“… I WANT TO DIE AND GO TO HEAVEN!”
Those words are so jarring to our worldly ears today! A child stating that he wants to die seems a terrible tragedy. But in truth, to want to leave this world behind for an eternity of union with the One Who alone is pure, true Love and Light and Truth, Who fulfills all our yearnings for goodness and beauty, peace and joy, is a most fundamental truth of our faith.
“Jesus said to them: Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me: for the kingdom of heaven is for such.” (Matt. 19,14)
We have many moving testimonies of this clear knowledge concerning their future, demonstrated by Jacinta and Francisco. Ti Marto relates the following anecdote, recorded by Father de Marchi:
“One day, two ladies were talking to Francisco. They wanted to know what career he would choose when he grew up. “Do you want to be a carpenter?” one of them asked. “No, ma’am.” Another said: “A soldier, then?” “No, ma’am.”
“Would you like to be a doctor?” “Not that either.” “I know what you’d like to be… a priest! To say Mass… hear confessions, preach… isn’t that true?”
“No, ma’am, I don’t want to be a priest.” “Then what do you want to be?”
“I don’t want to be anything!… I want to die and go to Heaven.”
Ti Marto, who was present at this conversation, offered his own comment: “Now there was a real decision!…”
“A little while longer, and I’ll go to Heaven!”
Everything Francisco ever said bore witness to this fact: he was anxious to go to Heaven soon, but like the true mystic he was already, he was not thinking only of his own joy, but that of Jesus as well: “Soon, Jesus will come to look for me to take me to Heaven with Him, and then I will be with Him always to see Him and console Him. What happiness!” While he waited for this day, whenever possible he used to go down on his knees before the Tabernacle: “Sometimes on the way to school, before we reached Fatima, Francisco would say to me: “Listen! While you go to school, I’ll stay with the Hidden Jesus. It’s not worth it for me to learn to read. Soon I will go to Heaven. When you come back, come and look for me here.”
Lúcia: “The Blessed Sacrament was kept at that time near the entrance of the church, on the left side, as the church was undergoing repairs. Francisco went over there, between the baptismal font and the altar, and that was where I found him on my return.” At this time the three seers were no longer of any use around the house – indeed, since autumn of 1918 the family flock had been sold – and so they could go more often to school at Fatima.
One of his fellow students who became a priest, Father Antonio dos Reis, whom Francisco had begun to go around with, albeit doubtless infrequently, between February and July 1917. Francisco was very much behind in his studies. After the apparitions, he had to endure persecution and sarcastic remarks from his teacher, a man devoid of either faith or morals, who treated the boy as a lazy, false visionary. Father dos Reis adds that his schoolmates would gang up on him, and the poor boy would have to spend recreation pinned to a wall, to try to defend himself against the ill-treatment which the stronger and hardier ones did not hesitate to inflict on him.
Did this ill-treatment continue when Francisco returned to school after October, 1917? We do not know. In any case, during the process of beatification, the “devil’s advocate” surely did not fail to bring forth this testimony to call into question the disinterestedness of our seer… For when Francisco spent long hours at the foot of the Tabernacle when school was going on, was it not an “escape” for him, to get away from the insults he was suffering there? As natural as this hypothesis might seem, it is groundless. For we know that far from complaining, Francisco, always humble, gentle and patient, put up with all these affronts without saying anything, even to the point that his parents never found out about it.
However, all he had to do to put an end to this unjust persecution was to tell his father, who would have stepped in. For that matter, perhaps, his father would have excused him from going to school. Indeed at that time, for young peasant children, going to school was not mandatory at all; parents never sent their children there unless they had nothing useful for them to do at the house.
Thus the context is quite different from our own; it explains the liberty our seer took in choosing to remain at the foot of the Tabernacle rather than go to school. In acting this way he considered himself disobedient neither to Our Lady nor his own parents.
A precise recollection on Sister Lúcia’s part shows that when he went to church, it was not to take the easy way out, or to get out of school, but in a courageous spirit he wished to do everything he could to console Our Lord: “On another occasion, as we left the house, I noticed that Francisco was walking very slowly: “What’s the matter?” I asked him. “You seem unable to walk!” “I’ve such a bad headache, and I feel as though I’m going to fall.” “Then don’t come. Stay at home!” “I don’t want to. I’d rather stay in the church with the Hidden Jesus, while you go to school.”
“I’ll stay with the hidden Jesus, and I’ll ask Him for that grace…”
Sometimes, to intercede more at length and more fervently in favour of those who had requested it, Francisco would decide to spend the whole morning before the Tabernacle, as Sister Lúcia relates: “He came out of the house one day and met me with my sister Teresa, who was already married and living in Lomba. Another woman from a nearby hamlet had asked her to come to me about her son who had been accused of some crime which I no longer remember, and if he could not prove his innocence he was to be condemned, either to exile or to a term of some years’ imprisonment.
Teresa asked me insistently, in the name of the poor woman for whom she wished to do such a favour, to plead for this grace with Our Lady. “Having received the message, I set out for school, and on the way, I told my cousins all about it. When we reached Fatima, Francisco said to me: “Listen! While you go to school, I’ll stay with the Hidden Jesus, I’ll ask Him for that grace.” “When I carne out of school, I went to call him and asked: “Did you pray to Our Lord to grant that grace?”
“Yes, I did. Tell your sister Teresa that he’ll be home in a few days’ time.” “And indeed, a few days later, the poor boy returned home. On the 13th, he and his entire family came to thank Our Lady for the grace they had received.”
How did Francisco know that his prayer had been heard? We do not know. In any case, on that day he showed signs of the assurance the saints show when they prophesy or perform miracles… Thus he demonstrated his own intimacy with God and the profound self-denial which it presupposes…
“I will suffer everything Our Lady wants; what I want is to go to Heaven.” Such words are precious pearls which introduce us right away to the essence of the Message of Fatima: Yes, Heaven first! Only Heaven counts, because it is the final end to which we are all destined! To desire, in all truthfulness and sincerity of soul, nothing more than to “go to Heaven” – is this not to already have made the sacrifice of all creatures and one’s whole life? Is it not already true sanctity? Having reached this stage, Francisco was ready for the final sacrifices.
THE FIRST MONTHS OF SICKNESS: OCTOBER DECEMBER 1918
Towards the end of October 1918 – only a year had gone by since the last apparitions – Jacinta, who was still only eight, and Francisco, who was only ten, came down at about the same time with a terrible case of influenza. The epidemic originated in Spain and was then ravaging almost all of Europe. It was particularly deadly in Portugal. Usually the malady rapidly developed into bronchial pneumonia, as was the case with Jacinta and Francisco.
Soon everybody was sick in the Marto house, and at the same time. Only Ti Manuel and his son John were left standing. Then finally, Ti Marto was left all alone to care for his entire household… What a trial! Ti Marto: “The finger of God showed itself even there, God helped me… I never had to ask anybody for money.”
Luckily, after a few weeks, everything went back to normal. Francisco and Jacinta got better, and they could get up again. But there was only a brief time of respite, for on December 23, Francisco and Jacinta fell gravely ill again.
Olimpia recalled, “The force of the illness was so violent that this time Francisco especially could not even move any more.” For fifteen days he was struck by an intense fever.
In spite of everything, Lúcia reports, “… he always appeared joyful and content. I asked him sometimes: “Are you suffering a lot, Francisco?” “Quite a lot, but never mind! I am suffering to console Our Lord, and afterwards, within a short time, I am going to Heaven!”
In another passage of the Memoirs, Sister Lúcia recalls: “During his illness, he suffered with heroic patience, without ever letting the slightest moan or the least complaint escape his lips. One day, shortly before his death, I asked him: “Are you suffering a lot, Francisco?”
“Yes, but I suffer it all for love of Our Lord and Our Lady.” Sister Lucia recounted, “One day, he gave me the rope that I have already spoken about, saying: “Take it away before my mother sees it. I don’t feel able to wear it any more around my waist.” “He took everything his mother offered him, and she could never discover which things he disliked. He went on like this until the day came for him to go to Heaven.”
His mother Olimpia, for her part, told Father de Marchi: “The child took all the medicine I gave him. He never made a fuss. I never could figure out what pleased him. Poor child!… Even bitter medicines he drank without making a face. Thus, we thought he would get over the sickness. But why?… He kept saying that it was all useless, that Our Lady would come to take him to Heaven.”
“Our Lady will come to take me soon”
“In the middle of January”, his mother recalls, “he began to get better for the second time, even to where he could get up. We were all happy over that. He, himself, knew otherwise, and he kept repeating the same thing; ‘Our Lady will come to take me soon.’ “
“You will get well, Francisco, you’ll be a robust man!” his father would say to him… But the child would repeat, with assurance and serenity: “Before long Our Lady will come to take me.”
His father would try furtively, to wipe away the tears from his eyes with the back of his calloused hands; those same eyes which were fatigued from so many sleepless nights. “Lights from on high!” he murmured.
“If Our Lady heals you”, said his godmother Teresa, “I promise to offer Her your weight in wheat!” “It’s not worth the trouble”, Francisco answered with a gentle smile. “Our Lady will not grant you this grace.” All these firmly worded answers of Francisco concerning his future were pronounced with “a mysterious aura and an impressive tone”.
“He said nothing, looking a little sad”
Francisco was certain of going to Heaven soon, and being reunited with Our Lord and Our Lady. No doubt this filled our little seer with an immense supernatural joy. But we should not be mistaken: this joy was not always a palpable one, and the wonderful promise of Our Lady demanded on his part an act of heroic love, an act which is so contrary to nature, and consists in making the sacrifice of our own life. If there were moments of luminous joy and luminous hope, there were other moments when all feelings of joy disappeared: at those times he saw nothing but the sacrifices he had to accept to fulfill God’s designs.
Here is one such moving incident, which Ti Marto told Father de Marchi: “I remember once that he went out and fetched a small basket of olives and then sat on a bench and began to cut them. “Francisco”, I said, “how nice to see you work; do you feel better?” But he said nothing, looking a little sad. He clearly foresaw that, despite everything, he was going to die… “He knew exactly what his destiny was”, Olimpia concluded.
THE LAST PILGRIMAGE TO THE COVA DA IRIA
In the short space of time when he began to feel a little better, the middle of January to early February, he was able to go to the Cova da Iria. We can imagine what an emotional experience it was. He knew that it was the last time he would visit this blessed place! “And in fact, a few days later, he returned to bed never to rise from it again. His condition became steadily worse until his parents at last realized that they would lose him.
Every encouraging word of theirs brought forth the same reply: “It’s no use. Our Lady wants me in Heaven with Her.” And yet he was so cheerful, so happy and smiling that the illusion remained until the end. The high fever was gradually and implacably undermining his enfeebled body until only a thread held him to earth.
Part I is HERE.
Part III will post tomorrow, God willing.
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