Fatima seers are holy because of virtue, not visions, cardinal says


By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As extraordinary as the apparitions at
Fatima, Portugal,
nearly 100 years ago were, the sanctity of the shepherd children did not hinge
on their having seen Mary, a cardinal said.

“The apparition of the Virgin Mary was an occasion, but it has nothing to
do with or has not influenced the reason” Blesseds Francisco and Jacinta Marto will be declared saints,
Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, former prefect of the Congregation
for Saints’ Causes, told Catholic News Service.

“It was the children’s heroism in their lives, their
life of prayer, their turning to God that was truly holy,” he said.

The Vatican announced April 11 that Pope Francis has convened cardinals living in Rome
for a consistory April 20 to approve the canonizations of the two Fatima

With the approval of a miracle attributed to their
intercession and the announcement of the consistory, many people are hoping Pope
Francis will preside over the canonization ceremony during his visit to Fatima
May 12-13.

The pope’s
pilgrimage will mark the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions, which
began May 13, 1917, when 9-year-old Francisco and 7-year-old Jacinta, along
with their cousin Lucia dos Santos, reported seeing the Virgin Mary. The
apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and later were declared
worthy of belief by the Catholic Church.

A year after the apparitions, both of the Marto children
became ill during an influenza epidemic. Francisco died April 4, 1919, at the age of 10, while Jacinta succumbed
to her illness Feb. 20, 1920,
at the age of 9.

As the prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes from
1998 to 2008, Cardinal Saraiva Martins oversaw the process that led to the beatification of Jacinta and
Francisco Marto by St. John Paul II in 2000.

Cardinal Saraiva Martins told CNS that the process leading up to the
beatification was stalled for decades and wasn’t easy because of a general
assumption that children “do not have the capacity to practice
Christian virtue in a heroic way.”

The church’s declaration of heroic sanctity, he added, “is fundamental
for beatification.”

While he
knew the children’s devotion to the Eucharist and to Our Lady of Fatima
were well-known, the cardinal
said one specific event during the apparitions left him “convinced”
of their holiness.

At the time of the apparitions, the Portuguese government
was strongly anti-Catholic.
Artur Santos, mayor of
the town where Fatima was located and president of the Masonic lodge of nearby Leiria, sent
law enforcement officials to block the entry to the site of the apparitions.

He also kidnapped the three children to force them to deny
Mary was appearing at Fatima after news of the apparitions spread, the cardinal said.  

Santos separated Jacinta and Francisco from Lucia, telling
the two children that their cousin was boiled in hot oil and that they would
share the same fate if they didn’t say they didn’t see Our Lady and that “it
was all a fantasy,” Cardinal
Saraiva Martins said.

“What was the response of those two children? ‘You can
do what you want but we cannot tell a lie. We have seen her (Our Lady),'” the
cardinal said.

asked myself, ‘How many adults would have done the same?'” the cardinal
said. “Maybe 90 percent
of adults would probably say, ‘Yes, of course, it was a lie, it was all
a fairy tale.'”

the fact that the apparitions of Mary contributed to their sanctity “is
evident and obvious,” Cardinal Saraiva Martins said, it was Blesseds
Francisco and Jacinta’s “personal holiness that counts.”

“They were beatified because their heroic virtue was historically
established; to prefer death rather than to say a lie,” he said. “For
me, that fact of having preferred death instead of telling a lie, that is a heroic
act. As I said before, an adult would probably not be able to do that.”

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Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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