The story of Lucia
This month we publish an exclusive interview with Fr. José dos Santos Valinho, the nephew of Sister Lucia dos Santos, the only living witness to Our Lady of Fatima
|THE DATE IS FAST APPROACHING for the beatification of Francisco and Jacinta Marto, two of the three witnesses of Fatima who, in 1917, witnessed the extraordinary series of apparitions of Our Lady. Barring unforeseen problems, above all those which might involve the health of Pope John Paul II, the Holy Father will celebrate the solemn ceremony at which the sainthood of the two young shepherds will be proclaimed in the famous Portuguese shrine to Mary, where the children’s bodies lie.|
In recent issues of this magazine we have looked at the lives of these two young saints-to-be, and told the story of Our Lady’s apparitions in 1917, which were witnessed by these two children and their young cousin, Lucia dos Santos. This month we will talk about Lucia herself, the only living witness to Fatima who is awaiting joyfully the ceremony of beatification, to be held on 13 May.
A key figure
Lucia, who was just ten years old in 1917, was the eldest of the three witnesses to Fatima. Today, she is a cloistered nun, and is 93 years old. She is the key figure in the apparitions at Fatima. It was she who, during the apparitions, spoke to Our Lady. It was to Lucia that, on June 13, 1917, during the second apparition, the Virgin Mary had said: In a short time I will take Francisco and Jacinta up to heaven with me. You, on the other hand, will remain on earth for a great many years to spread the devotion to my Immaculate Heart.
And this is precisely what happened. Francisco died in 1918, and Jacinta in 1920. Lucia is still alive, and she lives with her Carmelite sisters in the Convent of Saint Teresa of Avila in Coimbra, some fifty miles from Fatima. She belongs to a strictly cloistered sisterhood. This means that she can neither leave the monastery, nor receive visits from outsiders. Furthermore, the Vatican has given firm orders regarding Sister Lucia which are even more restrictive than the normal rules of the convent: no outsider is permitted to approach Sister Lucia or communicate with her unless he or she has first received written permission to do so, signed by the Pope.
Only one person is authorised to go and see her two or three times a month, one of her nephews, Fr. José dos Santos Valinho, who is a Salesian priest.
|It is Fr. Valinho whom we approached to find out more about the extraordinary life of this cloistered nun. Notwithstanding her advanced age, Fr. Valinho told us, my aunt is in very good health. She is still extremely lucid, and it is with great happiness that she is awaiting the ceremony for the beatification of Francisco and Jacinta. |
ALLEGRI: Will she be present at the beatification of Francisco and Jacinta, which is to be held in Fatima in May?
VALINHO: Of course. She also received special permission to leave the convent to go to Fatima when John Paul II visited the shrine in 1982. She will most certainly be allowed leave for the beatification on 13 May.
Francisco and Jacinta fell ill and died a short time after the apparitions of Our Lady in 1917, precisely as the Virgin had foretold. What news did Mary have in store for Lucia?
She said that Lucia would have to remain in this world to carry out a special mission. During the second apparition Our Lady said to her: You will remain in this world for a long time yet. Jesus wants people to know me and love me through you. He wants to establish here on Earth a devotion to my Immaculate Heart.
Lucia stayed in Fatima until 1921. But a lot of curiosity surrounded her, and she was often sought out by those who had made the pilgrimage to the site of Our Lady’s apparitions. The bishop, who in the meantime had begun a meticulous investigation into the events of Fatima, believed, and rightly so, that all this unhealthy curiosity directed at the girl, who was only fourteen years old at the time, could damage her development. He therefore advised my grandmother, Lucia’s mother, to send the girl to a convent as a boarder until she had made a decision about her future. My grandmother agreed and so did Lucia. But it was necessary that no one at her new home knew that she was one of the witnesses to Fatima, otherwise this unhealthy curiosity would have continued. The bishop contacted the Sisters of Saint Dorothy, who he knew well. Then he called Lucia and said to her: You mustn’t tell anyone where you are going, and when you reach your new home, you mustn’t let anyone know who you really are, nor should you ever speak to the sisters in the convent about the apparitions.
It was an incredibly difficult request to make, but the 14 year-old Lucia did not hesitate. She only wished to obey because she knew that through the will of the bishop she could find the will of God. I will do everything you ask, she replied.
When she returned home she spoke to no one. Her departure was set for 18 June. She got up at two o’clock in the morning and, accompanied by her mother and her uncle Carreira, she left Fatima. When she passed Cova da Iria, she decided to make a last visit to the site of the apparitions. She said the Rosary and then, with tears in her eyes, she kissed that blessed ground. She went to the convent of the Sisters of Saint Dorothy in Pilar, near Oporto, as a boarder, and received a good cultural and religious education.
Had she already decided to become a nun?
She was strongly attracted by a life of prayer. In truth, she did want to become a cloistered nun, and dedicate her life to contemplation. At the time she didn’t really know much about the way of life in a convent. She thought that nuns were all more or less the same, and that the only difference between one or the other was the cut of their habit.
While Lucia was living with the Sisters of Saint Dorothy, the desire developed within her to become a nun in that Congregation. She put in her request and was accepted. In October 1925, she was sent to Pontevedra, in Spain, where the Sisters of Saint Dorothy had a convent, and there she began her postulancy. The next year she was sent on to a small town near Pontevedra, Tuy, where she completed her postulancy and began her noviciate. On October 3, 1928, she made her religious vows. Later, she returned to Pontevedra where, on October 3, 1934, she professed her solemn vows. Only then did the bishop reveal her true identity as the only living witness to Our Lady of Fatima.
|In those years, the apparitions had been recognised as ‘worthy of belief’ and a great shrine had been built at Cova da Iria. Fatima was fast becoming a place of pilgrimage. For this reason, the knowledge that one of the witnesses to the apparitions was still alive began to stir up a great deal of curiosity.|
Lucia could get no peace. People would arrive every day at the convent wanting to speak to her. The other nuns would try to defend her from so many visits, but it wasn’t always possible, especially since among the visitors there were many priests, bishops and even cardinals.
Lucia remained in Spain until 1946, when she was ordered to return to Portugal. After a brief visit to her home town to see the site of the apparitions once more, she went on to her new home in a convent in the small town of Vila Nova de Gaia.
In the meantime, her old wish to live a life of contemplation had returned with a vengeance. This was also due to the fact that, after the Bishop of
Leiria had revealed her true identity, she could no longer hope to be left in peace. She therefore asked permission to leave the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Dorothy in order to enter a cloistered nunnery in the Carmelite Order of Saint Teresa of Avila. Her wish was granted, and she moved to the Carmel in Coimbra.
So she changed religious Order?
Precisely. She had to ask for a special dispensation from the Pope. She became a Carmelite on March 25, 1948. That day was the feast of the Annunciation. The Sisters of Saint Dorothy, who were a little put out by the fact that she was leaving, wouldn’t allow her to leave the convent wearing the habit of their Congregation. Lucia had to wear ordinary clothes. She moved to the Carmel that night. She was taken there by some friends, and arrived at four o’clock in the morning.
|I once met the woman who at that time was working as the gatekeeper at the Carmel. She told me that the mother Superior had informed her that a woman would be coming to visit. Remember, she had said, when this woman arrives, you must let her in and then call me immediately. If you wish, you may kiss her and embrace her. But call me without delay. The gatekeeper didn’t understand. Why should she wish to hug and kiss someone whom she didn’t know from Eve? The Mother Superior had never given her such strange instructions before. || |
When the car arrived at that unusual hour, the gatekeeper saw a tiny, ill-dressed woman get out and thought to herself: I have no intention of hugging or kissing her! But, as she later recalled: When she passed nearby, I felt compelled to do so, and so I did. Only later did I learn that this was Sister Lucia.
I myself was, at that time, in the Salesian University, in Turin. Some days after she entered the Carmel, my aunt wrote to me to tell me where she was. She said she was very happy, because she felt she had found her home.
In 1946, before I left for Italy, I had gone to see her while she was still with the Sisters of St. Dorothy. We spoke then as we had spoken many times before. She hadn’t said anything to me about her departure, but when the time came for me to leave, I noticed that she was more affectionate than usual. She hugged me and kissed me, something she had never done before. Perhaps she thinks Italy is on the other side of the world, I thought to myself. When she later wrote to me from the Carmel to tell me that she was now in a Papal cloister, I understood. That was the last time she could hug me or kiss me.
Can’t you hug her or kiss her when you go to see her now?
No. although I can see her and speak to her, there is always a thick grille dividing us.
What do you talk about?
She asks about her closest relatives, and her nephews and nieces. She is a very affectionate and considerate aunt. And I talk to her about people who have asked for her prayers.
Has Sister Lucia continued to take an interest in the shrine at Fatima since she withdrew into the seclusion of the convent?
Certainly. We only know what happened at the time of the apparitions because Lucia has talked of the events in detail. When put under heavy questioning immediately after the apparitions she had told just the bare minimum. The rest she told little by little, over the years, when Heaven itself suggested that she do so or when her superiors in the Order asked her. We only know about the intense spiritual life of Francisco and Jacinta, the sacrifices that they made, and their thoughts and wishes, because Lucia herself told us about them. Her whole life has been spent spreading the news about the apparitions that took place in Fatima in 1917.
Even now we still hear talk of the ‘third secret of Fatima’ which has still not been revealed. But even the first and second secrets were only revealed by Lucia many years after the apparitions. The secrets were revealed by Our Lady when she appeared to the three children on 13 July, 1917, but she had told them not to mention it to anyone at that time.
When did Lucia reveal the first two secrets?
She received permission to reveal the first two parts in 1927. Our Lady appeared to her while she was praying in the novices’ chapel in Tuy, in Spain, and told her that she could make them public. The first one regarded a vision of hell and the early death of Francisco and Jacinta; the second referred to the Second World War, the spreading across the world of the scourge of communism, and the prediction that Russia would, in the end, convert.
Lucia told all these things first to her confessor and then wrote it in a memoir. But no one took what she had said into consideration. Only after the World War II, when people realised that everything Our Lady had said at Fatima had come true, did people begin to believe what the Virgin had revealed.
What about the third secret?
Lucia received permission to reveal it in 1941, but only to the Pope. She was still in the convent of Tuy. Our Lady appeared to her and told her to write down that part of the secret and send it to the Pope. Lucia did what she had been told, attaching to her report a letter which said that the Pope could, if he considered it wise to do so, make public the content of that secret after 1960. It is not known if the Pope, who at that time was Pius XII, read Lucia’s report. In 1959, John XXIII read the secret, but he decided it would be unwise to reveal the contents of it. Pope Paul VI and John Paul II did likewise. And so the third secret is still... a secret.
From what you have said we understand that Lucia has had other visions of Our Lady.
Certainly. She herself said so when she told of how she had received permission to reveal the other secrets.
influence that parents have in this education. The parents of Francisco and Jacinta were fervent believers, and they lived their faith with their children and prayed together with them. When a family lives its faith deeply, she once told me, it is passed on to the children. But in our times life is organised in such a way that parents and children no longer pray together. For this reason, the beatification of Francisco and Jacinta is important. It reminds all true believers to live their faith together with all their children, even the youngest of them.
| ||Do you think your aunt still sees Our Lady from time to time?|
Yes, I truly think so. I infer this from the way she sometimes behaves. Every so often she begins to speak regularly about a subject, continuing to do so for months, every time I go to see her, as though she were trying to complete a task which has been given her. Some time ago she continued to speak to me about the unity of the Church. She kept repeating that the various religious confessions which exist should unite. There is much more which unites them than divides them, she said. Our Lord and Our Lady want unity. By my own experience I know that when she speaks like this, it is because she has been told to take an interest in the subject.
What does Sister Lucia think about the beatification of Francisco and Jacinta?
She says that this celebration could send a great message to the modern world. It is a message about the importance of Christian education and the
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