Discover the real Sister Lucia
New book reveals wit, lively personality, and incredible memory of the remaining Fatima visionary.
An interview with Fr. Robert J. Fox, coauthor of "The Intimate Life of Sister Lucia."
What makes "The Intimate Life of Sister Lucia" unique?
The text is mostly the never-before-published private letters of Sr. Lucia. The great Fatima scholar, the late Fr. Antonio Martins, SJ, and I provide commentary to the letters, so the reader puts them in the proper context and sees the deeper meaning in terms of Sr. Lucia's life and mission. In the chapters, we follow the chronology of her life and major developments, such as her decision to leave the Dorothean Congregation for the Carmelites. I had the original Portuguese text translated into English by Portuguese Jesuit priests laboring in Brazil.
The book includes correspondence by her to many people at various times in her life. She writes to friends, family members, superiors, priests, bishops, and others. And this is the visionary of Fatima who was given a worldwide mission to influence popes and the universal Church, as well as the history of the world, at the age of only 10! Now she is in her 95th year.
Sometimes we think that saints or holy people are stuffy and sad. What makes this book unique is that it brings out the humanity of Sr. Lucia. It captures her wit, her almost photographic memory, and reveals her to be quite an extrovert. We also discover how much she had to suffer for Our Lady and the message of Fatima, what a profound sense of obedience she had, and her evangelical spirit.
One needs to keep in mind that there is no comparison between "The Intimate Life of Sister Lucia" and her memoirs, which were published in 1974. She wrote them under holy obedience to get the message of Fatima out to the world. We might think instead of St. Therese of Lisieux and her private letters, which have proven to be most valuable in understanding her.
Why have you published the book now?
That is a story in itself. It was a number of years ago that I received the documents from Fr. Martins, my coauthor. We decided to collaborate on the book, and he sold me the English rights. Back then, Fr. Martins told me not to publish it until Sr. Lucia had passed away. Both of us expected that she would have died by now. She was already in her 70s when this agreement was made.
Then came the release of the Third Part of the Fatima Secret last year and the death of Fr. Martins. I was getting older myself, too. And I thought if something happened to me, what would happen to these letters?
So, shortly after Fr. Martin's death, I went to the late Fr. John Hardon, SJ, who was then the theological advisor for the Fatima Family Apostolate. I asked Fr. Hardon, "Am I free to publish it?" And he said, "Publish it."
Can you give us an example of Sr. Lucia's wit and excellent memory?
Certainly. Let me share a brief excerpt with you. The visionary is writing to Mother Cunha Mattos, a Superior, on September 14, 1946. Her wit sparkles as she shares in detail about the special relationship she enjoyed with His Holiness, Pope Pius XII.
... Now for some good news. Yesterday, His Lordship, the Bishop of Gurza and Rev. Fr. Vernocchi were here. They came to bring me a rosary that the Holy Father sent me. It is like a dream ... . Father Vernocchi was in Rome and when he had kissed the ring of the Holy Father, he asked a blessing for me.
The Holy Father said, "For Sr. Lucia? Which one? The one from Fatima?"
"Yes, Most Holy Father."
"Then take her this rosary as well."
He opened a drawer and took out a rosary. He looked at it and said, "This is a black one. For her a white one would be better, just like Our Lady's."
He went back to the drawer, picked out a white one, put it inside a little purse with the pontifical arms on it, gave it to Fr. Vernocchi and said, "Take this to Sr. Lucia with my blessing."
What goodness ... what thoughtfulness of Our Lord and Our Dearest Heavenly Mother. ... Tomorrow I must write and thank him. The bearer of my letter will be His Lordship, the Bishop of Gurza, who is going there Monday of next week. He offered to take anything that I wanted to send. See if you want to send anything.
When we read letters like that and see how God and the Blessed Mother have used this human being, it makes us feel that we have a chance.
Let me tell you another charming story that shows her great intelligence and wit. To get to see and interview her, one must have the permission of the pope. This one theologian finally got permission to interview her.
Of the Angel who brought the three children of Fatima Holy Communion, the theologian said, "I don't think that the Angel should have said the prayer to the Blessed Trinity." Sister Lucia answered, "I do not know whether the Angel was a theologian or not, but I do know that the Angel said that prayer."
What about Sr. Lucia being an extrovert?
A good example is how much she enjoys telling amusing stories when she is with her fellow sisters. She laughs and laughs. And she can get them laughing, too.
One of her favorites is of the time shortly after the apparitions, when she was just a child during World War I. The locals had told her and the other children that the enemy soldiers, who were tall, would come and get them if they misbehaved. So, when a tall Portuguese man came and asked her to walk with him to the Cova da Iria to pray the rosary -- she was scared to death that when they got there, he was going to kill her.
Actually, the man was seeking God's will about proposing to a young woman. It turns out that the man became the grandfather of the Carmelite nun who, until recently, served as Prioress of the Carmel in Fatima. And she thought he was a soldier who was out to get her.
Even in her childhood, Sr. Lucia behaved as an extrovert. She would organize the local children as if they were having a Eucharistic procession through the town.
Can you tell us about Sr. Lucia's evangelical spirit?
Yes. In her correspondence, we learn of her great evangelical spirit. She enjoyed teaching catechism when she was a Dorothean Sister. In fact, she wanted to be a missionary to Africa. She was always making rosaries -- hundreds and hundreds of rosaries -- to be sent to the missionaries in Africa. She would make them every free moment she had.
We learn that she would write others and ask them to send her wire for making the rosaries. She wanted the better kind of wire to make durable rosaries.
What do you mean when you say that Sr. Lucia suffered a great deal and had a profound sense of obedience?
As I edited this correspondence, I was amazed to discover how much she had suffered both physically and spiritually, and how she was humiliated again and again. And she always responded to God and Our Lady's call, even though by nature she has a strong will and a fiery disposition. I learned how she cooperated with God's grace through her submission and obedience to His will. She learned obedient faith.
One great example of this concerns her writing down the Third Part of the Secret. I had always wondered, why did she labor so long and why was it so painful for her to put it into writing? She had a profound sense of obedience and yet she kept delaying.
For many decades, I had thought it was simply because of her illness at the time. She was suffering a great deal physically then. But, from reading these letters, I've discovered the real reason was that she had a tremendous sense of obedience to God and her bishop. She had been told by Heaven that it was not to be revealed for a long time, and the bishop was saying to put it in writing. (Scroll down to "The Personal Story: Behind the Fatima Secret.")
I'd like to share a personal example of her profound obedience. On one occasion, I waited in her Carmel's chapel for three hours, while Fr. Louis Kondor, SVD -- the international vice-postulator for the beatification cause of Jacinta and Francisco -- tried to get an interview for me with her. His secretary was also teaching her how to operate a computer. (Jacinta and Francisco, Sr. Lucia's fellow visionaries, were beatified last year.) This was some 15 years ago.
He told her all about me, and I waited for three hours. I never got to see her. She told Fr. Kondor, "I would like to see Fr. Fox, but I am afraid that I would commit the sin of disobedience because I do not have the permission of the Holy Father." Since I had waited so long, he made her promise solemnly that she would pray for me and the Fatima Family Apostolate. Father Kondor said that her obedience was so profound, he was tempted some day to have a movie made simply about it.
Would you say then that her sense of obedience has been very important to her mission?
Definitely. This profound obedience or what I like to call, "obedient faith" is a key to understanding her life and mission. She never faltered in her call. The reason she has never faltered is because of her obedient faith. In the introduction to "The Intimate Life of Sister Lucia," I point out how Our Lady is the primary example of obedient faith in the New Testament, and then how Sr. Lucia is a prime example of it in communicating the Fatima message to the world -- and that message is a reaffirmation or echo of the Gospel.
How can we be inspired by the witness of Sr. Lucia?
She reminds us of the importance of being obedient to the Church. That is an important message that all of us need to hear today.
Unfortunately, some have gotten into the Fatima movement and have put their own judgments above that of the Magisterium, the Holy Father and the bishops. And typically they do not have the theological or scriptural background which is needed. If these souls would take Sr. Lucia's example of obedient faith to heart, they would be effective and not destructive in spreading the message of Our Lady of Fatima.
The personal story: Behind the Fatima Secret
These excerpts from "The Intimate Life of Sister Lucia" demonstrate her profound obedience in protecting the Third Part of the Secret of Fatima. (The commentary is in bold.) We also see the intense physical suffering and mental anguish she endured. She finally wrote the Third Part down at the direction of Our Lady and dated it January 3, 1944, Tuy, Portugal.
She put the problem to the Bishop of Gurza, telling him of the state of her soul:
Tuy Oct. 10, 1943
Very Reverend and Dear Bishop,
I received Your Lordship's letter in Pontevedra, but only today did I find the strength to write.
Thanks be to God, I am again in Tuy. I came with the operation still open, with the wound oozing pus. But it looks like it is healing quite well now.
With great difficulty I walk to the chapel, where I hadn't had the pleasure of going for a long time. If the good Lord does not have something else to send me, or doesn't let me go back on what He has already asked me, I will be able to begin working in a short while. But may His will be done. I don't ask Him for health or sickness, life or death. May He send me whatever is most pleasing to Him. He knows how I will give Him most pleasure and glory. It is the only thing I have in mind. ...
At the moment, I am worried by the wish of the Bishop of Leiria. When he came here, he told me that if I wanted to, he thought it best to put in writing the remaining Part of the Secret. The reason wasn't that it could be published right away; but rather that it would be down in writing.
But to my mind, writing it down is in some way revealing it, and I still don't have Our Lord's permission for that. But since I am accustomed to seeing the Will of God in the wishes of my Superiors, I am looking at the obedience and I don't know what to do. I would prefer a direct order on which I could fall back, in the presence of God, and say with confidence, "They ordered me to do it, Lord." ...
[Sr. Lucia], then, did not know what to do. She suffered terribly. She prayed as she had never prayed before. She asked God and the Heart of Mary to come to her aid. Heaven answered her humble and fervent prayers. The Heart of the Mother of God once more showed it was faithful to what it had promised: "I will never leave you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the pathway that will lead to God." It is Mother Cunha Mattos [one of the Superiors] who is going to relate what happened [next]:
On Jan. 2, 1944, Our Lady appeared in the Infirmary [to Sr. Lucia as she was convalescing], on the wall that faces the corridor of the rooms of Mother Meirelas and Mother Cabral. ...
The Third Part of the Secret, which Sr. Lucia wrote down on Jan. 3, 1944, obviously was done when she got comfort and permission through Our Lady appearing to her in the Infirmary on Jan. 2, 1944, to go ahead and write it down.
©2001 Marians of the Immaculate Conception. All rights reserved.