History was made again at Fatima with the canonization of two of the three shepherd children who witnessed the first of six apparitions of Our Lady on May 13th 100 years ago. Francisco and Jacinta Marto were the first non-martyred children raised to sainthood. This amazing piece of information never arrested my attention before now. Then again, I had never made a pilgrimage to Fatima until early April of this year.
There are many children who have been canonized (St. Maria Goretti, St. Agnes of Rome, and St. Dominic Savio, to mention a few), but they were all martyrs. The fact that they were not martyrs is what made the cause of the two Fatima children so unique. They fulfilled all the criteria for beatification and canonization, including miracles and heroic virtue, even though they lived like heroic saints only for a few years, from 1917 (or 1916 from the apparition of the Angel of Portugal) to their deaths in 1919 and 1920. Francesco died first at the age of eleven and Jacinta one year later at the age of ten.
Before them, it was not, in fact, the practice of the Church to canonize children: it was thought that because of their age, they did not have the capability of practicing Christian virtue to a heroic degree, which is the first condition for beatification. In their case, something very interesting was witnessed: thousands of letters from around the world were received in Rome—not only from the faithful but also from bishops and cardinals—that requested the children be beatified.
This large number of requests led to reflection within the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. John Paul II named a commission of experts—theologians, psychologists, teachers—to study the issue. After a profound study, the conclusion was that children are capable of practicing the Christian virtues, of course in a manner that is possible for them. Thanks to that conclusion, they were able to proceed with the beatification, and ultimately, canonization.
Speaking about the signs of holiness in Jacinta and Francisco, Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins underscored that they displayed profound piety, fervent devotion to the Most Holy Trinity, to the Virgin Mary and to the Eucharist. Regarding their heroism, they were willing to give up their lives rather than lie. They were threatened with being boiled alive in hot oil, in fact, and pressured to say that the visions were false, but they did not yield to the pressure, even at such a tender age.
Oh, I wish I had such faith. Two more child saints who totally put all of us adults to shame.