The Shepherd Children were Just Children



By John Preiss



We must not think that Saint Jacinta and Saint Francisco were faultless from the cradle. They were normal children. They had childhood failings. They had faults. We must not think that saints float down from heaven already holy. They come into this world with original sin on their souls. They have tendencies to sin, the same as we all do. To become holy does not mean one never had any imperfections. Holiness is love of God and love of others for God’s sake. The fact that the children had imperfections and tendencies to faults only shows how they were transformed. That great change comes especially after they were shown the terrible vision of hell. For the children to grow so greatly in virtue was due to the grace of God. At the same time, these children had to struggle against their own weaknesses. They rose to holiness through God’s grace. What was it that brought the three little shepherd children so closely together? We know that at first they did not have any particular attraction for each other. At least Lucia was not particularly attracted to Jacinta. That was to change with the appearances of the Mother of God.


Francisco admitted that at first he was not attracted to Lucia. He was obviously led by Jacinta in developing friendship with Lucia. Jacinta was an aggressive leader in so many things. Her influence would remain so after her death. We shall see how her incorrupt body led to the Bishop inquiring more of Lucia about things. Jacinta was good-natured. Yet, she had faults common among children. This is what Sister Lucia wrote of her: “Before the happenings of 1917, nothing except the bond of being cousins would incline me to prefer Jacinta’s and Francisco’s company to that of any other children. The slightest quarrel between the children was enough to make her sulk in a corner. “The most persuasive coaxings that children would try on such occasions, were not enough to make her return to play. “For all that, she had a likable disposition. God had endowed her with a sweet and tender character. That made her both amiable and attractive. “I don’t know why Jacinta and her little brother, Francisco, had a special liking for me and why they often sought my company at play. They did not like the company of other children. Many a time they invited me to play near our well at the far end of the yard. “There it was Jacinta who chose the games. ‘Jacks’ or ‘Buttons’ was the game she generally preferred to play while near the flag-stoned well, under the shade of two plum trees and an olive tree.” “Very often, having played the game of ‘Buttons,’ my distress was great when we were called for meals. I would have lost all the buttons off my garments, and my mother used to scold me. I would have to sew them on as soon as I could. It was not easy, however, to persuade Jacinta to give them back. Besides being sulky, she was grudging. She wanted to keep them for the next game in order to avoid pulling off her own. The only way I could get them back was to threaten Jacinta that if she did not return them, I would not play with her again. “Besides being sulky and mean, Jacinta was fond of dancing, which was rather a craze in those times. We were all fond of it. As often as we heard shepherds playing their instruments, we would begin to dance. “Jacinta, though so small, was especially good at dancing. Such was the children’ pleasure in dancing, that to find time for it they would neglect watching the sheep on the hillsides, even inventing pious excuses to join in the pastime.


“We had been told to say the Rosary after our afternoon meal. But we wanted as much time as possible for play. So we found a way to say our prayers quickly. We contented ourselves by saying just ‘Hail Mary, Hail Mary’ on the small beads, [without saying the entire prayer but only the first two words] and, with a solemn slowness, the words “Our Father” on the large beads. So the Rosary was over in the twinkling of an eye. All this because of our inordinate love of dancing.” Jacinta’s love of dancing was so strong that if she heard an instrument played by any other shepherds in a distance, she would start dancing alone.


The faults that Jacinta had are a sign of our fallen human nature. All children are born with Original Sin. While Baptism removes that sin we inherit from our first parents, yet we are inclined toward sin. It may be only minor imperfections for children, but it is important that from very young age each child begins to learn virtue. If Christian virtue is not learned very young in life, the consequences of original sin will master one’s life later on. That means one’s salvation will be in danger. As parents we must let children be children but at the same time lead them in ways in which they will find Jesus.


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