SISTER LÚCIA: IN THE SHADOW AND SILENCE
Lúcia de Jesus dos Santos Rosa (1907-2005), the eldest of the three seers of Fatima, lived the majority of her life away from the eyes of the world. Firstly in the Dorothean sisters’ boarding school in Vilar, Porto (1921-25). Later, already as a religious, in Galicia (1925-48). Finally, from 1948 on, as a cloistered nun in the convent of Discalced Carmelites in Coimbra.
But even though she took a vow of silence – rarely broken in the following six decades –, that doesn’t mean she no longer deserved the Media attention: many millions of people around the world, including many people who never came to Portugal, know her name and the extraordinary event that will forever be associated with her.
MEL GIBSON’S VISIT
A proof of such popularity – even against the will of the former shepherdess of Fatima, who has always avoided the spotlight – occurred almost at the end of her life, when she received the visit of one of the most famous names in Hollywood in the Carmel of Coimbra: the actor and director Mel Gibson, who travelled twice to the convent in 2004. In the first visit, during Lent, he exhibited to the nuns his film The Passion of Christ in a makeshift room intended for that purpose and using a large dimension portable screen connected to a speaker. Everything in there was transported by the production staff of the film, then newly released.
At the end of this session, according to what the American Catholic News Agency revealed later, Gibson remained for about an hour in dialogue with the religious sisters, answering the questions they asked him, including Sister Lúcia. The Catholic filmmaker would be back in July to the convent for a private meeting with the seer, at her request.
PRESENTED TO THE WORLD
It was Paul VI who, somehow, showed Lúcia the world during the lightning visit he made to Cova da Iria, on the 13th of May, 1967, to personally associate himself with the fiftieth anniversary of the apparitions of Fatima. The seer appeared beside the Supreme Pontiff on the altar: that was the first time the overwhelming majority of people could finally watch her, wrapped in her Carmelite nun’s habit.
Never a crowd so great had gathered in Fatima as it did on that day, that began to be rainy. The press would speak of more than one million people gathered in the vast grounds of the sanctuary and adjacent areas. When Lúcia was presented to the pilgrims by the leader of the Catholic Church, a very strong applause could be heard.
“Paul VI, sitting on the throne, affectionately received Lúcia, who knelt and kissed the feet of the Holy Father. Then, for about a quarter of an hour, she spoke to the Pope,” the next day’s edition of Diário de Notícias would write. A conversation that required the Bishop of Leiria’s mediation, who served as a translator, since Lúcia “did not speak Italian.”
Long before and after that date, that definitely put Fátima on the world map, several journalists from various backgrounds tried to interview the surviving shepherdess. But Lúcia – forbidden to speak without special permission from the Vatican – remained almost always far away from the public eye, except in three new papal visits to Portugal – in 1982, 1991 and 2000.
70 THOUSAND LETTERS
This never stopped the religious sister to maintain an intense epistolary relationship. She corresponded with thousands of people – including various Popes, from Pius XII to John Paul II.
Lúcia – it is known today – sent to the Vatican, through the Bishop of Leiria, the so-called third part of the Secret of Fatima, with the explicit indication that it was not to be made public before 1960. In the summer of that year, Pope John XXIII made it clear that he would not disclose it – a decision also taken by his successor, Pope Paul VI. The silence was broken only at the end of the millennium, in 2000.
The seer also corresponded with kings, princes, cardinals, bishops, movie stars. And with the Nobel Peace Prize Mother Teresa, the founder of Opus Dei, Monsignor Escriva de Balaguer, and his successor, Álvaro del Portillo. And members of other religious congregations. And anonymous people. According to Sister Ângela Coelho, vice-postulator of the cause of canonization of the seer, she would have received over 70 thousand letters during the decades of her enclosure, to which she always responded to. When she died in February 2005, she had in her personal archive more than 11,000 letters, which are being properly analysed and organised.
A CONTROVERSIAL INTERVIEW
Much controversy was caused by the long and anguished interview that the Mexican priest Agustín Fuentes made to her on the 26th of December, 1957, as a postulator of the beatification causes of Francisco and Jacinta Marto. Large parts of the interview, held in the convent of Coimbra, were released in a priest’s lecture, after the Bishop of Leiria’s approval, in the Mother House of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Guadalupe. The content of the lecture was widely spread, first in the Mexican information news media and later in the whole set of the international press.
Father Fuentes attributed the following statements to Lúcia:
“The Holy Virgin is very sad because no one has paid any mind to Her Message, neither the good nor the bad.”
“God will chastise the world and He will do it in a terrible manner. The punishment from Heaven is imminent.”
“What is missing for 1960? And what will happen then? It will be very sad for everyone, and far from a happy thing if the world does not pray and do penance before then.”
“That which afflicts the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Heart of Jesus is the fall of religious and priestly souls. The devil knows that religious and priests who fall away from their beautiful vocation drag numerous souls to hell.”
“My cousins Francisco and Jacinta sacrificed themselves because in all the apparitions of the Most Holy Virgin, they always saw Her very sad. She never smiled at us. This sadness, this anguish which we noted in Her, penetrated our souls. This sadness is caused by the offenses against God and the punishments which menace sinners. And so, we, children, did not know what to think except to invent various means of praying and making sacrifices.”
These statements aroused controversy and even some alarmism, especially in the part referring to the dangers that hung over the world since 1960 – and that would be related to the so-called “third secret” of Fatima.
On 2nd of July, 1959, the chancellery of the Episcopal curia of Coimbra issued a statement questioning the credibility of Father Fuentes and the statements attributed to the seer. The priest would eventually be removed from office of the postulator of the beatification of the little shepherds. But it is now clear that, in essence, the statements attributed to Lúcia correspond to the essential thought of the religious sister.
COMPLIMENT TO GORBATCHOV
The fact is that visits to Lúcia became even more restricted after this episode. The silence would only be broken again much later – and leaving once again a controversial track – in another interview, also in the form of a dialogue with members of the Church. In this case, the Indian Cardinal Anthony Padiyara, the Indian Bishop Francisco Michaelappa and the Brazilian priest Francisco Pacheco, accompanied by the Luso-Canadian researcher Carlos Evaristo, who served as a translator at the meeting, held on 11th October 1992.
About the changes in Russia:
“People now have an individual choice and many conversions are in fact taking place; that man in Russia [Gorbatchov], unknowingly was an instrument of God in the conversion.”
On the “third secret” of Fatima:
“It is not intended to be revealed. The Pope can reveal it if he chooses to, but I advise him not to. If he chooses to, I advise great prudence. He must be prudent.”
Words attributed to her in this interview, which was to be released under the title Two Hours with Sister Lúcia in a booklet by Carlos Evaristo, which caused controversy among fundamentalist Catholic circles. Shocked, in particular, with the perky language attributed to the seer.
Lúcia appeared in public in Cova da Iria on the 13th of May, 2000 for the last time. Listening from a short distance to the sermon delivered by John Paul II at the solemn ceremony of beatification of the two shepherds – her cousins – who had passed away so many years before.
“Today, Jesus’ praise takes the solemn form of the beatification of the little shepherds, Francisco and Jacinta. With this rite the Church wishes to put on the candelabrum these two candles which God lit to illumine humanity in its dark and anxious hours… May the message of their lives live forever to illuminate the path of mankind.”