Within the parish of Fatima, which is itself a small and modest place, there is a little hamlet called Aljustrel, and to find a less pretentious part of the world, you would probably need an angel for a guide. It is in the precise geographical center of Portugal, some say, though I have never measured it. Actually it is a group of aged and whitewashed houses, some detached and others joined, that tumble at a slight grade down a rocky lane where donkeys and sheep are happy, and an automobile, to proceed in peace, would require the gearing of a goat. It is little different now from the days of 1917, when it was the home of the three little children to whom our Lady appeared.
These children were as ordinary, by all the fair accounts of those who knew them best, as bread and fish, as gaiety and tears, as simple games of fancy, as flowers in the summer fields. They were not conspicuous for their gifts or their delinquencies.
Lucia Santos was older than her little cousins, Francisco and Jacinta. She was born on March 22,1907, in the last of these whitewashed houses on the left-hand side of the descending road. She was the youngest of seven children born to Maria Rosa and Antonio Santos (sometimes called “The Pumpkin”).4 Lucia had never been exactly pretty, either as a child or as an adult. Scrubbed and posed and supplied with a halo, she could neither then nor now fulfil the holy-picture concept of a flowering saint. As a child, her features were blunt, her eyes alone being luminous and soft. Her lips were too thick and her nose was too flat. Her eyebrows, black as crepe, appeared to form one horizontal line.
[4. In Portuguese villages people are more commonly known by their nicknames than their real ones.]
Yet Lucia was gay and bright and loved by other children. Her lightness of spirit gave a shine to the dull facade and managed most times to chase the gloom away and out of sight. It was less a redeeming factor in her personality than it was a dividend of goodness. And if, as has been our privilege, you were able to meet and to know the adult Lucia, one note of her personality would ring above the rest – her gladness.
This story of Fatima treats of Lucia in her years of childhood and early adolescence. We know a great deal about her, not only from her memoirs and the gracious help she has herself supplied, but in the endless testimony of living people who knew her well and loved her more. These documents are abundant, and throughout the text we will quote them with exact fidelity. Lucia’s oldest sister, Maria dos Anjos (which means Mary of the Angels), is a plain woman, middle-aged, as practical as a loaf of bread, and herself a stranger to angels. She recalls her sister with quiet and non-rehearsed affection:
Maria tells us:
We loved her because she was so intelligent and affectionate. Even when she had grown to the age of ten and was believed old enough to be trusted with the flocks, she would run to my mother and sit on her lap to be cuddled and kissed. We who were older used to tease her and say, “Here comes the cuddler!” – and we would even be cross with her when we felt it was overdone. But it made no difference. It would be the same the next day. You should have seen her when my first baby was born. She came home from the fields and locked up the sheep and ran as fast as her legs would carry her to my house, which was just across the street from my mother’s house. She clutched at the baby and covered it with kisses, not at all like the others around here who thought a baby was just a baby.
Lucia loved children and they adored her. Sometimes a dozen or so of them would collect in our yard and Lucia would be perfectly happy just decorating these little ones with flowers and leaves. She would make little processions with make-believe saints, arranging flowers and thrones and singing hymns to our Lady, just as if they were all in a church. I can still remember the ones she liked best. (Here Maria dos Anjos hummed a well-known Portuguese hymn to our Lady.) And she would finish the hymn by giving the “blessing.” She knew so well how to look after children that the mothers used to leave their little ones at our house when they went out to work.
No one could beat Lucia at games. She was always the organiser. The children used to hide under the fig trees and in the bushes or under the beds – anywhere, and when they were all tired from their games they would sit in the shade of the fig trees and listen to Lucia tell stories which never, never seemed to have an end.
It is certain that Lucia was gay and content as a child, not only from the testimony of those who lived with her and grew up with her, but from her own self-possessed and unfaltering recollections. After twenty-five years in a convent, she was able, at the bishop of Leiria’s firm request, to recall and document in her own hand the least details of childhood – the dances, the games, the moods of other children, the brightness of costumes, festively, proudly worn. Piety of a melancholy strain never touched Lucia sufficiently to erase the natural delight she found in costuming and fancy frills. She loved dearly to dress for festas, in the bright adornment of jingling gold chains, elaborate earrings, and shawls made gay with feathers and dazzling beads.
In that neighbourhood no other girl was dressed as prettily.
I think my sisters and my godmother, Teresa, were surprised to see that one so plain could look so nice. The other children would please me by crowding around to admire my pretty things. I think, too, that all the other children liked me – all but a little orphan girl whom my godmother had adopted at the time of her own mother’s death. She seemed to think I would get part of the inheritance she hoped for herself.
There is evidence that Lucia as a child was somewhat supercharged with dancing energy and an inclination to jabber endlessly. Her uncle, the good and patient Manuel Marto, does not indict her for this perpetual motion of lip and limb, he merely states it to have been so. He was fond of her, and recalls her depths of affection. She called him “Father.”
“It was all the time ‘Father do this’ and ‘Father do that'” Senhor Marto recalls. “She was full of mischief and I used to think she would either be very good or very bad.”
Lucia’s home life was orthodox. Her mother, Maria Rosa, was a plain, industrious, unpampered woman who permitted no nonsense. The guiding hand in the house was matriarchal, due perhaps to Antonio Santos’s frequent lapses in religious practice, and his surrenderings to thirst. Maria Rosa worried over her husband’s bad example to their children, and was an aggressive champion of virtue in a very literal and sometimes muscular way. But of her devotion and fidelity to the teachings of the Church there is no doubt.
Maria dos Anjos has attempted to describe her mother’s approach to their spiritual growth during those early years.
Our mother knew how to read printed words but could not write. Every night during the winter she used to read us some part of the Old Testament or the Gospels, or some story of Our Lady of Nazare or Lourdes. I dearly remember her saying to Lucia at the time of the apparitions: “Do you think that because our Lady appeared in Nazare and in Lourdes that she has to appear to you?”
In Lent we knew that readings would be about the Passion of our Lord. Afterwards Lucia would give her own account to the other children. Mother taught us doctrine, and would not let us go and play until we knew it properly by heart. She did not want to feel ashamed, she said, when the parish priest examined us. And she had no need to be, for the priest was very pleased with us and even when we were quite small, he allowed us to teach other children in the church. I could not have been more than nine when he made me a catechist.
Mother was never satisfied with our just being able to repeat the words of our catechism. She tried hard to explain everything so we would really understand the meaning of the words. She used to say that just repeating catechism without understanding was worse than useless. We used to ask her all kinds of questions and it seemed that she explained them even better than the priest in church. One day I asked her how it was that the fire of hell did not destroy the damned like the wood in the fire. She asked us if we had ever noticed how a cone cast into a fire could seem to burn and burn without being destroyed. This rather frightened us, and we made firm resolutions not to sin and fall into that fire ourselves.
But it was not only to us that mother taught catechism. Other children and even grown-ups used to come to our house for lessons.
All through May, as well as in the month of the Holy Souls, we said the family Rosary at home by the fireside, and when we went out with the flocks, our mother would always remind us to take our beads with us. “Remember,” she would tell us, “to say your beads to our Lady after lunch, and then some Our Fathers to Saint Anthony, so the sheep will not get lost.”
My mother always insisted that we be home by nightfall, no matter what the occasion. Days of festa made no difference because, with her, the supper hour was sacred. She wanted us to be humble and hard-working and truthful. The least little lie would mean the broom handle for us.
From the beginning mother taught us to love the Church, and especially the Blessed Sacrament. In those days First Holy Communion was not made until children were about ten years old, and we had to know our doctrine well. But Lucia made her First Communion when she was six. And I can still remember how happy mother was, and what a festa we had at home! 5
[5. Lucia’s First Communion.]
It is clear then – and very clear – that Senhora Santos was a champion of sound doctrine. Her conformity seems to have been rigid, sincere, and touched with her personal gloom. She displayed, for instance, undeviating faith in all pronouncements by Father Manuel Ferreira, the parish priest at Fatima, who one day declared that dancing, indulged in beyond the threshold of the home, was a sinful exercise that made the devil jig with glee. This was uncomfortable news to Maria Rosa and her nimble daughters, none of whom enjoyed the happy practice more than Lucia. But once proscribed by the parish priest, that was the end of the dancing.
Lucia, after long years in the convent, seems still to be puzzled by this local interdict:
Someone asked my mother how it was that up to that time dancing had not been considered a sin, but with the coming of the new priest had become one. My mother replied, “I don’t know, but the Reverend Father does not want dancing; that is clear; so my daughters will not go to dances. They can dance a little at home because the Reverend Father says that in the family it is not wrong to dance.”
For Maria Rosa the voice of the priest was in all things the voice of the Lord. This unvarying confidence in the judgments of Father Ferreira may to some degree explain her long and stubborn reluctance to concede that the Mother of God could have appeared to the likes of Lucia. Father Ferreira vehemently denied any possibility of the apparitions being true, and suggested to Senhora Santos that the violent nonsense in her young daughter’s head could be of diabolic inspiration. This judgment surely did not assist any flood of sympathy in Senhora Santos for the tearful and tender pleadings of her little girl: “Mama – believe me!” Maria Rosa, who knew the letter of the law so unerringly, would rather have met a monster than a lie.
“It was only after the apparitions,” Maria dos Anjos has since declared, “that the trouble began in our family.”
Francisco Marto and his little sister, Jacinta, were Lucia’s first cousins. They lived up the road a bit on that rocky and dusty lane that leads through Aljustrel. They were the sixth and seventh children of their good and durable parents, Manuel Pedro Marto and his wife, Olimpia, who became and have remained the warm, valued friends of the author of this book.
We first met Manuel Marto in 1943, when brought to his house by Father Carlos de Azevedo, the director of the publication, Voz da Fatima. We got to Aljustrel by walking through fields that in proper season cry out with beauty, but have always been poor and stubborn under that gay dress of flowers worn in summer. What fertility these acres possess was gained the hard way, by the sweat of toiling peasants through succeeding generations. When the Lord sends rain there is a harvest of wheat for June, and in September the land yields back to the worker a fair measure of maize, and grapes for making wine. The olive groves are treasured for the oil they give, and there are the sheep. These things together provide the total and uncomplicated economy of this mountain range, or serra as it is called.
Father Carlos led us past several cottages to one that was hardly different from the rest. These dwellings, almost always of sun-stained stucco, are one story high, and to modern, metropolitan eyes would at first glimpse, suggest all the comforts of an abandoned mineshaft. The neighbourhood lacks, in a loose order of its under-privilege: plumbing, electricity, central heating, refrigeration, television, radios and, except in modest and occasional amounts, cash-money. The people here are neither gadget-blest nor gadget-bound, but sufficient to the tasks and needs of every day and, consequently, free. To sympathisers they would likely say: weep for yourselves.
A group of children (probably relatives) were playing in front of Ti Marto’s house that afternoon in 1943. Since it wasn’t Sunday, they were shoeless, and by late afternoon as efficiently filmed with earth as young potatoes rooted from the field. Father Carlos asked one of them, “Is Ti Marto home?”
But Senhor Marto had already heard us and had come to the gate. “
“Come in – please do,” he said to Father Carlos. In the Portuguese custom he leaned to kiss our hands, then led us into his straw-strewn yard. “I was just going with the donkey to get some firewood,” he explained.
Senhor Marto is a spry and ancient gentleman who gets around. He was past seventy then, and is past eighty now, yet the chances are fine that he will still outlive whatever donkey is currently toting the wood. He is a lean and straight-standing man whom work has fibred like an old stalk of asparagus. He is sincere and kind, and as modest as a prayer should be. Like most of the working people on the serra he can neither read nor write, yet is an intelligent and learned man. A stranger to books, he does not know the intellectual fashions or those choking deposits of pride that erudition too often leaves in the minds and spirits of men who have believed themselves to be in chaste pursuit of God. As a priest, I have been astonished and humbled by his knowledge of theology. Do not ask me how it came to him, but do believe that in the things that matter most he speaks with Pauline clarity, as though the lightning of the Lord had struck him, too. This is Marto, the father of Francisco and Jacinta. In this story he will be our witness many times.
On my first visit to Ti Marto’s house I was welcomed into the parlour or living room. It is humble here but not without comfort and a certain abiding charm. It is dominated by the hearth that heats the house when heat is required, and where, at all times of the year, the cooking is done. There are some adornments. A table along one wall holds a variety of religious objects. There are pictures, chief among them a likeness of Pius XII, his hand raised in fatherly blessing to the people of this house.
Ti Marto called from the parlour, “Wife – come here; Father Carlos has brought a priest from Rome.”
Senhora Olimpia came in. She moves rather briskly, and she is lively and spirited, and a few years older than her husband. She was the widowed mother of two children before she married Ti Marto, and had seven more by him. She came bearing a great heap of grapes, fresh-picked for her visitors, and a basin of water and a towel for the washing of our hands.
“Please eat the grapes,” she said. “We do not need them. Neither my husband nor I drink wine.” She looked at Ti Marto in pleased appraisal, as though this were a virtue we would not trip over very often. “Sometimes on Sunday,” she explained, “he stays talking in the village, but he never goes into a tavern.”
“I would like to hear about your Francisco and your Jacinta,” I said.
We began to talk, as we have talked a great deal ever since. This is not an embellished story, but a restrained and honest one, told with love and in good conscience by people who have been very close to God.
It seems agreed by all who remember Francisco Marto that he was a handsome boy, and photographs confirm this. The one or two that have been most published present him at his slick and Sunday best in an outfit almost dudish. The boy’s glance at the camera in these pictures appears both solemn and suspicious, but whether of the photographer or his own Sunday clothes, it’s difficult to know.
Sister Lucia, the surviving seer of Fatima, in her accounts of him reports that unlike his spirited sister, Jacinta, with her capacity for frolic and self-assertion, Francisco at the age of nine was such a calculating and determined pacifist that a lack of courage would appear to be the only explanation. He was devoted to games and the company of other children, yet by Lucia’s testimony was without any appetite for the routine conflicts and tests of will that go with children’s games. He was either indifferent to his personal rights or unwilling to defend them. When he was robbed of a treasured possession, Lucia recalls, he would not even protest.
Once each year, we are told, there was glad commotion in Aljustrel when Lucia’s, Francisco’s, and Jacinta’s godmother Teresa made her annual trip to the seacoast. There’s evidence that this good lady must have been godmother to everyone in sight and faithfully remembered to return from her journeys with a gift for each child she had sponsored. One of her gifts to Francisco was a lovely handkerchief on which was stamped the image of Our Lady of Nazare. He prized it dearly and displayed it with pride among his friends. But a tragic thing occurred. His precious handkerchief was pirated by one of his companions. Investigation followed. Faithful friends went sleuthing, and the culprit was revealed. But on Francisco’s part there was no call to arms. “Let him keep it,” he said; “I do not mind.” He gave way easily and, it is said in further accusation, with a smile.
Lucia has confessed that his docility and habitual yielding inspired her less than it annoyed her:
He would play with all the children without showing preference, and he never quarrelled. But if something happened that he did not like, he would sometimes leave the game. If asked why he left, he would reply, “Because you’re bad,” or simply, “Because I want to.” And although he tried his best at games, he was dull to play with because he almost always lost. His peaceful temperament sometimes used to get very much on my nerves. If I ordered him to sit on a stone, he would meekly do so, as if I had to be obeyed. Later I would be sorry for my impatience and go to him, and he would always be as friendly as if nothing had happened.
The softness of his nature is confirmed by Ti Marto who recalls that Francisco was an affectionate, obedient boy and rarely, if ever, an obstacle in the path of family discipline. But Ti Marto fails to agree with Lucia that he was a thornless personality at home, or a timid defender of his interests. He also dissents from Lucia’s view of Francisco’s and Jacinta’s comparative courage.
This is the view of Ti Marto:
He was more courageous than Jacinta. He didn’t always have as much patience, and often, for small reason, he would run around like a young bull calf. He was anything but a coward. He would go out at night, alone in the dark, without a sign of fear. He played with lizards and snakes and would roll them around a stick and make them drink out of holes in the rocks. Fearlessly he hunted hares and foxes and moles.
Senhora Olimpia recalls Francisco’s talent for capturing lizards and other portable wildlife that are unpopular indoors. She says that his habit was to bring these specimens into the house while her own inclination was to sprint for safety. She marvelled then at the boldness of her son, and today states with certainty that he was never afraid.6 Francisco was also devoted to practical jokes that carried the risk of strong reprisal, such as dropping odd and inedible items into the open mouth of his sleeping brother John, and prior to the apparitions, his parents attest, he had once or twice refused to say his prayers, in a rebellious mood that Ti Marto was quick to correct.
[6. The fact that Francisco’s parents differ from Lucia in this measuring of his spirit and fortitude can probably be psychologically explained. How often do active and strong-willed children become subdued, even apathetic, in the presence of one person who exercises a special domination, as was obviously the case with Lucia and Francisco? In her presence, of which he was always so strongly aware, he could never have exposed all the sides of his personality. Such relations between children are not unusual.]
But kindness appears to have been a controlling trait. He gave warmth and pity to all the creatures of earth. Once, it is known, he paid the great price of the only penny he possessed, or was for some time likely to acquire, to purchase freedom for a bird another boy held captive. The actual plundering of a nest filled him with horror. Music thrilled him, and he is said to have been adept at coaxing tunes from a reed pipe, in accompaniment to which both Jacinta and Lucia were happy to sing and to dance. Indications are strong that Francisco was a nice little fellow and, on the evidence, at nine years of age, neither a hoodlum nor a shining saint.
Jacinta Marto was a lamb of the Lord, who remains the delight and living lesson of the Fatima story as it is known to date. Because Lucia loved her so, and has made her own earliest memoirs almost a sheer biography of her cousin (with the apparitions mentioned hardly at all), we have a heroine, small but complete, dainty yet brave, and as gay in the paths of sorrow and trial as only the saints can be.
She never grew much bigger than a plaster cherub, anyhow. She died when she was not quite ten years old, already on speaking terms with actual angels, and with Mary, the Queen of the Kingdom. It was the running head-start to heaven that Jacinta had clearly earned.
She was two years younger than Francisco, whom she resembled. Her prettiness was an asset that undoubtedly pleased her, and it was marked enough to prompt the special attention of her mother. Her expression was soft and her features exquisitely modelled. Her health was excellent; her energies endless; she flowed into motion with easy grace and dancing was one of her joys.
“She wasn’t as plump as Francisco,” her mother reports. “Her eyes were light in colour and brighter than my own when I was young. She liked to have her hair tidy and I used to do it for her every day. A little jacket and a cotton skirt and shoes were what she wore each day, for I was always able to keep my children shod.”
Jacinta’s grasp on the affections of all who knew her is made clear by endless testimony. “She was a darling,” her father still declares, “and none of the others could compare with her.”
This is almost excessive praise from the just and moderate Ti Marto, whose inclination would not normally be to raise the prestige of a single child like a bright flag over the rest:
She was always gentle and sweet, and she was like that from the beginning. If she wanted anything she would let us know in her own way, or just give a tiny cry, and then no more trouble at all. When we went out to Mass, or for some other reason left the house, she did not mind. We never had to go through any nonsense because of her. She was naturally good and was the sweetest among our children. When her mother told her some little fib, such as that she was only going to the cabbage-patch, when she was really going much farther, Jacinta would always detect the deception and not hesitate to scold her own mother.
Such rectitude in a child of this age may seem smug to some, or to others suggest a precocious and self-conscious scold. But there is no reason to believe that this was so. Love worked in Jacinta like a motor – a sixteen cylinder apparatus in a very small body. There were countless targets for her affection – her family, her little friends, her sheep – but above all creatures (prior to the apparitions), she loved her cousin Lucia.
The three-year difference in their ages was no barrier to their friendship or freedom of communication. Their love was rare and undoubtedly touched with grace. Envy or competition did not exist between them, though Jacinta now and then moved out from under any premature halo long enough to pout and be unhappy when she was unable to possess each of her cousin’s waking hours. When Lucia attained the age of ten and was assigned by her parents the daily task of tending the family sheep, a crisis arose. For Lucia it meant a graduation from endless games with other children to responsible chores in sometimes distant pastures; and for Jacinta, held to village doorsteps, it meant a desolate loneliness that she was not at this age willing to bear. Olimpia Marto solved this problem by permitting Jacinta a few of their own flock to take along with Lucia. Jacinta’s desire to praise and to please the older shepherdess is displayed in touching detail by Lucia’s own testimony:
My cousin went one day with her mother to a first Communion ceremony at which tiny “angels” strewed flowers before the Blessed Sacrament. After that she would often leave us at our play to gather armfuls of flowers which she would throw at me in the same way. When I asked her why she did it, she said she was doing what the angels did.
By Lucia’s account, the Gospel stories and the personality of Jesus were in Jacinta’s firm possession long before the apparitions raised the faith of these children to a status of angelic knowledge:
When she was five years old, or less, she would melt with tears on hearing the story of the Passion of our Lord. “Poor Jesus,” she would say. “I must never sin and offend Him more.”
But in the rocky fields of the serra, Jacinta was happy. She had Lucia for the length of every day, and the sheep had become her precious friends. Out of her affection she gave them the choicest names her fancy could provide: “Dove” and “Star” and “Beauty” and “Snow.” Lucia continued:
She used to sit with them, holding and kissing them on her lap. At night she would attempt to carry a little one home on her shoulders to save it from tiredness, as in pictures of the Good Shepherd she had seen.
Flowers enchanted her. It was her habit to gather them in volume and myriad colours to festoon her hair with their brightness, and especially to make garlands for Lucia. Her aesthetic appetite was not only sharp but, for such a knee-high apprentice to the world’s delights, voracious. She had a romantic label for all the natural beauties she was able to behold. The stars were to her “the angels’ lanterns,” and she would challenge Francisco to eye-crossing, sense-rocking contests in which they would attempt to count each one of them. The sun, casting soft light on the rough hills at the end of the day, was to Jacinta, “our Lady’s lamp.”
Lucia says that her cousin’s singing voice was sweet and that she was fond of perching on some high hill now and then so that her voice could echo in the valley.
“And the name which echoed best,” says Lucia, “was Maria.”
Dancing, of course, was an enterprise that flourished endlessly with both of them, and according to Lucia, Jacinta brought to it a special talent and grace. All this is very nice, and very sweet; yet fairness requires those few descriptions by Lucia that reveal some moth bites in her little cousin’s mantle of innocence. She could, at times, be disagreeable:
The least quarrel, when she was playing with other children, was enough to put her into a fit of the sulks. To make her return to the game it was not enough to plead and pet; she had to choose both game and partner.
Possessiveness was another fault in Jacinta, and her accustomed success at games, plus pampering, seem now and then to have shaken a little salt on the angels who hovered so near. Lucia recounts that:
I was very upset with her, because after a game of “buttons” I would have none on my dress when I was called home to meals. She nearly always used to win them from me, and this meant a scolding by my mother. But what could I do when, in addition to sulking, she would not give them back to me? Her plan was to have them ready for the next day’s game without having to use her own. It was only by threatening not to play again that I managed to get them back.
Lucia’s honest memoirs also provide an admission that in those early days prayer was not as popular as play:
We were told we must say our Rosaries after our lunch on the serra, but as the whole day seemed too short for prayer, we thought of a good way to get it done quickly. We simply said, “Hail Mary, Hail Mary,” on each of the beads, and then, at the end of the decade, “Our Father,” with a rather long pause. That way, in a very few minutes, the Rosary was off our minds.
Here then were the seers of Aljustrel – human and warm and somewhat less perfect than time and grace would permit them to become.
On those days when Francisco and Jacinta were allowed to join Lucia in taking the sheep to pasture, their mother would wake them to the darkness and the mountain chill preceding dawn. Still half asleep, they would mumble the required prayer of the day: “Praised be the ever holy Sacrament of the Eucharist….”
Senhora Olimpia remembers that they did not always respond with model devotion; they were much too groggy. “They used to make the sign of the cross,” she explained, “and then say as much of the prayer as they could. Children of that age very soon get tired of praying.”
This ultra-early rousing, of course, was not a calculated penance but a sound concession to the preference of the sheep for nibbling in pasture still fresh with the dew of the night.
While the children were dressing, Olimpia customarily produced for them a breakfast of soup and chewy bread made moist with a splash of olive oil. There’s no indication that the morning menu ever got much fancier. For lunch they would carry with them bread and olives and dried fish or sardines, supplemented with anything else the cupboard could provide. The aim of the children was not food, anyhow, but the company of Lucia and the gladness of the day.
Lucia would wait with her flock, and make the choice of pastureland. Sometimes she chose the fields near Fatima or those close by a village known as Moita. But best of all she liked a place called the Cabeco, where her family owned part of an olive grove. This was a pasture on a rise of land that overlooked their village, near home, and lumpy with odd-shaped stones. Grazing was good at the Cabeco, while the olive and pine trees gave pleasant shade when the heat of the day was high.
Other shepherds often joined them here at Lucia’s invitation, the sheep to dine off the countryside, the children to play at their games. This mingling of flocks appears to have gone well enough, with never a crisis of ownership, since sheep, like puppies, or sociable cats, always know to whom they belong.
Consistent with her habit of leadership, Lucia was the organiser and leader of the games. Being then, as now, a combination of excellent humour and practical energy, her leadership stirred no resentment. It was natural, and it was encouraged by the dependence of the others. Time and again, not from Lucia’s own testimony, but from the willing evidence her old companions provide, their affection for this markedly plain little girl is evident.
A middle-aged housewife of Aljustrel, named Teresa Maitias, remembers happily the games they used to play:
Lucia was very amusing. She had a way of getting the best out of us so that we liked to be with her. She was also very intelligent, and could sing and dance and taught us to do the same. We always obeyed her. We spent hours and hours dancing and singing, and sometimes forgot to eat.
Besides the hymns we sang in church I remember one to Our Lady of Mount Carmel that I still sing as I go about my work, and which all my children have learned.7 (Here Senhora Teresa was happy to demonstrate with four verses and a chorus.) We sang folk songs, too, that I can’t remember now, and the little boys used to play their pipes while we danced.
[7. Senhora Teresa is the mother of nine children, the oldest being approximately twenty-one. In this part of Portugal the crowding of so many heirs to heaven under a single roof is still considered to be far more a blessing than a burden. It is rare to find a family with less than four or five dividends of marriage in a community where all the sacraments appear to be honoured by love and obedience.]
Lucia’s first direct experience of the supernatural between April to October of 1915 was not shared by Francisco or Jacinta. It was at a time that remains uncertain, though she was probably eight years old. Her own recollections set the event between April and October of 1915 and it must have occurred during one of her first assignments with the sheep. She was with three other girls who still remember, though in a kind of grey confusion, what happened that day on the slopes of the Cabeco.
Lucia’s companions were Teresa Maitias, Teresa’s sister, Maria, and a little girl named Maria Justino.
We’d had our lunch, and were just beginning the Rosary, when suddenly we saw, above the trees in the valley below us, a kind of cloud that was whiter than snow. It was transparent and in human form.
The exact emotional reactions of these children are not clear, and later awareness that the figure was an angel has not prompted them to colour the event with imagination. The figure, or visitor, was vague, and admittedly did not etch itself very clearly in their minds.
One of the children reported home to her mother that she had seen something white on a tree and that it looked like a headless woman. This account was enough to raise some lively speculation, but it was a puzzle so beyond solution that, when curiosity had wearied, the problem was shrugged away. Twice again in the days that followed the same strange figure appeared to these children, leaving with Lucia a reaction she could neither describe nor explain.
“The impression slowly disappeared,” she has said in this same memoir, “and I fully believe if it hadn’t been for the events that followed, we’d have forgotten all about it.”