St. Francisco: The Boy Who Died Smiling

by Barb Ernster –

Francisco’s final resting place (Photo: Barb Ernster)

The holiness of St. Francisco is hidden in the stories of Fatima. Putting it together, one sees Francisco’s advancement in the spiritual life during his time on earth, primarily in his devotion to the “Hidden Jesus.”

Francisco died the morning of April 4, 1919, after a six-month battle with the Spanish flu. Knowing that Our Lady promised him heaven during the June 13 apparition, he accepted his fate, content to suffer quietly. While on earth, he offered his sufferings to console Jesus and was rewarded with a visit from the Blessed Mother at death’s door.

Sometime during the night before he died, while his mother sat with him, Francisco said, “Mother, look at that lovely light by the door.” His mother said he gave a smile and remained like that while he continued to suffer until he breathed no more. His father, Ti Marto, said, “He died smiling.”

Many visitors to Francisco’s sick room commented that it felt so good to be with him, likening it to being in church.

Three Fatima Seers

A woman from a nearby village came to Francisco, asking him to pray that her husband and son be reconciled after the father had banished the son from their home because he did not want to adhere to his rules. Francisco told the mother, “Don’t worry. I’m going to heaven very soon and when I get there I will ask Our Lady for that grace.”

On the day Francisco died, the father and son were reconciled. I often remind Francisco of this story when I need his help — he always comes through.

Francisco prayed a lot, developing great confidence in prayer. Often, he took someone’s petition before the tabernacle and emerged with the assurance that their prayer would be answered, which it was.

The intimacy he developed with the “Hidden Jesus” is evidence of the grace he received from devotion to Mary, being formed in her Immaculate Heart — grace that is available to all of us.

Our Lady indeed promised Francisco heaven, but first, he had to say “many rosaries.” It is clear she wanted to draw this humble little boy, who struggled with his catechism, deep into the mystery of contemplation. It led him to a level of spirituality many souls never achieve.

Drawn by the Light That Was God

Francisco was a docile child to the point of exasperation, according to Lucia. He shrugged off those who took advantage of his nature and always lost the games they played. Learning did not come easy to him, which delayed his ability to receive First Communion. One former classmate, quoted in Father John De Marchi’s book Fatima from the Beginning, said:

“He was very backward at his lessons and was still in the lowest form, a misfortune which drew upon him the strictures of his teacher and school-fellows. It is obvious, however, that he was occupied with the sublime thoughts which the angel had brought to birth in his mind and that he cared little or nothing for the ordinary instruction of the school.”

Despite limitations, Francisco became highly learned in the things of heaven. This was sparked by the Angel of Peace when he received the Precious Blood of Jesus in the chalice.

The tabernacle at St. Anthony parish where Francisco prayed (Photo: Barb Ernster)

Francisco asked Lucia, “I know that the angel gave the Host to you, but what was it he gave to me and Jacinta?” Jacinta responded that he, too, had received Communion: “Didn’t you see the Blood that was dripping from the Host into the chalice?”

Francisco replied, “I felt that God was in me, but I didn’t know how.” He did not receive Communion again until the night before he died, but was always aware of the presence of Christ in Lucia when she visited him after receiving Holy Communion.

During the June and July apparitions, he was drawn to the immense light that radiated from Our Lady’s hands. Despite not being able to hear what Our Lady said, Francisco saw the vision of hell and the third part of the secret. Yet, he was mostly drawn by the light that penetrated their hearts:

“We were on fire in that light which is God, and yet we were not burnt! What is God? We could never put it into words. Yes, that is something which we could never express! But what a pity it is that He is so sad! If only I could console Him.”

He became a vessel that carried interiorly the pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Francisco recalled the serious message of the angel: “to make reparation for their crimes and console your God!”

He often prayed alone and pondered the mystery of what he was experiencing. When Lucia and Jacinta asked what he was doing, he replied, “Thinking about God.” God became the center of his life. He thirsted for nothing else but to know Him better.

In August, facing death by the mayor of Ourem, he had already reached a level of holy detachment that the great martyrs possessed: “If they kill us, we’ll soon be in heaven! How wonderful! Nothing else matters!” Later, he confided to Lucia that he was filled with “boundless joy and peace,” as he was heading to join Jacinta in the “boiling oil.”

After the October apparition, Francisco summarized the experience: “I loved seeing the angel, but I loved still more seeing Our Lady. What I loved most of all was to see our Lord in that light from Our Lady, which penetrated our hearts. I love God so much.”

Sister Angela Coelho, vice postulator for the Causes of Canonization for the three seers, states in her book Inside the Light that Francisco’s school was the tabernacle; he fulfilled his mission by praying the Rosary:

“Despite his youth, Francisco can teach us so much. He teaches us to ‘think about God,’ to remain lowly and humble, to be obedient, and to love the ‘Hidden Jesus’ and Our Lady. These are such simple things that can lead to our ultimate happiness if we would just believe in their importance.”

Seeing the Heavenly Mother’s light at death’s door was as familiar as his earthly mother coming to him with dinner. It was the light that captured his soul and put a smile on his face. From heaven, he now intercedes for us before the Beatific Vision.

This article was originally published in the 2023 First Issue of Soul Magazine. Barb Ernster is the Communications Manager/Editor for the World Apostolate of Fatima, USA.

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