St. Jacinta endured long and painful death for poor sinners

By Donal Anthony Foley

St. Jacinta Marto died on February 20, 1920, just shy of her 10th birthday, after having endured tremendous sufferings over the last couple years of her young life.

We tend to associate the sufferings of the saints with their physical martyrdom, such as that endured by the early martyrs of the Church. But many saints have also endured what might be described as a slow and prolonged martyrdom, and this was certainly the case with St. Jacinta.

It should also be noted that her willingness to be boiled in oil at the behest of the Mayor in Ourem, when she refused to reveal the secret given by Our Lady, shows that she was ready to have been martyred a few years earlier at the age of seven.

Right from the first apparition of Our Lady in May 1917, Jacinta must have realized that her future life would involve suffering, although no doubt the beauty of what she saw that day overshadowed the idea of future sufferings.

Towards the end of this first apparition, the Blessed Virgin put this question to Lucia and her cousins, “Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you, as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?”  Upon Lucia’s answer, “yes”, Our Lady added, “Then you are going to have much to suffer, but the grace of God will be your comfort.”

The Blessed Virgin then enveloped the children in a wonderful light that streamed from her hands, in which the children saw themselves in God.

Here in a nutshell is the reason why Jacinta was able to cope so well with her later agonizing sufferings – she was sustained by an intense love and the grace of God.

Over time, Jacinta took Our Lady’s words to heart and developed a progressive desire to suffer, particularly for the conversion of sinners, by for example, not drinking water during the fierce heat of the Portuguese summer, or later, when she was very ill, drinking a glass of milk, even though she could barely stomach it, for love of Jesus and Mary.  Lucia wrote about her in her memoirs: 

How is it that Jacinta, small as she was, let herself be possessed by such a spirit of mortification and penance, and understood it so well?

I think the reason is this: firstly, God willed to bestow on her a special grace, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary; and secondly, it was because she had looked upon hell, and had seen the ruin of souls who fall therein.

In October, 2018, a year after the Miracle of the Sun, Jacinta and her brother, St. Francisco, fell ill to the Spanish Flu that was ravaging Europe at the end of World War II.

Lucia recounts how the evening before she fell sick Jacinta said to her, “I’ve a terrible headache and I’m so thirsty! But I won’t take a drink, because I want to suffer for sinners.”

Lucia asked her one day if she was feeling better. Jacinta said, “You know I’m not getting better. I’ve such pains in my chest! But I don’t say anything. I’m suffering for the conversion of sinners.”

On another occasion, Jacinta sent for Lucia and said to her, “Our Lady came to see us. She told us she would come to take Francisco to heaven very soon, and she asked me if I still wanted to convert more sinners. I said I did. She told me I would be going to a hospital where I would suffer a great deal; and that I am to suffer for the conversion of sinners, in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and for love of Jesus…

“She said my mother would take me, and then I would have to stay there … suffering all alone! But never mind! I’ll suffer for love of Our Lord, to make reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for the conversion of sinners and for the Holy Father.”

And so, Jacinta knew that she would suffer terribly and all alone, yet she accepted this as the will of God and Our Lady and the way by which she would help convert many sinners. We should remember that at this time Jacinta was still only a young child of nine.

St. Jacinta first went to the hospital at Ourem and did indeed suffer a great deal there. She returned home for a while, but as Lucia tells us, “She had a large open wound in her chest which had to be treated every day … she bore this without complaint and without the least sign of irritation.”

The Blessed Virgin visited Jacinta again, and she later confided to Lucia what had happened: “She told me that I am going to Lisbon to another hospital; that I will not see you again, nor my parents either, and after suffering a great deal, I shall die alone. But she said I must not be afraid, since she herself is coming to take me to heaven.”

The thought of dying alone was a particular cross for Jacinta, but she bore it with resignation and love. And we shouldn’t imagine that she was some sort of young Amazon who was indifferent to suffering; in fact, Lucia in her memoirs tells us that she was a delicate child, who suffered greatly from the heat. Bravely she faced the manner of her death, saying to Lucia often, “O Jesus! Now you can convert many sinners, because this is a really big sacrifice!”

At the insistence of Doctor Eurico Lisboa, she was taken to Lisbon in late January 1920 and initially stayed at the Orphanage run by Madre Godinho on Rua da Estrela. It was here that she greatly edified this good woman with her patience, holiness and a wisdom well beyond her years.

As her condition worsened, on February 2, the feast of the Presentation, she was taken to the Dona Estefania Hospital. The diagnosis for her condition was given as purulent pleurisy with osteitis of two ribs – that is severe inflammation of the lungs and affected ribs.

On February 10, she underwent an operation to remove the two ribs, but she was so weak that she could only have a local anesthetic, and as a consequence suffered greatly. The operation was a success, but left her with wound into which a hand could be inserted. This wound had to be dressed daily and this cause Jacinta excruciating pain – but she never complained.

On February 20, after going to confession to the local parish priest at about 8 pm, she asked for viaticum. But he said that he would come back the next day with Holy Communion for her, despite the fact that she knew and insisted that she would shortly die. Our Lady had told her the day and the hour. Her death did indeed come later that evening at 10:30 pm, far away from her family and Lucia.

So died St. Jacinta Marto of Fatima.

But her sorrow and pain were turned into eternal joy and she became in the words of St. John Paul II, one of the “two candles which God lit to illumine humanity in its dark and anxious hours.”

And it is in the acceptance of her sufferings and death that she is such a wonderful example for all of us.

Her feast day, along with St. Francisco, is celebrated on February 20. Learn more about her life in Jacinta the Flower of Fatima.

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  1. Please intercede to our Lord, for my family’s health and needs. Ave Maria, Amen.

  2. Please pray for my health, new job, finances, and the holy souls in purgatory, especially those closest to Heaven.

  3. Please pray for us. In need of prayers.

  4. Please pray for the conversion of my daughter and son-in-law. Please pray they baptize my 1yr. grandaughter soon.

  5. Pray that the USA stop abortion of the innocent babies. Pray for my husband, daughters and grandchildren .

  6. The Spanish Flu that ravaged Europe toward the end of World War One was so virulent that it became a pandemic, with worldwide effects. History textbooks show photos of policemen in Chicago wearing surgical masks to protect themselves from the strengths of the flu. Knowing about this can increase our sensitivity of the sufferings of the Marto children, St. Francisco and St. Jacinta.

  7. My blessed Mother Mary, thank you for the gift of Fatima.

  8. I find the requests for prayers interesting. I always answer them – I know the pain of praying for familial conversion – but I cannot help but notice that not one/one person commented on the grace of this young saint or asked for her intercession. Instead it’s just what seems like a selfish “pray for me”. What St Javier’s bore for us sinners makes my aches, pains and complaints so utterly trivial in comparison. Maybe we can all pray for one another but maybe we should all pray to this precious little saint for her intercession to help us, especially one so close to the Blessed Virgin Mary. God bless all.

    • Pls note Jacinta was autocorrected to Javier. It is of course St Jacinta.

  9. Although I have read much about my Patron Saints Lucia, Fransisco and Jacinta; I am at a loss for words and moved to tears by your article. Thank you so much.

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