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FATIMA IN LUCIA'S OWN WORDS : THE FIRST MEMOIR
1. JACINTA’S CHARACTER
1. Her Natural Characteristics
Before the happenings of 1917, apart from the ties of relationship that united us, no other particular affection led me to prefer the companionship of Jacinta and Francisco to that of any other child. On the contrary, I sometimes found Jacinta’s company quite disagreeable, on account of her oversensitive temperament. The slightest quarrel which arose among the children when at play was enough to send her pouting into a corner – ‘tethering the donkey’, as we used to say. Even the coaxing and caressing that children know so well how to give on such occasions, were still not enough to bring her back to play; she herself had to be allowed to choose the game, and her partner as well. Her heart, however, was well disposed. God had endowed her with a sweet and gentle character which made her at once lovable and attractive.
I don’t know why, but Jacinta and her brother Francisco had a special liking for me, and almost always came in search of me when they wanted to play. They did not enjoy the company of the other children, and they used to ask me to go with them to the well down at the bottom of the garden belonging to my parents.
Once we arrived there, Jacinta chose which games we were to play. The ones she liked best were usually ‘pebbles’ and ‘buttons’, which we played as we sat on the stone slabs covering the well, in the shade of an olive tree and two plum trees. Playing ‘buttons’ often left me in great distress, because when they called us in to meals, I used to find myself minus my buttons. More often than not, Jacinta had won them all, and this was enough to make my mother scold me. I had to sew them on again in a hurry. But how could I persuade Jacinta to give them back to me, since besides her pouty ways she had another little defect: she was possessive!
She wanted to keep all the buttons for the next game, so as to avoid taking off her own! It was only by threatening never to play with her again that I succeeded in getting them back! Not a few times, I found myself unable to do what my little friend wanted.
One of my older sisters was a weaver and the other a seamstress, and both were at home all day. The neighbors, therefore, used to ask my mother if they could leave their children in my parents’ yard, while they themselves went out to work in the fields. The children stayed with me and played, while my sisters kept an eye on us. My mother was always willing to do this, although it meant considerable waste of time for my sisters. I was therefore charged with amusing the children, and watching to see that they did not fall into the pool in the yard.
Three large fig trees sheltered the children from the scorching sun. We used their branches for swings, and an old threshing floor for a dining room. On days like these, when Jacinta came with her brother to invite me to go with them to our favorite nook, I used to tell them I could not go, because my mother had ordered me to stay where I was. Then, disappointed but resigned, the two little ones joined in our games. At siesta time, my mother used to give her children their catechism lessons, especially when Lent was drawing near, for as she said: “I don’t want to be ashamed of you, when the priest questions you on your catechism at Easter time.”
All the other children, therefore, were present at our catechism lessons and Jacinta was there as well.
2. Her Sensitiveness
One day, one of these children accused another of improper talk. My mother reproved him very severely, pointing out that one does not say such nasty things, because they are sinful and displease the Child Jesus; and that those who commit such sins and don’t confess them, go to hell. Little Jacinta did not forget the lesson.
The very next time the children came, she said: “Will your mother let you go today?” “No.” “Then I’m going with Francisco over to our yard.” “And why won’t you stay here?” “My mother doesn’t want us to stay when those other children are here. She told us to go and play in our own yard. She doesn’t want me to learn these nasty things, which are sins and which the Child Jesus doesn’t like.” Then she whispered in my ear: “If your mother lets you, will you come to my house?” “Yes.” “Then go and ask her.” And taking her brother by the hand, she went home.
Speaking of Jacinta’s favorite games, one of them was ‘forfeits’. As Your Excellency probably knows, the loser has to do whatever the winner tells him. Jacinta loved to send the loser chasing after butterflies, to catch one and bring it to her. At other times, she demanded some flower of her own choosing. One day, we were playing forfeits at my home, and I won, so this time it was I who told her what to do. My brother was sitting at a table, writing. I told her to give him a hug and a kiss, but she protested: “That, no! Tell me to do some other thing. Why don’t you tell me to go and kiss Our Lord over there?”
There was a crucifix hanging on the wall. “Alright”, I answered, “get up on a chair, bring the crucifix over here, kneel down and give Him three hugs and three kisses: one for Francisco, one for me, and the other for yourself.” “To Our Lord, yes, I’ll give as many as you like”, and she ran to get the crucifix. She kissed it and hugged it with such devotion that I have never forgotten it. Then, looking attentively at the figure of Our Lord, she asked: “Why is Our Lord nailed to a cross like that?” “Because He died for us.” “Tell me how it happened”, she said.
3. Her Love for the Crucified Savior
In the evenings my mother used to tell stories. My father and my older sisters told us fairy stories about magic spells, princesses robed in gold and royal doves. Then along came my mother with stories of the Passion, St. John the Baptist, and so on. That is how I came to know the story of Our Lord’s Passion. As it was enough for me to have heard a story once, to be able to repeat it in all its details, I began to tell my companions, word for word, what I used to call Our Lord’s Story. Just then, my sister passed by, and noticed that we had the crucifix in our hands. She took it from us and scolded us, saying that she did not want us to touch such holy things. Jacinta got up and approached my sister, saying: “Maria, don’t scold her! I did it. But I won’t do it again.”
My sister caressed her, and told us to go and play outside, because we left nothing in the house in its proper place. Off we went to continue our story down at the well I have already mentioned.
As it was hidden behind some chestnut trees and a heap of stones and brambles, we chose this spot some years later for our more intimate talks, our fervent prayers, and to tell you everything, our tears as well – and sometimes very bitter tears they were. We mingled our tears with the waters of the same well from which we drank. Does not this make the well itself an image of Mary, in whose Heart we dried our tears and drank of the purest consolation?
But, let us come back to our story. When the little one heard me telling of the sufferings of Our Lord, she was moved to tears. From then on, she often asked me to tell it to her all over again. She would weep and grieve, saying: “Our poor dear Lord! I’ll never sin again! I don’t want Our Lord to suffer any more!”
4. Her Delicate Sensibility
Jacinta also loved going out at nightfall to the threshing floor situated close to the house, there she watched the beautiful sunsets, and contemplated the starry skies. She was enraptured with the lovely moonlit nights. We vied with each other to see who could count the most stars. We called the stars Angels’ lamps, the moon Our Lady’s lamp and the sun Our Lord’s. This led Jacinta to remark sometimes: “You know, I like Our Lady’s lamp better; it doesn’t burn us up or blind us, the way Our Lord’s does.”
In fact, the sun can be very strong there on summer days, and Jacinta, a delicate child, suffered greatly from the heat.
2. JACINTA’S CHARACTER (continued)
5. She looks and learns
As my sister belonged to the Sodality of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, every time a children’s solemn Communion came round, she took me along to renew my own. On one occasion my aunt took her little daughter to see the ceremony, and Jacinta was fascinated by the ‘angels’ strewing flowers. From that day on, she sometimes left us when we were playing, and went off to gather an apron full of flowers. Then she came back and strewed them over me, one by one. “Jacinta, why on earth are you doing that?” “I’m doing what the little angels do: I’m strewing you with flowers.”
Every year, on a big feast, probably Corpus Christi, my sister used to prepare the dresses for the children chosen to represent the angels in the procession. They walked beside the canopy, strewing flowers. I was always among the ones chosen, and one day after my sister had tried on my dress, I told Jacinta all about the coming feast, and how I was going to strew flowers before Jesus. The little one begged me to ask my sister to let her go as well. The two of us went along to make our request. My sister said she could go, and tried a dress on Jacinta. At the rehearsals, she explained how we were to strew the flowers before the Child Jesus. “Will we see Him?” asked Jacinta. “Yes,” replied my sister, “the parish priest will be carrying Him.”
Jacinta jumped for joy, and kept on asking how much longer we had to wait for the feast. The longed-for day arrived at last, and Jacinta was beside herself with excitement. The two of us took our places near the altar. Later, in the procession, we walked beside the canopy, each of us with a basket of flowers. Wherever my sister had told us to strew the flowers, I strewed mine before Jesus, but in spite of all the signs I made to Jacinta, I couldn’t get her to strew a single one. She kept her eyes fixed on the priest, and that was all. When the ceremony was over, my sister took us outside the church and asked:
“Jacinta, why didn’t you strew your flowers before Jesus?” “Because I didn’t see Him.” Jacinta then asked me: “But did you see the Child Jesus?” “Of course not. Don’t you know that the Child Jesus in the Host can’t be seen? He’s hidden! He’s the one we receive in Communion!” “And you, when you go to Communion, do you talk to Him?” “Yes, I do.” “Then, why don’t you see Him?” “Because He’s hidden.” “I’m going to ask my mother to let me go to Communion too.” “The parish priest won’t let you go until you’re ten years old.” [Jacinta was born on the 11th of March, 1910]. “But you’re not ten yet, and you go to Communion!” “Because I knew the whole catechism, and you don’t.”
After this, my two companions asked me to teach them the catechism. So I became their catechist, and they learned with exceptional enthusiasm. But though I could always answer any questions put to me, when it came to teaching, I could only remember a few things here and there. This led Jacinta to say to me one day: “Teach us some more things; we know all those.” I had to admit that I could remember things only when people questioned me on them, and I added: “Ask your mother to let you go to the church to learn your catechism.”. The two children, who so ardently desired to receive the ‘Hidden Jesus’ as they called Him, went to ask their mother, and my aunt agreed. But she rarely let them go there, for she said: “The church is a good way from here, and you are very small. In any case, the priest won’t give you Holy Communion before you’re ten years old.” Jacinta never stopped asking me questions about the Hidden Jesus, and I remember how, one day, she asked me: “How is it that so many people receive the little Hidden Jesus at the same time? Is there one small piece for each person?” “Not at all! Don’t you see that there are many Hosts, and that there is a Child Jesus in every one of them!” What a lot of nonsense I must have told her!
6. Jacinta, the Little Shepherdess
I was old enough now to be sent out to mind our sheep, just as my mother had sent her other children at my age. My sister Carolina [died in 1994] was then thirteen, and it was time for her to go out to work. My mother, therefore, put me in charge of our flock. I passed on the news to my two companions, and told them that I would not be playing with them anymore; but they could not bring themselves to accept such a separation. They went at once to ask their mother to let them come with me, but she refused. We had no alternative but to accept the separation. Nearly every day after that, they came to meet me on my way home at dusk. Then we made for the threshing floor, and ran about for a while, waiting for Our Lady and the Angels to light their lamps – or put them, as we used to say, at the window to give us light. On moonless nights, we used to say that there was no oil for Our Lady’s lamp!
Jacinta and Francisco found it very hard to get used to the absence of their former companion. For this reason, they pleaded with their mother over and over again to let them, also, Iook after their sheep. Finally my aunt, hoping perhaps to be rid of such persistent requests, even though she knew the children were too small, handed over to them the care of their own flock. Radiant with joy, they ran to give me the news and talk over how we could put our flocks together every day. Each one was to open the pen, whenever their mother decided, and whoever reached the Barreiro first was to await the arrival of the other flock. Barreiro was the name of a pond at the bottom of the hill. As soon as we met at the pond, we decided where we would pasture the flock that day. Then off we’d go, as happy and content as if we were going to a festival.
And now, Your Excellency, we see Jacinta in her new life as a shepherdess. We won over the sheep by sharing our lunch with them. This meant that when we reached the pasture, we could play at our ease, quite sure that they would not stray far away from us.
Jacinta loved to hear her voice echoing down in the valleys. For this reason, one of our favorite amusements was to climb to the top of the hills, sit down on the biggest rock we could find, and call out different names at the top of our voices. The name that echoed back most clearly was ‘Maria’. Sometimes Jacinta used to say the whole Hail Mary this way, only calling out the following word when the preceding one had stopped re-echoing.
We loved to sing, too. Interspersed among the popular songs – of which, alas! we knew quite a number – were Jacinta’s favorite hymns: ‘Salve Nobre Padroeira’ (Hail Noble Patroness), ‘Virgem Pura’, (Virgin Pure), ‘Anjos, Cantai Comigo’, (Angels, sing with me). We were very fond of dancing, and any instrument we heard being played by the other shepherds was enough to set us off. Jacinta, tiny as she was, had a special aptitude for dancing.
We had been told to say the Rosary after our lunch, but as the whole day seemed too short for our play, we worked out a fine way of getting through it quickly. We simply passed the beads through our fingers, saying nothing but “Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary...” At the end of each mystery, we paused awhile, then simply said “Our Father” and so, in the twinkling of an eye, as they say, we had our Rosary finished!
Jacinta also loved to hold the little white lambs tightly in her arms, sitting with them on her lap, fondling them, kissing them, and carrying them home at night on her shoulders, so that they wouldn’t get tired. One day on her way back, she walked along in the middle of the flock. “Jacinta, what are you doing there,” I asked her, “in the middle of the sheep?” “I want to do the same as Our Lord in that holy picture they gave me. He’s just like this, right in the middle of them all, and He’s holding one of them in His arms.”