Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005 and before that a regular correspondent for the paper. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He is the author of Fruits of Fatima — Century of Signs and Wonders. He holds a graduate degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
May 13 marks the 102nd anniversary of Fatima. While not the same date, this year also commemorates the 100th anniversary of the death of Fatima seer St. Francisco.
Let’s recall the major event of the apparition first. May 13 was the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament. Keep that in mind for when we get to Francisco.
The children were tending sheep at the Cova outside the town. They ate lunch and began to pray a Rosary, although a rather shortened one using on the first few words of each prayer.
They saw what they thought was lightning, although the sky was clear. Moments later, while moving the sheep, they saw a second flash and Our Blessed Mother appeared before them.
She asked the children: Will you offer yourselves to God, and bear all the sufferings he sends you? In atonement for all the sins that offend Him? And for the conversion of sinners?
“We will,” they said.
Our Lady answered, Then you will have a great deal to suffer, but the grace of God will be with you and will strengthen you.
Then a heavenly light streamed from her hands and the children “knew somehow that this light was God, and we could see ourselves embraced in it.”
Our Lady told them, “Say the Rosary every day, to bring peace to the world and an end to the war.”
Francisco’s Reaction Teaches Lessons
In her memoirs, Lucia described how her cousin Francisco was overjoyed when he was told of Our Lady’s promise that he would go to heaven. (Remember, he saw Our Lady but did not hear her.) Lucia said her cousin exclaimed how he would pray: “Oh, my dear Our Lady! I’ll say as many Rosaries as you want!”
From that time, he would separate himself somewhat from Luca and his sister Jacinta and when they wondered why he did this, he would show them his rosary.
Lucia said when they asked him to play and then pray the Rosary afterward, he would tell them, “I’ll pray then as well. Don’t you remember that Our Lady said I must pray many Rosaries?”
He would even skip lunchtime to pray the Rosary.
What an example and what a lesson from a youngster who was not even 10 years old about how we should listen to our Blessed Mother’s requests. Just think how in these last 102 years how many people have actually taken her simple requests to heart.
Lesson Two from Francisco
Connected to that first apparition comes something else he soon shared with Lucia. He told her how much he loved “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! But He is very sad because of so many sins! We must never commit any sins again.”
“Thus, he was a great promoter of reparation,” says John Preiss, president of Fatima Family Apostolate International.
Again, take a look at the world’s slide from May 13, 1917, to 1939 and World War II, then through the last 15-20 years when it comes to sin and offending God. But Francisco, not yet 10 years old, was not about to stray from what Our Lady revealed and asked.
“Didn’t Our Lady say that we would have much to suffer, to make reparation to Our Lord and to her own Immaculate Heart for all the sins by which They are offended?” Francisco reminded Lucia. “They are so sad! If we can console them with these sufferings, how happy we shall be!”
And another time he said, “I am thinking about God, Who is so sad because of so many sins! If only I could give Him joy!”
Preiss finds great lessons in this. He shares how we can see a unique spirituality in Francisco “which made him more engaged with consoling Our Lord than converting sinners. In Lucia’s memoirs, she illustrated Francisco’s desires: ‘One day I asked him: ‘Francisco, which do you like best: to console Our Lord or to convert sinners so as to prevent souls from going to Hell?’”
Francisco answered “I liked more to console Our Lord. Didn’t you notice last month how Our Lady was so sad when she said people must no longer offend God, Our Lord, who is already much offended? I wanted to console Our Lord and, afterward, to convert sinners so they will no longer offend Him.”
Preiss explains that Francisco’s priority of consoling God was so clear that he spoke often about it. He reminds of the day Lucia visited Francisco, “already in his final sickness, and he complained about a massive headache. When Jacinta reminded him to offer it up for the conversion of sinners, he replied: ‘Yes, but first I offer it to console Our Lord and Our Lady; and only then I offer it for sinners and for the Holy Father.’”
Now, remember how the first apparition fell on the Feast Day of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament?
Francisco would spend hours in church before the Blessed Sacrament consoling the “Hidden Jesus.” He would skip school to do so, explaining how he was going to heaven soon. He decided to spend his time more productively consoling the Hidden Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament over all the sins committed against him.
“Francisco’s witness challenges us all,” says Preiss. “How do we respond when we receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist? Is it simply out of habit, or with profound love? Often, in the rush of our everyday lives, we lose focus on our spiritual lives. Francisco grew in faith through what became a life of constant prayer, especially praying the Rosary.”
During the great influenza epidemic on April 4, 1919, Francisco died at the age of 10 after leaving a lifetime’s worth of example following the guidance and requests of Our Lady of Fatima.