The Courage of Martyrs
The three children chosen by Heaven to receive the Message intended for all mankind were locked in a prison cell in Ourem. It was evening. Lucy, Jacinta, and Francisco stared wide-eyed into the opposite extremes of the cell. Staring back at them was a handful of criminals.
In an effort to terrorize the three seers, the Tinsmith, the Administrator of Ourem, had locked the children in a jail cell.
Jacinta sniffled and rasped, “Neither your parents nor mine have come to see us. They do not care about us.”
Francisco tried to be a man. “Don’t cry. We will offer it to Jesus for sinners.”
The tiny peasant child, in his old man’s clothes and shepherd’s toque, pulled the toque from his head, looked to Heaven and prayed aloud: “O my Jesus, it is for love of Thee and for the conversion of sinners.”
Jacinta added, “It is also for love of the Holy Father and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
Francisco said, “If we do not see our mother again, patience! We will offer that for the conversion of sinners. The worst would be if Our Lady did not come any more! That is what would be the most painful! But I will offer it also for sinners.” But seeking a little more reassurance than his own faith and bravado he asked Lucy, “Is Our Lady not going to appear to us anymore?”
Lucy, even now maintaining a maturity beyond her years, said “I don’t know”, making no effort to insist on the positive when so much negative was in evidence. But she added, “I think so.”
Francisco sighed, half cried, “I want so much to see Her!”
A man known as ‘the Executioner’ retrieves them from the cell, ushers them into a room and leaves them. Before he closes the door he says, “Soon they will come to get you in order to boil you in oil.” An absurd claim even in Masonic Portugal, but all too believable for three peasant children who had never seen the inside of a police station, let alone a jail cell.
Lucy’s face remained stony, expressionless, determined, as the door closed. Jacinta was at the window, crying. Lucy drew her near and comforted her.
Jacinta sobbed, “We are going to die without seeing either father or mother again. I should like at least to see my mother.”
“Then you do not wish to offer this sacrifice for the conversion of sinners?” said Lucy.
“Yes, I do wish to!”
Raising her hands and eyes to Heaven, she said, “O my Jesus it is for Thy Love, for the conversion of sinners, for the Holy Father and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
The prisoners, huddled nearby, who had been watching started muttering, and one of them spoke for them all.
“But, then, tell that secret to the Administrator. What does it matter to you that this Lady does not wish it?”
Jacinta recoiled from the thought. “No! In place of that I prefer to die.”
Jacinta then took a medal from around her neck and asked a prisoner to hang it on a nail on the wall. And on their knees in front of that medal the children began to pray.
The prisoners knelt down behind the three children and after listening awkwardly started to join in. Several of them had trouble making the Sign of the Cross.
Francisco glanced sideways and noticed a prisoner who was wearing a beret on his head. He shuffled toward him. “If you want to pray you should take off your beret.”
The prisoner humbly removed his beret. At that moment, the door swung open. The ‘Executioner’ entered and yelled at Jacinta.
“The oil is about to be boiled: Tell the secret, if you do not wish to be burned!”
“You cannot? Well I am going to make you able to tell it. Come!”
Bravely, Jacinta, sniffing back tears, went with him, the attitude of adult martyrdom guiding her.
Francisco said to Lucy, “If they kill us, as they are saying, in a little time we will be in Heaven! What happiness! That doesn’t affect me at all.” But he listened for sounds of Jacinta’s ‘torture’. “May God will that Jacinta not be afraid, I am going to say an Ave Maria for her,” he said, and removing his cap he began to pray.
A guard demanded, “What are you doing?”
“I’m reciting an Ave Maria so Jacinta will not be afraid.”
The guard made a scornful gesture as the Executioner returned.
Then he pronounced the terrible words, “Jacinta is already dead.”
Francisco was very stoic, Lucy very shocked.
“Now you tell me the secret,” ordered the Executioner.
“I cannot tell it to anyone,” Francisco said.
“You cannot? We shall see.”
Seizing him by the arm, he pulled Francisco along behind him to lead him to the ‘torture room’. Francisco was shoved in. There stood Jacinta. No boiling oil!
Back in the prison cell, Lucy backed away as the ‘Executioner’ reached for her. He grabbed her and hauled her out.
Moments later the door to the torture room opened and Lucy was shoved in. Jacinta and Francisco ran to her. Immediately the Tinsmith entered.
“Now we will boil you in oil together!”
But he neither got the secret, nor even any confession. It was left to Canon Formigao to assess the behavior of the seers under this horrific pressure.
“Who does not see that the conduct of the children was extraordinary, even amazing? In everything that happened at Vila Nova de Ourem, with respect to them, do we not feel, so to speak, a supernatural protection which defends and encourages them? Without the strength of On High, it was (i.e., should have been) easy to make them contradict themselves, to extract the secret from them, to oblige them to retract. Children so young, so primitive, so ignorant, how could they have avoided the traps which the intelligence of the wicked had set for them? How could they resist the promises which were so seductive, and especially resist such horrible procedures of intimidation, if they had not been certain of possessing the truth and if God had not been there with them?”
The next morning, after a final interrogation, the children were brought back to Fatima. Outside the priest’s house, the three seers stood on the steps. People leaving Mass of the Assumption at the church alongside rushed to them. Ti Marto hugged his Jacinta.
The Tinsmith, having taken refuge in a neighboring tavern, watched through a window the scene at the priest’s house across the street. As the priest approached the steps from the church, the Tinsmith immediately exited the tavern and crossed the street.
The people took up clubs, and except for words of appeasement and the accommodating attitude of Ti Marto, the Tinsmith would have undergone a beating. Ti Marto stepped between the people and the Tinsmith and the priest.
The priest also, whom some parishioners suspected of contriving with the Administrator during the abduction of the children, was severely taken to task. The astuteness of the Tinsmith proved quite painful for Father Ferreira.
That evening in his office, Father Ferreira, shaken by the anger of the people toward him, drafted a letter which he made public, stating:
”My heart of a Catholic priest must reject with all its strength the insidious and unjust calumny addressed to me, and to shout before the whole world that I have taken no part, not even the smallest part, directly or indirectly, in the odious and sacrilegious act which was committed by the bold kidnapping of the children who, in this parish, saw Our Lady ...”
Later in the week, the letter of Father Ferreira would make known the events of the Cova in an objective way to a large public. It appeared on August 17, 1917 in A Ordem, the Catholic daily newspaper of Lisbon, and a little later in O Mensagiero, the weekly of Leiria, and in the bulletin of Ourem, O Ourem, of the dean of Olival. In order to excuse himself in the eyes of thousands of pilgrims for his attitude of indifference, Father Ferreira had to call to mind the facts. And probably without intending to do so, included several passages that made an excellent defense of the events in the Cova da Iria:
“In the words of thousands of witnesses, the children’s absence did not prevent the Queen of Angels from manifesting Her power. All these people attest to the extraordinary facts and phenomena which have implanted their faith still more deeply. The Virgin has no need of the Parish Priest to show Her goodness, and it is necessary for the enemies of religion not to be able to slander the sparkling manifestations of Her benevolence in attributing the belief of the people to the presence and advice of the Parish Priest. For faith is a gift of God and not of priests. Here is the true motive for my absence and apparent indifference with regard to such a sublime and marvelous event. I abstain from reciting the phenomena which have been produced at the place of the apparitions because the press certainly has echoed them.”
On August 19, in the little valley leading to the Cabeço called Valinhos, Lucy is electrified by an awareness of something unusual. She reaches out a hand abstractedly toward Francisco. He looks at her puzzled. John, Jacinta’s and Francisco’s brother who was accompanying them, stopped in his tracks.
Even as Father Ferreira’s letter was being read by people all over Portugal, Our Lady was making an unexpected visit of consolation to the three children who had suffered so much for Her.