Lucia Santos, the principal witness to the events this book describes, is today a Carmelite nun, living without distinction from her sisters in religion at Coimbra, Portugal. The cloistered life, embracing the hard rule of Carmel, has been her glad choice, not a chore assigned, and she is as happy there as one can be on this side of a paradise already glimpsed, then torn from the favoured visionary like the stubborn strings of a heart. Sister Lucia, the Carmelite, is a reflective and mature woman in her forties. Wise in ways that surpass our unaided understanding, she has remained as plain as country bread and as gay as the laughter of the blessed. Her personality (considering always our Lady’s guarantee to her of heaven) supports the hardy maxim that there is no such thing as a gloomy saint.
Naturally the story of Fatima cannot be concluded while Lucia lives, nor while that part of the “secret” to be revealed in 1960 is still undisclosed. Like the mayor of Vila Nova de Ourem, we are anxious to know what that disclosure will prove to be, though for different reasons.
Lucia’s life away from Aljustrel began on June 17, 1921, with her journey to the convent school the bishop of Leiria had prescribed for her. She was then fourteen, and early one morning, as Mass was beginning, she entered the chapel of the Dorothea nuns at Vilar, Portugal. Not betraying her presence there, she knelt in reverent silence, beholding the tabernacle before her and rejoicing to be where she wanted most to be – beneath the roof that sheltered the Hidden Jesus and herself.
It was not otherwise a day of triumph. After this first Mass she was taken to see the mother superior, a cultivated lady who did not react to the occasion with any display of joy. It was taxing enough for this woman to suppress automatic groans of dismay as she examined Aljustrel’s most celebrated citizen. Poor Lucia, whom the Lord had not designed in the routine patterns of beauty, just stood there – rough-handed, ungainly, and all but frankly ugly, with her thick lips and her obstinate expression. To the chaplain of the convent, present at the interview, the mother superior remarked under her breath: “What a strange creature from the hills!”
The chaplain did not argue.
We can be certain Lucia understood the dismal impression she made, for whether polished and primped by her mother for attendance at a party, or windswept and smudged by a train ride, with her thick hair standing straight as sticks, Lucia was intelligent, deeply sensitive, and unfailingly alert. Her gifts for comedy, kindliness, and light-hearted nonsense were not resources she could demonstrate in her own behalf like a trained comedienne. This was a side of the child that only her friends or her family could have explained to the shocked superior. Her humility was from the beginning genuine. Very likely in the presence of the reverend mother she felt like one of the rocks in the convent wall. She was aware that at Vilar she would be treated with scant consideration and no distinction. Actually such identity as she already possessed was abruptly taken away.
“When you are asked your name,” the superior instructed her, “you are to say Maria das Dores.”
“Yes, Reverend Mother.”
“And when you are asked where you have come from you are to say that you have lived near Lisbon.”
“Yes, Reverend Mother.”
“You are not to speak of the events at Fatima to anyone. You are to ask no questions and to answer none.”
“No, Reverend Mother.”
These blunt commands so readily obeyed, were not transgressed in the length of Lucia’s residence at the school. She was, of course, a student at Vilar, and not a professed candidate for acceptance into religious life; even so, never once in these four years did she attempt deliberately to emerge from the obscurity of convent life. The wishes of her superiors were fulfilled with an ungrudging willingness that matched her fidelity to the secret of the Virgin Mother. How much of her ungoverned time was spent in meditation or at formal prayer we cannot know, but it is certain that heaven assisted her. Years later, when the hour arrived for revealing at least part of her carefully guarded secret, she performed this duty with artless simplicity – rocking the Catholic world with her bombshell of prophecy, yet with none of the posture or pride toward which a prophetess might be tempted. Her consistency of character from the first apparition to the present day has been an endorsement of her wholesome reliability. Speaking of those years in the convent school at Vilar, she states very simply:
“I lived exactly as one of the others.”
More than the others, however, she had surrendered her own identity. The sister portress, in reply to inquiries concerning the famous Lucia Santos of Fatima, was able to say without mental reservation:
“We have no one known as Lucia here.”
Lucia as such had disappeared. The pleasant, obliging, and somewhat homely girl was to her classmates simply Maria das Dores, from somewhere close to Lisbon. Along with the others she went daily to classes and prepared for the primary examinations. It was here alone that an unadvertised exception was made because Lucia as Maria das Dores, could not sit for these final tests, the use of an assumed name being forbidden. We do not know, but we sincerely doubt, that this caused her any distress.
The four years at Vilar moved along without any mention of Fatima. No letters were allowed to reach her unread, nor did the vigilance of her superiors permit her to come in contact with any religious pictures or objects that could suggest to her the apparitions or the growing devotion at the shrine. But toward the end of these school years the arrival of a new superior altered the situation to some degree. This lady was more than intrigued. Observing the plain, unassuming girl on whom it was alleged such heavenly favour had fallen, she determined to obtain from the bishop of Leiria a reversal of his decision that the subject of Fatima not be mentioned in Lucia’s presence. She was, moreover, successful, although her first inquiries did not gain much response. Lucia seemed not only reluctant to speak, but clearly defensive in this matter.
The new mother superior, with her eager efforts unrewarded, then said to the girl, “I suppose you have forgotten all about what happened at Fatima, haven’t you?”
Blushing deeply, with her glance cast down, Lucia said promptly, “Forgotten, Mother? But I am always thinking of it.”
Her sincerity did not escape the nun. Her development, and especially her spiritual growth, had already attracted the attention of others. Her utter candour, cordiality and lack of sham had done much to dispel the earlier suspicions of many. Meanwhile her true and deep desire to be a Carmelite had awakened. With thrilled avidity she read the life of Saint Therese of Lisieux, a modern daughter of Carmel, and confided her enchantment to the new superior.
“You are not strong enough for the austerities of the Carmelites, child,” she was advised. “Choose another Order.”
Lucia did not dissent from this, nor did she reveal her disappointment. Shortly thereafter, she declared her intention to be a Sister of Dorothea, and when asked why she wished to enter religion at such an early age, she answered simply, “So that I may go more often to chapel.”
This uncomplicated reason was entirely true, but it was also a modest mask for the deepest desires in her heart. Her superior, not completely convinced, said to Lucia, “You are still too young and would be wise to wait for a while.”
She waited faithfully and without complaint. She waited so long and in such silence that it was concluded by the Reverend Mother that her desires had been momentary and superficial, betraying a lack of true vocation. But the Mother General of the Dorothea Order, discreetly withdrawn from direct contact with Lucia, had been carefully watching her development. One day she asked Lucia’s superior if the child had ever again expressed a wish to enter religious life. Hearing that she had not, she decided to question the girl herself.
“Maria das Dores, have you abandoned all thought of entering religion?”
Lucia raised her eyes to meet the glance of this important woman.
“Never, Mother, not for one moment have I forgotten, except – “
“Except what, my child?”
“That I was told to wait – and have waited.”
Lucia entered the Dorothea novitiate at Tuy, Spain, in 1925, for the commanding reason that Portuguese convents were at that time forbidden by law to receive candidates to the religious life. Having formally entered the Dorothea novitiate, it did seem as though Lucia had abandoned forever her preference for the cloistered life of Carmel. The author, however, has learned from a priest very close to Lucia that on the eve of her profession as a Dorothea, she revealed to him her hidden but live desire to be a Carmelite. This is further supported by Lucia’s sister, Maria dos Anjos, who claims to have had long knowledge of Lucia’s yearning.
In Spain she entered into total obscurity. At home, with her whereabouts unknown, a malicious rumour began to prosper that she had disappeared through the slick and crafty manoeuvres of a political faction dominated by the Church. Supporting this slander was a popular and widely circulated report that the deaths of her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta, had not been natural, but were the result of a determination to keep them from denying the alleged miracles at the Cova da Iria. One day Senhor Arthur dos Santos, the energetic mayor of Vila Nova de Ourem, summoned Lucia’s mother to his presence.
“Where is your daughter?” he demanded. “What is she doing?”
Maria Rosa, who in earlier crises appears to have been a hand-wringing lady of some instability, was this time equal to her task.
“My daughter is where she wants to be,” she said, “and where I want her to be. I will not say anything more.”
The subject was closed and Maria Rosa at last had found a fair degree of inner peace. She felt no longer abused nor imposed upon by make-believe angels and virgins. She felt that Lucia was where she belonged, in a convent, out of trouble. She was herself very much relieved.
In Spain, as a novice, Lucia knew nothing of the developments at Fatima. As at Vilar, the subject was proscribed. Not one of the medals or pictures that circulated so freely everywhere was allowed to reach her hands. No mention was made of the growing devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. If the pilgrims, in ever-increasing numbers were crowding the hills of Serra da Aire, it was not for her to rejoice. She simply did not know. This sadness was unrelieved until a Jesuit priest, arriving at the convent, persuaded himself that Lucia was entitled to know the truth about Fatima. She listened without emotional display while he told of the increasing devotion at the shrine, of the vast increase of faith, and of the flowering of love for Lucia’s Lady. Blushing just a little the young novice said very simply to the priest:
“I thought it would be like that.”
Shortly thereafter Lucia saw for the first time a statue of Our Lady of Fatima in one of the convent corridors. Later, in the chapel, she found a medal, struck with a similar image, that had been left on one of the benches. This much and no more did she know about Fatima, since she asked no questions directly.
On the great day of her profession as a Sister of Dorothea at Tuy, Lucia was interviewed by a priest from Fatima and she asked him if many pilgrims still journeyed there. Fearing that a truthful answer might tempt the newly professed nun to vanity, he was evasive, and Lucia, displaying for the first time her genuine feelings, said decisively to the priest:
“But people should go there, Father, as a sign of their gratitude to our Lady and their love for her.”
Lucia was professed as a nun on October 3, 1928. Her mother was there, having brought from Aljustrel the one gift that Lucia was willing to accept – a hive of bees, a simple, home-made contraption fashioned of cork that would supply the community with honey.
The years at Tuy were blessedly happy. Her convent life was based upon exact fulfilment of the rules, a deep devotion to prayer and meditation and, consistently, in her hours of recreation, an unfailing display of humorous good temper. Seek as you will here, you will find no evidence of long jawed piety. At the Christmas festivals, her friends recall she was always the busiest at planning the plays and designing scenes, always among the most spontaneous of impromptu singers, witty, often comic, and forever herself. The passing of the years have not changed Sister Lucia as much as they have brought to her maturity and fulfilment.
One day, from the city of Tuy, she ventured across the international bridge to the Portuguese town of Valenca to do some necessary shopping with another sister. They were stopped on the street by some people who recognised their habits.
“You are Dorotheas, aren’t you? Have you come from Tuy?”
“Yes, Madame,” said Lucia.
“We are going there ourselves,” one woman said. “We want to see Lucia, the seer of Fatima.”
“She is there, isn’t she?”
“No, Madame,” Lucia said politely, “she is in Portugal.”
Disappointed, the woman sighed, then looked hopefully at Lucia.
“But if she were in Tuy, Sister, would we not be able to see her?”
“And how would we go about it?”
“Well, just by looking at her, Madame, as you are looking at me.”
Reference is made to the several appearances of our Lady to Lucia in the convent at Tuy.35 We are by no means certain of this, but it does seem probable that the first of these heavenly favours was granted in the following incident. Frequently, to test Lucia’s sincerity and humility, the superior, with feigned severity, would assign the young religious candidate to the most repugnant tasks her own imaginings were able to provide. One day, and perhaps with misgivings, she sent Lucia to empty an especially nauseous cesspool. Certainly the girl was no plumber, and the task was new, yet she went without protest or hesitation to undertake the chore. After a time, though covered with filth, Lucia returned to the mistress of the house, her face transfigured with joy. The superior fell back, not in recoil from the clinging evidence of the work just done, but from the unearthly rapture on Lucia’s face.
[35. The Secret of Fatima.]
“What is the matter?” she demanded. “What has happened to you, child?”
“Our Lady,” said Lucia, in humble victory, “has just appeared to me.”
There isn’t much more to be said now of Sister Lucia, the author’s friend. Through her proven character, and aided by her sisterly co-operation, we know that what this book reports is true. And that, you may be sure, is the only virtue to which it dare pretend.
Sister Lucia was received into the Order of Mount Carmel on May 13,1948, the thirty-first anniversary of our Lady’s appearance above the little oak tree, in the Cova da Iria near Fatima.