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Kathryn Swegart recounts the story of Francisco Marto, one of the children who witnessed the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917.

In the year 1919, fear gripped the hamlet of Aljustrel, Portugal, just outside of Fatima. The Spanish flu had spread throughout the countryside. Worldwide, more than a million people had died in the epidemic with no end in sight. 

Among those stricken by the deadly virus was 10-year-old Francisco Marto. Bravely, he laid in bed ready to die. His mother, Olimpia, stayed by his side in prayerful vigil. Suddenly Francisco sat up, pointed at the window, and spoke. “Oh Mother, look at that beautiful light.” 

“I don’t see any light,” his mother answered. 

“Over there. Look! It is the most beautiful light I have ever seen.” 

Olimpia knew what the light meant. In the early stages of his illness, Francisco had predicted that Our Lady would come and take him to heaven. He died on April 4, 1920. 

Readers will probably recognize Francisco as one of the three visionaries who witnessed six apparitions of the Blessed Mother in 1917. He was also present for three visits of the Angel of Peace in 1916. 




Little is written about Francisco, a quiet boy who was devoted to Our Lady and the Blessed Sacrament. Much of what we know about him comes from the memoirs of Lucia dos Santos, his older cousin and visionary of Fatima. Surprising facts are revealed by Lucia. 

Sometime after the July 13th vision Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta went off to a pasture with their sheep. It was time to play. They jumped from rock to rock and listened to echoes in a deep ravine. Francisco disappeared into a hollow hidden by rocks. Lucia and Jacinta continued to play, only to stop suddenly. They heard shouts coming from a distance away. It was Francisco and he was in trouble. Urgently, they searched for him, climbing over rocks and past cliffs. After many minutes, they found him. Here is Lucia’s description. 

At last, we came upon him, trembling with fright, still on his knees, and so upset that he was unable to rise to his feet. 

“What’s wrong? What happened to you?” 

In a voice half smothered with fright, he replied. 

“It was one of those huge beasts that we saw in hell. He was right here breathing flames!” 


Lucia shared other stories about her cousin. She wrote of his love of birds, often sharing his bread with them. With tender heart, he reached out to a poor woman who was too frail to gather her sheep. Francisco often came to her aid, chasing after stray sheep. 

Francisco had a deep devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. As the fatal sickness closed in on him, his greatest desire was to be near the “Hidden Jesus” in the tabernacle. Lucia remembered the day he was walking slowly to school. She questioned him. 

“I’ve such a bad headache, and I feel as though I’m going to fall,” he said. 

“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.” 


These two little saints, canonized on May 16, 2017, are models of holiness for children, especially those preparing for First Holy Communion. Many photographs exist that help us connect with them. To study their faces, to see their furrowed brows and serious expressions, helps us to ponder their remarkable lives. I think that boys can easily relate to St. Francisco, who loved crawling through the grass in search of snakes and lizards. 


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These two little saints are models of holiness for children, especially those preparing for First Holy Communion. #CatholicMom


I have a prayer card on the table next to my bed. It reminds me to pray for the conversion of sinners, a vital message from Our Lady of Fatima. 

The feast day of St. Jacinta and St. Francisco is February 20, a day that marks the death of Jacinta. 



Copyright 2023 Kathryn Swegart
Images: Jornal O Bom CatólicoUnknown authorUnknown author, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Unknown photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons