It is 1917, and the three young visionaries of Fatima – brother and sister Francisco and Jacinta Marto, and their cousin, Lúcia dos Santos – have learned much over the preceding months. Part of God’s plan, the true identity of the Lady who appears over the holm oak, and the terrors of hell have been revealed to them in a series of apparitions from the Blessed Virgin Mary. They studied reading and writing at the request of Our Lady.
Their experiences have taught them that people, even members in their own families, can be brutal, malicious and callous. Since the last apparition in July, the children have suffered greatly – physically and emotionally. Their souls, however, could not be tortured. Taking refuge in the Immaculate Heart has protected them from the wickedness that surrounds them. God’s providence will ensure that the children’s ordeal will always be remembered.
Knowing the events that take place between the last apparition and the next is essential for understanding the remaining apparitions, messages and the children’s lives.
The three young shepherds wanted nothing more than to be left alone, to say their prayers, and make their sacrifices for Jesus and His Blessed Mother. However, news of the apparitions spread throughout Portugal. The number of visitors to Fatima increased daily. People waited to seek them out in public. Some were devout and had come with requests for Our Lady’s intercession. Others were merely curious. Some even came to ambush them with insults. Once simple children, they were now public figures.
This had become the most circulated story during that time. Newspapers covered the events; however, they were insensitive and critical. The apparitions were reported in the papers, but the facts were distorted. They invented facts from rumors. They turned the public against the children, their families, the priest and the church. One paper contended, “There’s a new factory of miracles that the priests are setting up in Fatima.” Some articles attempted to explain it away. They accused the children and those who believed in them of being epileptics, the victims of fraud, greed or collective suggestions. The ridicule and accusations of the newspapers divided the people. It was fodder for the enemies of the Church on the one hand. For the believers, it was a source of zeal.
The local government magistrate took notice. He governed the village of Fatima and had tremendous political power in the County of Ourém. His name was Artur Oliveira Santos. All administrative, political, and sometimes even judicial, power was his alone. He was baptized Catholic, but abandoned the Church at the age of 20 to join the Masonic Lodge. He would later be the founder and head of the Masonic order at Ourém. What added to his power was ownership of the local newspaper. He purchased it as an endeavored to undermine the faith of the people in the Church and the priests.
When he heard about the apparitions of Fatima, he realized the effects they might have among the people. He also knew that if he allowed the Church to rise to new life in his county, he would be laughed to scorn by his friends and Masonic brethren. He counted on his immense power and the people’s fear of him to destroy this new religious annoyance. His first order of business was to prevent the children from going to the Cova before the next apparition was to take place, on Aug. 13.
The story of how the magistrate’s evil scheme unfolded is compiled from Ti Marto’s own recollection, Lúcia’s memories, accounts from people who witnessed it, and from official records that were kept by the magistrate’s regidor (the equivalent of an alderman).
Ti Marto recalls, “Antonio and I had been summoned to appear at the County House, with Lúcia and Francisco, at twelve noon, August the eleventh. Lúcia’s first question was. ‘Aren’t Jacinta and Francisco going too?’ ‘Why should such little children go there?’ I replied. ‘No, I will answer for them.’ Lúcia ran to Jacinta’s room to inform her cousin of the summons they had received and how she feared she would be killed. ‘If they kill you, tell them that Francisco and I are like you and that we want to die too,’ I heard my daughter say. Little Jacinta cried.”
When they arrived, the magistrate shouted at Ti Marto, “Where is the boy?” “What boy?” Ti Marto said. “He did not know that there were three children involved, and as he had sent for only one, I pretended that I did not know what he meant. ‘It’s six miles from here to our village,’ I told him, ‘and the children can’t walk that distance.’ I had a mind to tell him some more things; imagine, the children so small wanted in court!
“He flared up and gave me a piece of his mind. What did I care! Then he began to question Lúcia, trying to pry the secret out of her. But she didn’t say a word. Then he turned to her father, ‘Do the people of Fatima believe in these things?’
“‘Not at all. All that is just women’s talk.’ Then the magistrate turned towards me to see what I would say.
“‘I am here at your orders and I agree with my children!’
“‘You believe it is true?’ he sneered at me.
“‘Yes, sir, I believe what they say.’ He laughed at me, but I didn’t mind. The magistrate then dismissed Lúcia, at the same time warning her that if he did not learn her secret, he would take her life.”
The interview ended and they left for home.
They thought the matter was settled, but the magistrate had only begun to execute his plan. It was almost time for the next apparition. He was determined to prevent it at any cost.
Ti Marto recalled on the morning of Aug. 13, “I was working in the field. A short time later I was called to go home.” The magistrate was waiting for him. He claimed he wanted to see the miracle for himself. He offered to take the children to the Cova in his carriage. The children refused. He then demanded that they go first to the rectory in Fatima. Ti Marto remembers arriving at the rectory, “The magistrate shouted, ‘Send up the first!’
“‘The first? Which one?’ I snapped right back. I was upset by the premonition of some evil.
“‘Lúcia,’ he said arrogantly.
“‘Go ahead, Lúcia,’ I said to her.”
The pastor questioned the children for a short time. Then the magistrate dismissed her and told the others to leave. “The children started down the stairs. Meanwhile, the carriage was brought right up to the last step without my noticing it,” Senhor Marto reported. “It was just perfect for him, for in a moment, he decoyed the children into it. Francisco sat in front and the two girls in the back. It was a cinch. The horse started trotting in the direction of the Cova da Iria. I relaxed. Upon reaching the road, the horse wheeled around, the whip cracking over him, and he bolted away like a flash. It was all so well planned and so well carried out. Nothing could be done now.”
As they rode away, the people along the road realized that he was stealing the children and tried to stop him.
He took the children to his house and locked them in a room. “You won’t leave this room until you tell me the secret,” he warned them. They did not answer him. “If they kill us,” Jacinta consoled the other two when they were alone, “it doesn’t matter. We’ll go straight to heaven.”
The children spent the night of Aug. 13 in loneliness and prayer, beseeching Our Lady that they might have the strength to remain faithful to Her always. When morning arrived, however, they were all taken to the County House where they were put through relentless questioning.
The first to quiz them was an old lady, who used all her cunning and wiles to learn their secret. Later, the magistrate tried bribes, offering them shiny gold coins; he made all kinds of promises to them and threatened them with every sort of punishment, but the children would not give in. This kept up all morning, broken only by lunch. They were put through the same inhuman questioning all afternoon. Finally, the magistrate told them he was going to put them in jail and have them thrown into a tank of boiling oil.
After the children spent the next day in the jail, the guards came and took Jacinta to the inquisitor. “The oil is already boiling. Tell the secret.” Jacinta remained silent. “Take her away and throw her into the tank!” yelled the inquisitor. The guard grabbed her arm, swung her around and locked her in another room.
Outside the magistrate’s office, while waiting their turn, Francisco confided to Lúcia, “If they kill us, we shall soon be in heaven. Nothing else counts. I hope that Jacinta does not get scared. I should say a Hail Mary for her.” He took off his cap and said a prayer.
The other guard came back and led Francisco into the magistrate’s office. Grabbing hold of the boy, he shouted, “Spit out the secret. The other one is already burned up; now it’s your turn. Go ahead, out with it.” “I can’t,” he replied, “I can’t tell it to anyone.”
“You say you can’t. That’s your business. Take him away. He’ll share his sister’s lot.”
The boy was taken into the next room, where he found Jacinta, safe and happy.
Lúcia was convinced that they had been killed and thinking that she was next to be thrown into the burning cauldron of oil, she trusted in her heavenly Mother not to desert her, but to give her the courage to be loyal and courageous, even as Francisco and Jacinta were. She too did not reveal the secret. After her inquisition, Lúcia too was locked in the room where the other two were, and how happy they were for their unwavering fidelity to Our Lady.
The magistrate did not yet give up. The guard came in to remind them that soon they would be thrown into the burning oil. The thought of being able to die together for Our Lady made them all the happier. The magistrate finally admitted, after further fruitless questioning, that he could accomplish nothing. Then out of fear of what the enraged people might do, he himself took them in his carriage to Fatima, hardly realizing that the Church was celebrating on that day the Feast of the Assumption.
When the people filed out of church, after attending Mass on the holy day, they congregated in the yard. “A public official and underling of the magistrate approached me.” Ti Marto said. “He shook, from head to foot. I never saw the like before. ‘Here you have the children!’ he said. I wanted to speak my mind but I restrained myself and remarked, ‘This might have come to a sorry end. They wanted the children to contradict themselves, but they failed. Even if they succeeded, I would always say they spoke the truth.’”
The magistrate ordered Senhor Marto to accompany him to the local inn. Of their conversation over the wine Ti Marto later recalled, “The whole thing bored me very much, for he was trying to convince me that the children had told him the secret. ‘Very well, very well,’ I said. ‘They did not tell it to their father or mother, but they did tell it to you!’” He knew better, though. He believed the children.