The Canonization of Saints Jacinta and Francisco on the 100th Anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima

Pope Francis uses incense as he venerates a statue of Our Lady of Fatima during the canonization Mass of Saints Francisco and Jacinta Marto (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis uses incense as he venerates a statue of Our Lady of Fatima during the canonization Mass of Saints Francisco and Jacinta Marto (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

At a Mass earlier today during his pilgrimage to Fatima, Pope Francis canonized the two shepherd children, Jacinta Marto and her older brother Francisco, who were previously beatified by Saint John Paul II in 2000. The lives of these holy children bear witness to the words of Jesus, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

It was 100 years ago, beginning on May 13, 1917, and continuing until October 13 of that year, that Saint Jacinta and Saint Francisco, along with their cousin Lucia dos Santos, first reported seeing and hearing the message of a radiant Lady in white who with maternal solicitude asked for penance, conversion, and prayer for peace and the salvation of souls. At the time, Jacinta was only seven years old and Francisco was nine. Lucia was the oldest at age ten.

The following year, both Francisco and Jacinta became ill in an influenza epidemic. Francisco died in 1919, and Jacinta died the next year. Their older cousin would later enter religious life in the Carmelite order and in a collection of memoirs that Sister Lucia was asked to write and is available online, you can see the innocence and purity of Jacinta and Francisco that characterizes the simple faith of children. Sister Lucia died in 2005 and her cause for canonization is pending.

As news of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima spread, secular authorities detained the children and tried to make them repudiate their story. The mayor there even told Francisco and Jacinta that Lucia had been boiled in oil and that fate would happen to them if they did not deny they had seen our Blessed Mother. “You can do what you want, but we cannot tell a lie. We have seen her,” they responded, reports Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The reported appearances of Mary, while notable, is not reason for the canonization of Jacinta and Francisco, however. “It was the children’s heroism in their lives, their life of prayer, their turning to God, that was truly holy,” explains Cardinal Saraiva Martins.

Saint Jacinta and Saint Francisco are the youngest non-martyrs ever to be canonized. Their faith, love, prayerfulness and sacrifice offer a special witness to children, but people of all ages can be inspired by their example as we remember how Jesus urged us to be similarly lowly and “poor in spirit,” saying, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, 18:3) In a particular way, like our new saints, we can look to the “Lady in white” as a sign and beacon showing us the way not only to pray for world peace every day, but also to seek the peace in our hearts which only Jesus can give.

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