Can children as young as ten have a deeper knowledge of Christian truths than adults? The case of Jacinta and Francesco Marto, the two children-little shepherds of Fatima, is exemplary. And not only for the extraordinary series of events of Cova da Iria: the two brothers demonstrated a surprising spiritual depth, a total abandonment to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, arriving at a series of practices of self-denial and mortification proper to the great ascetics and not to children. After seeing hell and receiving from the Virgin the indication to do penance for the conversion of sinners, Jacinta undertook to renounce any pleasure of life. On pasture, with the flocks, he ate only acorns and olives not yet made, bitter, while the snack of the day, prepared at home, was intended for poor children(Lucia tells Fatima, Memorie lettere e documenti di sr Lucia,Queriniana, ed. agg. 2018, p. 39). Even the water was rejected by Francesco and Jacinta: on a day of tickling, while guarding the flock on stony ground and without a shadow thread, they procured a jug of water from a woman who lived nearby. Then, on second thought, they did not decide not to drink to do penance and allow the conversion of sinners: water was given to the sheep. And, without drinking and with few things in his stomach, the arsura became unbearable: even the incessant singing of cicadas stunned the boys, so much so that Jacinta began to shout that the insects were silent for a while. Francis rebuked her: “Don’t you want to suffer this for sinners?” And Jacinta, immediately, replied yes(There,p. 40).
Jacinta did not like milk; indeed, in his opinion he repulsed her. Yet, sick, she agreed to drink milk to make her mother happy and, in doing so, she did penance. Jacinta was always the creator of other, small tools of personal mortification: every now and then she caught nettles, held them in her hands to sting herself or passed them on her legs. “Since then,” Sister Lucia wrote years later, “we have been in the habit of giving ourselves, from time to time, some urticata in our legs in order to offer God that sacrifice too”(I.e.p. 79).
And again: the three children gave grapes to the poor and were content to eat what they least liked; they prayed incessantly, often getting up at night, several times, to recite even one prayer. They offered every sacrifice for the conversion of sinners: and this, even if they were alone, if the whole world seemed to run towards the madness of ideologies, wars and dictatorships. Even in the absence of hope – apparent lack of hope – the three children were aware of doing something good, necessary, holy. Their seemingly insane actions had their full justification in God. Was the future scary for them? Jacinta in a particular way constantly thought back to the secret that had been entrusted to her, always with much apprehension; nevertheless, he did not lose heart and continued to pray, he increased mortifications and acts of reparation. This is how we too, in the sad times of the present hour, should behave well knowing – as Lucia, Jacinta and Francis have told us – that the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady will triumph.