The historical context and a brief personal profile of the three little shepherds
Introduction and historical context
Analyzing the historical-cultural context in which the apparitions of Fatima take place is necessary to enter the heart of their spiritual and prophetic message. They took place in Portugal in 1917 (preceded in 1916 by the apparitions of the Angel), at the Cova da Iria, near Fatima, where the visionaries, three humble children from the nearby hamlet of Aljustrel, took the flock to graze. In those years, Europe was shocked by two dramatic events that would mark the history, even in the future, of the whole world: the First World War and the Russian Revolution that would bring Communism to power. The geo-political conformation of Europe had already profoundly changed in the previous century due to the Risorgimento movements and Christianity was gradually being eradicated from social and political life. From a cultural and philosophical point of view, we do not underestimate the spread within the Catholic world of modernism, the result, like marxist materialist ideology itself, of the Enlightenment ideas that had characterized the French Revolution, and against which the Church had already undertaken her battle (see for example the Encyclical Pascendi by Pope St. Pius X of 1907).
But to enter even better into the message of Fatima it is also necessary to know the visionaries, three humble little shepherds: Lucia Dos Santos (10 years at the time of the apparitions) and her cousins Francis (9) and Jacinta Marto (7). The three children lived in humble families, but rich from the point of view of faith and led a very simple life: daily work, simple outdoor games typical of children of that age and made of pebbles, buttons, cards and little more, and then some prayers made together, the doctrinal lessons in the Church by the parish priest, but also made by Lucia’s mother at home in the evening. Lucia had told everyone that when the sun went away, our Lady came into the sky and first lit the main light, the moon, behind which she put herself, and then the various stars that were the lamps of angels. And the children so amazed in the evening contemplated the sky … This Christian education, despite its simplicity, led them to already have a certain religious sensitivity so much that they often spoke to each other about Jesus and Our Lady. Below we trace a brief profile of the three little shepherds taking inspiration from an authentic source such as the Memoirs of Sister Lucia.
What is most striking about her is the impressive ability to continually offer sacrifices to repair the offenses that were made against the Lord and Our Lady and to obtain the conversion of sinners. Especially after Our Lady showed her the hell and the unspeakable sufferings in which the damned souls found themselves, she really took seriously this task of praying and offering her sufferings, not only those that life could present to her as the persecutions and misunderstandings deriving from disbelief about the apparitions, but also numerous and heavy voluntary waivers: she did not drink if she was very thirsty and warm , she was wearing a rope with three knots that caused her injuries, etc. The little girl once told Lucia that the night had been so bad, but that she had preferred not to turn around in bed so as not to have relief and to be able to offer that pain.
Lucia tells her that Jacinta told her that Our Lady had gone to see her and told her that if she wanted to convert and save many sinners she would have to suffer a lot, that she would go to a distant hospital where, after much suffering, she would die alone. This perspective, however, terrified her by offering everything to the Lord, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for the conversion of sinners and for the Pope. He also addressed these words to dying Francis: ” bringmany greetings to the Lord and to Our Lady; tell them That I will suffer all they want to convert sinners and repair the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” The last months of little Jacinta’s life paint the picture of a real giant of holiness, in respect of which, we probably do not even realize, how much we owe. Her state of health was described by the doctor as follows: “the girl is skeletal; his arms are of impressive thinness; it is consumed by fever; tuberculosis, after an attack of bronchopneumutitis and purulent pleurisy, threatens the weak little body. She even realized that she could never receive the first Communion without the Course of Catechism, so when Lucia returned from Mass, she asked her to go next to her and be able to tighten her because inside her was “Hidden Jesus”!
In the Orphanage of Lisbon (where little Jacinta was transferred before moving to the hospital of the same city), Mother Mary of Purificaçao Godinho, who assisted her, collected many of the last words of the little girl who, because of their content, could not be of such a small child. We remember some ofthem: ” Wars are nothing more than punishment for the sins of the world“; “Our Lady can no longer hold the arm of her beloved Son on the world“; “Penance must be done. If they are amended, Our Lord will spare the world again; but if they don’t change, the punishment will come. Jesus is deeply outraged …“; ” Priests must concern themselves only with the things of theChurch”; “Woe betide those (rulers ed) who persecute the Religion of Jesus“; “The sins that bring the most souls to hell are the sins of the flesh“; “Certain fashions will come that will greatly offend Jesus“; “People who serve God must not follow fashion. The Church has no fashions. Jesus is always the same“; ” Men are lost because they do not think of the death of Jesus and do not do penance”; “Many marriages are not good, they do not like Jesus, they are not of God“; “Without Confession there is no salvation“; “To be pure in the body is to preserve chastity. And being pure in the soul means not doing sins: do not look at what you should not see, do not steal, never lie, always tell the truth even when it costs us …“; ” Our Lady does not want people to speak in church.”
Mother Godinho, who attended the surgery, tells that ten days before her death Jacinta was operated on without being able to do total anesthesia (so much so that she was debilitated), but only partial: they took away two ribs and had a plague in which she could enter a hand … During the intervention the little girl was only invoking Our Lady. On the evening of February 20, 1920 she felt sick, so she called the parish priest who confessed her but, despite the insistence of the little girl, did not think to give her the viatico because it seemed not to be so imminent death. Instead, that night Jacinta died without even communicating.
He was the most reserved of the three, spoke very little and often left alone to pray. He had a great sensitivity of mind and a natural detachment from the things of the world. Unlike her little sister Jacinta, who was sometimes also restless and capricious and who, like Lucia, loved dance (a passion from which the two then freed themselves as soon as they began the apparitions realizing that it could induce them to sin of vanity or otherwise), he was peaceful and condescending and in the small diatribes between children preferred to give it to others and withdraw on his own. While Jacinta prayed so much and offered sacrifices for the conversion of sinners, Francis’ most frequent thought was to console the Lord and Our Lady from the offenses they received. After Our Lady said that he and Jacinta would soon go to Heaven, she no longer even bothered to go to school and preferred to spend time in church before “Hidden Jesus”. His suffering for illness offered them to the Lord, enduring the pain with heroic patience. Sister Lucia tells that in her last days, Francis’ only thought was to be able to confess his sins well (he even asked her and Jacinta if they could think of some of his sins that he may have forgotten) and finally to be able to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. On April 4, 1919 just before he died, he was rewarded with a heavenly vision and exclaimed, “Oh my mother, what a beautifullight that one there, next to our window ” and after a few moments: ” now I don’t seeanymore …“, so he sneered softly with his face lit up with a sweet smile.
She was the oldest of the three, so the others recognized her as a certain authority. She was lively, very determined, for example she managed stubbornly to obtain, not without the help of her mother, to be able to receive the first Communion at just six years old because, thanks also to the teaching of the latter, she knew more about doctrine than even the children a little older. It is very beautiful the memory that Sister Lucia makes of her first Communion and the first Confession, the previous day. The Priest, at the end of the first Confession, said to Lucia: “My daughter, your soul is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Always keep it pure, so that it may dwell there with His divine action“. And behold, instead, the words of his mother, on the day of the first Communion: ” when you have had Jesus in your heart, askabove all the Lord to make you holy”. After the death of Francisco and Jacinta, Lucia, by the will of the new Bishop, would also leave Fatima (in 1921) and then embrace religious life first among the Dorothees (1925) and then in the Carmel of Coimbra (1948). Later he had numerous other private apparitions and revelations mainly focused on devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Lucia died at the age of 97 on February 13, 2005.