Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 13, 2006
Shepherds' blessed faith remembered
Pilgrims can visit the birthplaces of Fatima children
Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Marto – February 20
- Photo by Ted Fitzgerald
Statues of the shepherds Blessed Jacinta and Francisco welcome visitors to the Basilica Colonnade.
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
On May 13, 2000, Pope John Paul II beatified two of the child shepherds associated with the Marian visions at Fatima in 1917. This step towards canonization honoured Francisco and Jacinta Marto many years after their early deaths at ages 10 and nine.
Over time, their stories have become overshadowed by development of the great shrine of Fatima where major appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary occurred, and by the attention paid to their older cousin, Lucia dos Santos who survived them until her death in 2005.
An annual memorial day to remember these little recipients of the miraculous visits is celebrated to coincide with Jacinta's death on Feb. 20, 1920.
Today, pilgrims to Fatima have the opportunity to visit the places associated with the children in their home hamlet of Aljustrel about one kilometre from the Fatima shrine. Those visiting the tiny, whitewashed Marto home can visit the room where the two were born and later experienced visions of Our Lady and where Francisco died in 1919.
Relatives of the little shepherds still reside in the town, some engaged in the thriving gift and souvenir business associated with the shrine.
The first visions experienced by the children were encounters with the Angel of Peace in 1916 on a rocky hilltop not far from their home.
Today, the site is identified by a sculpted scene of the three shepherds and the angel, who exhorted them to pray constantly. Later, the angel urged the children to make a sacrifice of everything they did to honour God in an appearance at the well at Lucia's nearby home, now marked by another tableau of the four figures.
Then the next year, regular appearances by Our Lady took place at the Cova da Iria, site of today's Fatima sanctuary where she encouraged the three to pray the rosary every day.
At the time of the apparitions, the famous sanctuary, basilica and modern town of Fatima didn't exist, the focal point of the area being the hamlet of Fatima with its prominent parish church. Located about two kilometres southeast of the sanctuary, the church is a must visit for today's pilgrims.
Original parish church
This was the parish of the dos Santos and Marto families, who travelled there from their homes in Aljustrel. In 2000, the building was renovated and visited by Lucia, attending the beatification of her cousins. It's a modest, neat structure dominated by a large bell tower.
Visitors are greeted outside by a large statue of Our Lady of the Rosary, joined by separate life-sized sculptures of Jacinta and Francisco. Inside the plain post-Vatican II nave is the font at which the three shepherds were baptized and the place where Lucia experienced a vision of Our Lady.
Following the apparitions, Francisco is said to have often skipped school to pray here.
As Mary predicted, the Marto children were not destined to live long. Both were stricken in the influenza epidemic which resulted in the death of affable, nature loving, flute-playing Francisco in 1919. Sensitive, spiritual Jacinta, who loved her ovine charges, died alone in hospital in Lisbon a year later.
Their remains reposed in the parish cemetery until moved to the new basilica in 1952 where their tombs are identified by their images beside simple stone slabs.
Blessed Jacinta and Francisco are also remembered in sculptures in the forecourt of the basilica and with Lucia in a central, 1997 monument at the Rotondo do Sul, or Shepherd's Circle, on the town's ring road. They form parts of the images of the apparitions in paintings and stained glass windows in the basilica.