Government stability in Portugal was rocky following the revolution and coup d'état that led to the overthrow of the monarchy and subsequent establishment of the First Portuguese Republic in 1910.
A new liberal constitution separating Church and state was drafted under the influence of Freemasonry, which sought to omit the faith – which for many was the backbone of Portuguese culture and society – from public life.
It was in this context that, after catching wind of the Virgin Mary's appearance to Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia, district Mayor Artur de Oliveira Santos had the children arrested on the day Mary was to appear to them, and threatened to boil them in hot oil unless they would confess to inventing the apparitions.
At one point in the conversation at the jailhouse, Jacinta was taken out of the room, leaving Francisco and Lucia alone. The two were told that Jacinta had been burned with hot oil, and that if they didn't lie, the same would happen to them.
However, instead of caving to the pressure, the children said: "you can do whatever you want, but we cannot tell a lie. Do whatever you want to us, burn us with oil, but we cannot tell a lie."
"This was the virtue of these children," Cardinal Martins said, noting that to accept death rather than tell a lie is "more heroic than many adults."
"There's a lot to say on the heroicness of children," he said, adding that "because of this I brought their cause forward."
Cardinal Martins was also the one to bring Lucia's cause to the Vatican following her death in 2005. The visionary had spent the remainder of her life after the apparitions as a Carmelite nun.
Typically the must be a five-year waiting period after a person dies before their cause can be brought forward. However, after only three years Martins ask that the remaining two be dismissed, and his request was granted.
Although the diocesan phase of the cause has already been finished, Cardinal Martins – who knew the visionary personally – said Lucia's process will take much longer than that of Francisco and Jacinta not only due to her long life, but also because of the vast number of letters and other material from her writings and correspondence that needs to be examined.
The cardinal, who will be present in Fatima with the Pope during his May 12-13 visit for the centenary of the apparitions, said he views the occasion as the conclusion of a process that began with him changing a norm regarding the view of children "and their heroic virtue."
This process is important, he said, because it means there could be other children who practiced heroic virtue that can now be canonized, so "it's certainly something important."
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"It needs to be seen that (children) are truly capable of practicing heroic virtue," not only in Fatima, but "in the Christian life," he said.
Although canonizations, apart from a few exceptions, are typically held in Rome, it was only recently that beatifications began to be held outside of Rome, in the local Church which promoted the new Blessed's cause.
This change was made by Cardinal Martins in September 2005, after receiving the approval of Benedict XVI.
In the past, a beatification Mass in Rome would be presided over by the Cardinal-Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints during the morning, with the Pope coming down to the basilica to pray to the new Blessed in the afternoon. Cardinal Martins said he decided to change this because the beatification and the canonization "are two different realities."
"While the canonizations had a more universal dimension of the Church, the beatifications have a more local dimension, where they (the Blessed) came from," he said, noting that this is reflected even in the words spoken during the rites for each Mass.
"Because of this, I made a distinction: the beatification in their (the Blessed's) own church, in their diocese, and the canonizations in Rome."