In this 6th week of Lent with St. Francisco, we are focusing on the beatitude, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus stated clearly that we will be persecuted if we follow Him. He told us, “If the world hates you, realize it hated me first … If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (Jn 15:18, 20).
St. Paul tells us in his letter to Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tm 3:12).
We all experience persecution to one degree or another. It is difficult to rejoice during these times or feel blessed. We need the grace of God to remain at peace during times of injustice.
Francisco experienced persecutions almost as soon as the apparitions at Fatima began. At the schoolhouse, he was subjected repeatedly to charges of being a fraud, especially by his teacher. These humiliations followed him to the playground where his peers teased him further.
His most severe persecution came on August 13, when he, along with Jacinta and Lucia, were kidnapped and imprisoned by the mayor. After several days of threats and coercion, the mayor ordered they be boiled in oil and took Jacinta first. Francisco must have felt completely helpless trying to save his little sister. When they came for him, everything indicated Jacinta was dead and his own death was imminent. Surely, his natural response was fear and distress at the pain he would experience; perhaps even repugnance for the injustice of it all.
That day, he accepted martyrdom. Not even to save his life would he betray Our Lord and Our Lady. With a calm and steady spirit, he faced his persecutors, accepted his death bravely and kept his eyes on heaven. How could a 9-year-old, or any of us, do that, except by cooperation with God’s grace.
St. Francisco wasn’t asked to give up his life that day, but he passed a great test. Blessed is he, for the kingdom of heaven is his.