The Children of Fatima: Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta Marto by Leo Madigan, Gracewing Since the beatification of Francisco and Jacinta Marto on 13 May 2000, there has been renewed interest in these youngest beau i in the history of the Church. The story of the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima in Portugal in 1917 has been told countless times. However, it is rare to find a book on this theme which combines a trenchant, humorous narrative style together with many spiritual insights which reveal the author's own inner prayer life.
Leo Madigan, a New Zealander resident in Fatima, has immersed himself in this encounter between Our Lady and three illiterate shepherd children. He manages to convey the drama of the apparitions in such a way as they appear both extraordinary yet somehow ordinary. His analysis of the dialogues between the Mother of God and the children is clear but profound: but he is not afraid to use the word "mystery" when the limits of human understanding are reached. As Wittgenstein said: "Whereof we cannot speak, thereon we must be silent."
Why does Our Lady appear to poor and "simple" people such as Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco or for that matter, Bernadette or Juan Diego? Describing the Marto household, the author comments: "These people were living the message of Fatima, in Fatima itself, before the Blessed Virgin came to their children to ask them to deliver it to the world", ie, they were already living lives of humility and interior (as well as exterior) poverty, so were receptive to the supernatural in a way that most people would not be. It is interesting that the scoffers and sceptics of the time could not "see" the candour and integrity of the children, while others saw and they believed, as in the Gospel stories.
Yet, as Leo Madigan describes, the children are charmingly human: Jacinta loves dancing and it is clear he has a soft spot for her, saying "the visible Jacinta, for me, is this picture of her, in love and in prison, seemingly abandoned, crushed and weeping, at the lowest part of human desolation dancing". Lucia thinks the gifts of the Holy Spirit are "broad beans, peas and cherries", and Francisco once stole a coin from his father to buy a music box — as the author comments, "a bit of the Tom Sawyer emerging from among the candles and the incense".
So what, after all the theological implications have been drawn by the experts, is the message of Fatima? The final words of this absorbing hook suggest an answer: "Francisco and Jacinta offer lessons very much at variance with the spirit of the world that surrounds us, lessons we and our children can only learn where Francisco and Jacinta themselves were taught ... in the School of Mary." In this school we learn renewed adoration of the Blessed Trinity; renewed love of Christ and sorrow at the "outrages, sacrileges and indifference" with which He is treated by the world; devotion to the Immaculate Heart of His Mother; the need for penance; and daily recitation of the Rosary. It is a sobering thought: Our Lady told Jacinta, "Many people go to hell because of sins of the flesh" — which the little girl thought must refer to eating meat on Friday. We know better.