“I Want to Suffer For the Conversion of Sinners”: The Life of Saint Jacinta

Updated: May 29, 2020



In her First Memoir, Sister Lucia records the heroic virtues of her cousin and companion, Blessed Jacinta. The level of sanctity reached by this seven-year-old girl as a result of the infused knowledge and graces of Our Lady of the Rosary represents a degree of sanctification truly extraordinary. It was said by Sister Lucia that Jacinta made the transition from a child to an adult on the day when she saw the vision of Hell (July 13, 1917), and from that time onward she had an unquenchable desire to prevent souls from going to Hell through her own prayers and sacrifices.


On May 13, 2000, Pope John Paul II beatified Jacinta and thanked her for the prayers that she offered for Pope John Paul II after she had received a vision of a Holy Father of the future who was suffering much. John Paul II understood that Jacinta had been praying for him. With the announcement of the possibility of Pope Benedict XVI traveling to Fatima to canonize Jacinta sometime in 2006, we have all the more reason to have a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the life and heroic virtue of this Fatima seer. – Ed.


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….


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.


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.” (1)


“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!


The First Apparition


… That 13th day of May 1917… dawned bright and fair like so many others before it. That day, by chance—if in the designs of Providence there can be such a thing as chance—we chose to pasture our flock on some land belonging to my parents, called Cova da Iria. We chose the pasture as we usually did, at the Barreiro I have already mentioned. This meant we had to cross a barren stretch of moorland to get there, which made the journey doubly long. We had to go slowly to give the sheep a chance to graze along the way, so it was almost noon when we arrived….


Before beginning to tell Your Excellency what I remember of this new period of Jacinta’s life, I must first admit that there were certain aspects of Our Lady’s apparitions which we had agreed not to make known to anybody. Now however, I may have to speak about them in order to explain whence Jacinta imbibed such great love for Jesus, for suffering and for sinners, for whose salvation she sacrificed herself so generously. Your Excellency is not unaware that she was the one who, unable to contain herself for joy, broke our agreement to keep the whole matter to ourselves.

That very afternoon, while we remained thoughtful and rapt in wonder, Jacinta kept breaking into enthusiastic exclamations:


“Oh, what a beautiful Lady!”


“I can see what’s going to happen,” I said, “you’ll end up saying that to somebody else.”


“No, I won’t,” she answered “don’t worry.”


Next day, Francisco came running to tell me how she had told them everything at home the night before. Jacinta listened to the accusation without a word.


“You see, that’s just what I thought would happen.” I said to her.


“There was something within me that wouldn’t let me keep quiet,” she said, with tears in her eyes.


“Well, don’t cry now, and don’t tell anything else to anybody about what the Lady said to us.”


“But I’ve already told them.”


“And what did you say?”


“I said that the Lady promised to take us to Heaven.”


“To think you told them that!”


“Forgive me. I won’t tell anybody anything ever again!”


Reflecting on Hell


That day, when we reached the pasture, Jacinta sat thoughtfully on a rock.


“Jacinta, come and play.”


“I don’t want to play today.”


“Why not?”


“Because I’m thinking. That Lady told us to say the Rosary and to make sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. So from now on, when we say the Rosary we must say the whole Hail Mary and the whole Our Father! And the sacrifices, how are we going to

make them?”


Right away, Francisco thought of a good sacrifice:


“Let’s give our lunch to the sheep, and make the sacrifice of doing without it.”


In a couple of minutes, the contents of our lunchbag had been divided among the sheep. So that day, we fasted as strictly as the most austere Carthusian! Jacinta remained sitting on her rock, looking very thoughtful, and asked:


‘That Lady also said that many souls go to hell! What is hell, then?”


“It’s like a big deep pit of wild beasts, with an enormous fire in it—that’s how my mother used to explain it to me—and that’s where people go who commit sins and don’t confess them. They stay there and burn for ever!”


“And they never get out of there again?”


“No!”


“Not even after many, many years?”


“No! Hell never ends!”


“And Heaven never ends either?”


“Whoever goes to Heaven, never leaves it again!”


“And whoever goes to Hell, never leaves it either?”


“They’re eternal, don’t you see! They never end.”


That was how, for the first time, we made a meditation on Hell and eternity. What made the biggest impression on Jacinta was the idea of eternity. Even in the middle of a game, she would stop and ask:


“But listen! Doesn’t hell end after many, many years, then?”


Or again:


“Those people burning in hell, don’t they ever die? And don’t they turn into ashes? And if people pray very much for sinners, won’t Our Lord get them out of there? And if they make sacrifices as well? Poor sinners! We have to pray and make many sacrifices for them!”


Then she went on:


“How good that Lady is! She has already promised to take us to Heaven!”


Conversion of Sinners


Jacinta took this matter of making sacrifices for the conversion of sinners so much to heart, that she never let a single opportunity escape her. There were two families in Moita (2) whose children used to go round begging from door to door. We met them one day, as we were going along with our sheep. As soon as she saw them, Jacinta said to us:


“Let’s give our lunch to those poor children, for the conversion of sinners.”


And she ran to take it to them. That afternoon, she told me she was hungry. There were holmoaks and oak trees nearby. The acorns were still quite green. However, I told her we could eat them. Francisco climbed up a holmoak to fill his pockets, but Jacinta remembered that we could eat the ones on the oak trees instead, and thus make a sacrifice by eating the bitter kind. So it was there, that afternoon, that we enjoyed this delicious repast! Jacinta made this one of her usual sacrifices, and often picked the acorns off the oaks or the olives off the trees.

One day I said to her:


“Jacinta, don’t eat that; it’s too bitter!”


“But it’s because it’s bitter that I’m eating it, for the conversion of sinners.”


These were not the only times we fasted. We had agreed that whenever we met any poor children like these, we would give them our lunch. They were only too happy to receive such an alms, and they took good care to meet us; they used to wait for us along the road. We no sooner saw them than Jacinta ran to give them all the food we had for that day, as happy as if she had no need of it herself. On days like that, our only nourishment consisted of pine nuts, and little berries about the size of an olive which grow on the roots of yellow bell-flowers, as well as blackberries, mushrooms, and some other things we found on the roots of pine trees—I can’t remember now what these were called. If there was fruit available on the land belonging to our parents, we used to eat that.


Jacinta’s thirst for making sacrifices seemed insatiable. One day a neighbor offered my mother a good pasture for our sheep. Though it was quite far away and we were at the height of summer, my mother accepted the offer made so generously, and sent me there. She told me that we should take our siesta in the shade of the trees, as there was a pond nearby where the flock could go and drink. On the way, we met our dear poor children, and Jacinta ran to give them our usual alms. It was a lovely day, but the sun was blazing, and in that arid, stony wasteland, it seemed as though it would burn everything up. We were parched with thirst, and there wasn’t a single drop of water for us to drink! At first, we offered the sacrifice generously for the conversion of sinners, but after midday, we could hold out no longer.


As there was a house quite near, I suggested to my companions that I should go and ask for a little water. They agreed to this, so I went and knocked on the door. A little old woman gave me not only a pitcher of water, but also some bread, which I accepted gratefully. I ran to share it with my little companions, and then offered the pitcher to Francisco, and told him to take a drink.


“I don’t want to.” he replied.


“Why?”


“I want to suffer for the conversion of sinners.”


“You have a drink, Jacinta!”


“But I want to offer this sacrifice for sinners too.”


Then I poured the water into a hollow in the rock, so that the sheep could drink it, and went to return the pitcher to its owner. The heat was getting more and more intense.

The shrill singing of the crickets and grasshoppers coupled with the croaking of the frogs in the neighboring pond made an uproar that was almost unbearable. Jacinta, frail as she was, and weakened still more by the lack of food and drink, said to me with that simplicity which was natural to her: