At a Consistory held today in the Vatican, Pope Francis announced the date of the canonisations of Blessed Jacinta and Blessed Francisco Marto, which will take place on 13th May 2017 – the centenary of the first appearance of the Blessed Virgin at the Cova d’Iria in Fatima, Portugal.

This will make the brother and sister the youngest children to be canonised by the Church without having been martyred.

It is important to note that the siblings are being canonised not because they saw the Mother of God at Fatima, but because they lived lives of heroic virtue despite their very tender ages – Francisco died on 4th April 1919, at the age of 11, while Jacinta died on 20 February 1920, at the age of 9. Both children knew they would die very young, for the Blessed Virgin had told them so; they also knew that their elder cousin, Lucia, would remain on earth “some time longer” – she eventually died at the age of 95.

The children were visited by the Blessed Virgin after the ‘public’ appearances in the Cova d’Iria and Jacinta was given the choice to go to Heaven or to remain on earth and suffer more for sinners; she chose to suffer and then did so with enormous heroism, as did her brother. Jacinta told her cousin, Lucia –

“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”.

Her suffering would include the survival removal of a rib without anaesthesia, and a large wound which remained open and weeping. At Fatima, the children had been told – “make of everything you can, a sacrifice”. And this, they did to a  perfect degree.

Before going to the hospital where she would die alone, Jacinta told her cousin, Lucia –

“Tell everybody that Gods grants us graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary; that people are to ask Her for them; and that the Heart of Jesus wants the Immaculate Heart of Mary to be venerated at His side. Tell them also to pray to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for peace, since God has entrusted it to Her. If I could only put into the hearts of all, the fire that is burning within my own heart, and that makes me love the Hearts of Jesus and Mary so very much!”

The lives of these two children, recounted very movingly and beautifully in the book, “Fatima In Lucia’s Own Words”, are deeply edifying and tell us much about love of God and the Blessed Virgin; the purpose and value of suffering; and the Christian life and the call to holiness. And if two children aged 9 and 11 can reach the heights of sanctity, then that call to holiness is indeed universal as the Church tells us, and it calls to us, too.

May all of us ask the heavenly assistance of these two remarkable children, whom the Church holds up before us as lights on the path to Heaven, and may their intercession help us reach our eternal home.

Blessed Jacinta and Blessed Francisco, pray for us.