Some might wonder why God chose little children to receive the message of Our Lady at Fatima. In the Gospel, Jesus gives the reason: “I praise Thee, Father, Lord of I-leaven and earth, that Thou did hide these things from the wise and prudent and did reveal them to the little ones. Yes, Father, for such was Thy good pleasure.” (Matt. XI, 25 – 26).
When Lucia was seven years old, her mother decided that Lucia would look after the small flock of sheep belonging to the family. The rest of the family objected, thinking Lucia was too young. However, the mother, Maria Rosa, knew Lucia was more mature and responsible than the average child her age, and so it was decided — Lucia would tend the sheep. Lucia was delighted. It made her feel so grown up, to think of being a shepherdess. The news spread rapidly among the other young shepherds of the village, and almost all of them came and offered to be her companions. She accepted all of them and arranged with each one to meet on the slopes of the serra.
“Next day,” Lucia recalls, “the serra was a solid mass of sheep with their shepherds, as though a cloud had descended upon it. But I felt ill at ease in the midst of such a hubbub. I therefore chose three companions from among the shepherds, and without saying a word to anyone, we arranged to pasture our sheep on the opposite slopes. These were the three I chose: Teresa Matias, her sister Maria Rosa and Maria Justino.”
The following day the four shepherdesses were saying the Rosary after lunch among some rocks along the ridge at Cabeco. Lucia relates what happened as they were praying: “We had hardly begun when, there before our eyes, we saw a figure poised in the air above the trees; it looked like a statue made of snow, rendered almost transparent by the rays of the sun.” As they finished their prayers, the figure disappeared. “As was usual with me, I resolved to say nothing,” recalls Lucia, “but my companions told their families what had happened the very moment they reached home.” The news soon spread throughout the village, and Lucia’s mother questioned her about the apparition. Lucia told her mother she didn’t know what it was she had seen, but she described it the best she could. One of the girls, trying to describe it said, “It looked like someone wrapped up in a sheet.” Lucia’s mother dismissed the whole matter as childish nonsense. Some people of the village started making fun of Lucia and her companions. Even Lucia’s own family began to make fun of her. Her older sisters scornfully asked her if she “had seen someone wrapped up in a sheet.” Lucia felt this suffering keenly, as she had been used to being caressed and cuddled, the favorite child of the family.
Jacinta and Francisco Join Lucia
in the Fields
When Lucia went to be a shepherdess, her two cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto were heartbroken because now they had no one to play with them and tell them stories. They begged their mother to let them go along with their family’s sheep, but their mother said no — at four and six years old they were too young.
Every day when Lucia brought the sheep home at night, Jacinta and Francisco would be waiting for her. Francisco had something of the detachment and serenity of the saints, and he did not really get concerned about things as his little sister Jacinta did. He followed quietly while Jacinta would run to meet Lucia and tell her all the news of the day. While Lucia and Jacinta put the sheep in their enclosure for the night, Francisco would sit on a stone in front of the house of Lucia’s family, and play a tune on his little wooden flute. Then the children would go to the threshing floor near the well and watch the stars come out. Jacinta loved to watch the evening sky, and she called the stars “the Angels’ lamps” and the moon “Our Lady’s lamp”. Francisco, on the other hand, was more enthusiastic about the rising and setting of the sun. He called the sun “the lamp of Our Lord”. “No lamp is as beautiful as Our Lord’s,” he would insist. Any manifestation of the power of the sun delighted him. Francisco, a little boy of an illiterate peasant family, saw in the sun, like Saint Athanasius and Saint Patrick centuries before, a symbol of Christ redeeming the human race.
Jacinta wanted to be a shepherdess like Lucia, but Francisco was unconcerned about being a shepherd. However, one time he strongly spoke in favor of this wish of his little sister, and his mother told him to hold his peace. “It doesn’t matter, mother,” he said quietly. “It was Jacinta who wanted to go.”
Jacinta’s dearest ambition was to make her First Communion. Jacinta asked Lucia many questions about Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Lucia explained how it is that Jesus is hidden in the Eucharist: “But don’t you know that the little Jesus of the Host Whom we never see is hidden, and that we receive Him in Communion?”
Jacinta asked, “And when you receive Communion, do you talk with Him?”
Lucia replied, “I talk.”
“And why don’t you see Him?”
“Because He is hidden.”
“I’m going to ask my mother to let me go to Communion too!”
“The parish priest won’t let you till you are ten.”
“But you aren’t ten, and you go to Communion.”
“Because I knew all the doctrine, and you don’t know it.”
Thus Lucia became the teacher of a very apt pupil, who was not content to learn by rote, but wanted to know the reason for everything.
One day Jacinta persuaded her mother that she knew enough Catechism to be examined by the parish priest, and Senhora Olimpia finally took her to see Father Pena who asked Jacinta questions on Catechism. But at the end, he said he feared the child was too young and besides, she did not know enough doctrine. Jacinta was grieved at not being able to make her First Communion yet, but she soon accepted the disappointment and did not brood about it.
One day in 1916 when Lucia was 9, and Francisco and Jacinta 8 and 6, the two Marto children obtained permission from their mother to start taking care of their own flock of sheep. Francisco and Jacinta pastured their flock together with Lucia, away from the other children. While the sheep grazed, the children had time to play — picking flowers, chasing butterflies, singing and playing games, and Francisco would play his flute. In the afternoon they would kneel and say the Rosary, as Lucia’s mother had instructed Lucia to do. Sometimes, however, the children shortened the prayers in order to have more time for their games.
The Angel of Peace
One day in 1916 about mid-morning a fine drizzle began to fall, and the children took shelter in a little cave at the Cabeco. They were saying their Rosary in the cave, when suddenly the rain stopped and the sun began to shine again in a clear sky. Suddenly a strong wind began to blow across the tops of the pines, and the children saw a light moving over the tops of the trees. The light seemed whiter than snow, and it approached the cave where the children had taken shelter. As it drew near, the children were able to distinguish that the light was in the form of a young man about 14 or 15 years of age, “More brilliant than crystal, penetrated by the rays of the sun,” as Lucia describes him. They saw that he had human features, and was indescribably beautiful. Speechless, they stood regarding him.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “I am the Angel of Peace.1 Pray with me.” Kneeling on the ground, he bowed down until his forehead touched the ground, saying:
“My God, I believe, I adore, I trust and I love Thee! I beg pardon of Thee for all those who do not believe, do not adore, do not trust and do not love Thee!” Three times he spoke the same words, and the children repeated the words after him, as he asked them to. Then, rising, he said, “Pray thus. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications.”
The children remained kneeling for a long time, and speaking of the supernatural state that enveloped them during the apparition, Lucia recalls: “It was so intense that we were almost unaware of our own existence for a long space of time.” “His words engraved themselves so deeply on our minds that we could never forget them,” Lucia wrote in her memoirs. “From then on, we used to spend long periods of time, prostrate like the Angel, repeating his words, until sometimes we fell, exhausted.”
Lucia warned the other children to say nothing of what they had seen and heard, and they kept it a secret. Lucia expressed how the apparition of the Angel seemed to have something about it that made all three children inclined to keep it a secret: “There was something intensely intimate about it. It was just something you couldn’t talk about.”
The Angel Appears Again
A few weeks later the Angel appeared a second time to the three children. It was one of the hottest days of the summer, so they had taken the sheep home at noon. The children were playing on the stone slabs of the well at the far end of the garden belonging to Lucia’s parents. Suddenly they looked up and saw the angel beside them.
“What are you doing?” he asked. “Pray, pray very much! The most holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High.”
“How are we to make sacrifices?” asked Lucia.
“Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners. You will thus draw down peace upon your country. I am its Angel Guardian, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, accept and bear with submission the suffering which the Lord will send you.”
Later that summer, the Angel appeared to them a third time. They were saying the prayer that the Angel had taught them, kneeling with their foreheads touching the ground, in a hollow among the rocks on the hillside while pasturing their sheep. After they had repeated the prayer a number of times, they perceived an extraordinary light shining on them. They sprang up to see what was happening, and beheld the Angel. Lucia relates: “He was holding a chalice in his left hand, with the Host suspended above it, from which some drops of Blood fell into the chalice. Leaving the chalice suspended in the air, the Angel knelt down beside us and made us repeat three times:
“‘Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges, and indifference with which He Himself is offended. And, through the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners.’
“Then, rising he took the chalice and the Host in his hands. He gave the Sacred Host to Lucia, and gave the Precious Blood from the chalice to Jacinta and Francisco, saying as he did so:
“‘Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men! Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.’
“Once again, he prostrated himself on the ground and repeated with them, three times more, the same prayer, ‘Most Holy Trinity …’, and then disappeared.” The children remained a long time prostrate upon the ground, repeating the prayer over and over again. When at last they stood up, they noticed it was already dark, and therefore time to return home.
1. In the history of our Catholic faith, there are many instances of God sending His angels to carry His messages to men. For example, the Scriptures tell us of the Archangel Raphael who guided young Tobias, of the Archangel Gabriel who told the prophet Daniel the time of the Incarnation, and who announced to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she was to be the Mother of God. It is to the Archangel Michael, however, that the Catholic liturgy has applied the name of Angel of Peace.