Special Reports

Lent and the little shepherds of Fatima

Top of a statue depicting Holy Mary with a crown and a rosary

This year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima, whose appearances to three shepherd children—Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta—are perhaps the most famous of those approved by the Church.

This anniversary has prompted me to pull out my copy of the charming memoirs, Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words. Though out of print, it can still be found and ordered online and a PDF of the book is available for free download at:http://bit.ly/2k43ra7. While it is wonderfully inspiring, it steers clear of “sappy” piety, wryly acknowledging the children’s faults and annoying traits.

Toward the beginning of the memoirs, which Sr. Lucia was ordered to write by her bishop (she entered the Carmelites at age 25), she recalls a childhood game in which the loser had to do whatever the winner commanded. In this case, Lucia won the game against Jacinta. She writes:

“My brother was sitting at a table, writing. I told [Jacinta] to give him a hug and a kiss, but she protested: ‘That, no! Tell me to do some other thing. Why don’t you tell me to go and kiss Our Lord over there?’ There was a crucifix hanging on the wall.

‘Alright’, I answered, ‘get up on a chair, bring the crucifix over here, kneel down and give Him three hugs and three kisses: one for Francisco, one for me, and the other for yourself.’

‘To Our Lord, yes, I’ll give as many as you like’, and she ran to get the crucifix. She kissed it and hugged it with such devotion that I have never forgotten it. Then, looking attentively at the figure of Our Lord, she asked: ‘Why is Our Lord nailed to a cross like that?’

‘Because He died for us.’

‘Tell me how it happened’, she said.

In the evenings my mother used to tell stories. My father and my older sisters told us fairy stories about magic spells, princesses robed in gold and royal doves. Then along came my mother with stories of the Passion, St. John the Baptist, and so on.

That is how I came to know the story of Our Lord’s Passion. As it was enough for me to have heard a story once, to be able to repeat it in all its details, I began to tell my companions, word for word, what I used to call Our Lord’s Story…. When [Jacinta] heard me telling of the sufferings of Our Lord, she was moved to tears. From then on, she often asked me to tell it to her all over again. She would weep and grieve, saying: ‘Our poor dear Lord! I’ll never sin again! I don’t want Our Lord to suffer any more!” This episode occurred before the apparitions began.

Later, during one of her appearances, Our Lady would show the three children a vision of hell and ask them to pray and do penance for “the souls of poor sinners” so they might be converted and saved. She taught them a prayer that has become customary to add to the end of each decade of the Rosary: “Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of your mercy.”

Jacinta in particular embraced the call to prayer and penance, and the three little shepherds often gave their packed lunches to the children of poor neighbors and fasted in reparation for sinners. May we follow their example this Lent through prayer, sacrifice and acts of love!

Chris Ruff, Director of the Office for Ministries and Social Concerns

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