing had happened.”
We can detect here a spirit of vivaciousness and basic humility with a bit of self-will. If tempered and open to the Holy Spirit this will give us one who indeed has a spirit of contemplation.
It has always been a point of interest that Francisco never heard the angel or Our Blessed Mother speak but he saw them. One time he said to Lucia: “You spoke to the angel; what did he say?” His question surprised Lucia. “Didn’t you hear the angel speak then?” she asked. “No, I saw that he spoke to you. I heard what you said but I didn’t hear what he said.”
Both Lucia and Jacinta felt so awed and lacking in strength that they refused to speak about the angel until some days later when their strength returned. When Lucia finally told Francisco all that the angel had said, he could not understand everything. He had to ask her questions to explain what “Almighty” meant and answer his question, “And what is the meaning of the saying, ‘The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications’?”
What we have here is the making of a very young contemplative saint. Now the strength of Francisco was drained too with the experience of the angel but he said “What does it matter? The angel is more important than anything. Let us think about him!”
During the final angelic apparition the angel gave Lucia the Host and her two younger cousins the chalice to drink from. After this apparition Francisco questioned again: “Oh, Lucia, the angel gave you Holy Communion, but what was it he gave Jacinta and me?” It was Jacinta who answered his question. “It was the same,” she said. “It was Holy Communion. Didn’t you see that it was the Blood that fell from the Host?”
Although he was in deep meditation, and it was difficult to speak, he said, “I felt that God was in me, but I did not understand in what way.” The three little shepherds knelt down and remained that way for a long time saying the prayer to the Holy Trinity. They were physically very weak each time after the angel appeared and wanted to keep silence and meditate on God. It was after this encounter that the friendship between Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco became very close and greatly spiritual.
Recall how, when Our Lady first appeared, Francisco did not immediately see her. He knew that Lucia and Jacinta were seeing something very special. Our Lady then told Lucia to tell Francisco to say the Rosary and he would see the beautiful Lady from heaven.
He took out his rosary and had said about five or six Hail Marys when he could see the beautiful heavenly Lady bathed in brilliant light, brighter than the sun. Was not Our Lady in this incident again leading Francisco to become more of the contemplative? He must think, inquire, pray.
When Lucia asked if Francisco would go to heaven too, Our Lady said, “Yes, but first he must say many Rosaries.” Learning this, Francisco cried out excitedly: “Oh, Our Lady, I will say all the Rosaries you wish!” Note “Our” Lady. We must not act as if she is only “My” Lady. She is the Mother of us all; Mother of the Church.
Rejoice if others are drawing people to Jesus through Mary. Rejoice if the work of others seems to bear even more fruit than your own hard efforts which may go unnoticed.
I once asked John Marto, Francisco’s brother, if he thought Francisco was holier than himself when he was a boy. He answered, “No. Not until I noticed he was always saying the Rosary. Then I would go and hide from him so that I didn’t have to see him always praying that Rosary.”
Francisco the Contemplative
Francisco the contemplative had no problem keeping to himself the appearance of the beautiful Lady from heaven. Remember Lucia’s strong admonitions. They must keep all quiet lest the roof cave in. She had an experience a couple years earlier with several girls when they saw the vague appearance of an angel and the other girls talked and got into trouble. So Lucia cautioned especially Jacinta. How disgusted Francisco was with his younger sister. “Oh, Lucia, Jacinta went and told everybody at home what happened.”
Sometimes when Lucia and Jacinta would be at play, Francisco would go off by himself to pray the Rosary. One time when Lucia found him atop a rock and asked what he had been doing up there all this time, he answered: “I was thinking about God, who is so offended by the innumerable sins committed. What would I not give to be able to console Him.” Francisco was very taken up with the desire to console God, so offended by sin. The spirit of contemplation sank more deeply into his being. Pressed by his sister and cousin to come play, he would hold up his rosary beads. He would say “Afterwards! Don’t you remember that I must say many Rosaries before I can go to heaven?”
The contemplative Francisco was also very logical. When Lucia had been convinced that maybe the apparitions were a trick of the devil and that she was not going to return to the Cova da Iria on July 13, Francisco said, “It is a pity. Why do you think like that about the matter? Don’t you see that it can’t be the demon? God, Our Lord, is already so hurt by the sins committed. If you do not go He will become sadder still. Decide once for all! . . . Courage! Didn’t Our Lady say that we would have much to suffer in reparation for the numerous sins committed against Our Lord and her Immaculate Heart which hurt so much? And you are going about so sad, when you could offer up this suffering in reparation. We should be pleased.” Quite a contemplative.
Our Divine Lord took up his Cross to redeem us with interior joy and wanted to share his joy with us. Joy, even in suffering was the way of Jesus Christ and the way to discover the deeper secrets of spirituality.
One day Lucia asked Francisco which he liked best, to console Our Lord or to convert sinners to prevent more souls from going to hell. Francisco did not have to hesitate to answer that question. “I prefer to console Our Lord. Don’t you remember last month how Our Lady became so sad when she asked us not to offend Our Lord who was already so offended? I want to console Our Lord, and then to convert sinners so that they won’t offend Him any more.”
To Console Our Lord
One day when Jacinta and Lucia came into his room, he asked them not to talk much as he had a bad headache. Jacinta told him not to forget to offer it up for sinners. He answered: “Yes, but first of all I am offering it up to console Our Lord and Our Lady, then for sinners and the Holy Father.”
All three children received the same messages from heaven. Yet, each of them had a special part of it they stressed, while not forgetting the other parts. Jacinta’s main desire was to convert sinners and save souls from going to hell, where they suffer so much and forever. Francisco preferred to think mostly of consoling Our Lord and Our Lady, both of whom seemed so sad at sin. His great reverence for God was seen in asking one of the men prisoners to take his hat off when they prayed. Of the threat of boiling oil the boy said: “If they kill us, as they say they intend doing, we will be in heaven in a few minutes’ time! How lucky we are! I do not mind anything. I hope Jacinta is not afraid! . . .”
When his parents began to send him to the Boleiros school, he knew that he would go to heaven soon anyway. Very often therefore, instead of going to school, he’d go only as far as the Fatima church. He would say to Lucia: “You go on to school while I stay here in the church. It is not worth my while learning to read, as I will soon be going to heaven. Call for me on your return.”
Francisco would remain in church the entire school day. He’d go right up to the altar, immediately before the Hidden Jesus in the tabernacle. He would place his arms on the altar. Kneeling, he would adore his Lord and God there present. There he would console his God.
On December 23, 1918, Francisco developed bronchial pneumonia. He said he would go to heaven soon and added: “Oh, when I am there I will console Jesus and Our Lady a great deal!”
A Special Presence
People felt an experience of being in the presence of God when they came near him, especially in his last days. They experienced something of the supernatural and said that to enter his room was like entering a church.
After meticulously examining his conscience and making a good confession, Francisco, near death, received Holy Communion from the priest who came to his home. After receiving the Hidden Jesus he lay for a long time with his eyes shut, making a good thanksgiving. “Today,” he said to Jacinta, suffering from the same illness, “I am happier than you are, for I have the Hidden Jesus in my heart!” The evening before he died Lucia came to see him for a last farewell. She said, “Good-bye, Francisco. If you die during the night, do not forget me up there!”
“You may rest assured, I will never forget you,” and he took hold of her hand and looked at Lucia for a long time with tears in his eyes. “Good-bye then, Francisco, until we meet in heaven.”
What faith, what love, what depths even children are capable of in the spiritual life. We must never fail in offering children the fullness of true faith or hinder the workings of God in their tender souls. And to us in the Apostolate, we can hear Jesus say, “Unless you change, and become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The Fatima message was given to the children for the whole world. Who were the first to respond to it. The answer is obvious: the three children of Fatima. Had they not responded to it within their own hearts, the message would not be credible to the rest of us. If we hope to be apostles of the message, we must first live the message within our own hearts.