The Little Shepherdess of Fatima
Sr Lucia, the precious jewel of Carmel
"Sr Lucia was our little girl, our child of God".
With these tender words, the Prioress of the Carmelite convent of St Teresa in Coimbra, Portugal, recalled the Religious who witnessed the mystery of Fatima and had dwelled in that "Upper Room of prayer" [of Carmel] from 25 March 1948 until her death on 13 February of this year. Now she is buried in "her" chapel, while awaiting burial in Fatima.
According to the Prioress of the Carmel: "Since 21 November, the day on which her health began to deteriorate, Sr Lucia became more 'dependent' on us and we began to treat her as 'our little girl'. She was part of our life, and understandably in a Carmel, in a cloistered life, we are in contact with one another 24 hours a day".
And how can we overlook the fact that the day on which Sr Lucia began to live her suffering more intensely in the mystery of the Cross was 21 November — the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary?
"There is a 'golden thread' that binds this fruitful season in the life of the Church. And the mystery of Fatima in its essential faith continues to challenge us", the Prioress said.
"We can thus recognize in God's great fatherly plan a link of hope, love and prayerful creativity. And we are deeply amazed and 'provoked' when the Community of the Carmel of St Teresa links Sr Lucia's memory with that of another 'little girl of God', Sr Tarcisia, who died on 9 August 2004, on the Carmelite feast of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), after spending her life in the Carmel of Haifa in the Holy Land".
The Carmel of St Teresa was truly Sr Lucia's home, and the religious community her "family". Twenty sisters intimately and spiritually shared in the last moments of her earthly life.
Sr Maria Celina de Jesús was Sr Lucia's companion for 28 years. She describes her as "the jewel of Carmel".
"Her life in our monastery", she says with emotion, "was the same as that of the other Sisters, although recently her age made her frailer and the doctor had advised protecting her from the cold, which is why she followed Holy Mass from her cell".
"Being a witness of the mystery of Fatima never affected the humility and simplicity of the little 'shepherdess'", said the Superior of the Carmel of St Teresa; and she recalled that after meeting her, "it was a week before I realized she was Sr Lucia of Fatima!".
In the hidden simplicity of prayer, Sr Lucia knew how to live her great mission, which was inspired by the actual words of the Mother of God.
The Prioress of Carmel stressed "the normality of her conversations": no Sister ever asked her questions out of curiosity; they all sustained her special mission with prayer and love.
And they continue to do so, to witness to the beauty of what Fatima stands for today: prayer, penance and conversion.
Sr Maria Celina believes that "Sr Lucia is with us in a different way". And because of this, the Community is seeing a reawakening of vocations to the contemplative life, motivated by the example of the life of the little shepherdess.
"What is more", Sr Maria Celina said, "my vocation to the life of enclosure was born when I heard about this house in which the little shepherdess of Fatima lived for prayer alone".
Celebrations at Fatima, Coimbra
Thousands from all over Portugal took part on the weekend of 19 and 20 February at Holy Masses celebrated for the repose of Sr Lucia's soul.
At the Fatima Shrine, the solemn Eucharist was presided over on Saturday morning by the Rector, Mons. Luciano Guerra. On the same day in Coimbra, Holy Mass was celebrated in the Carmelites' chapel, and also in the Cathedral by Bishop Albino Mamede Cleto.
The Rector of the Shrine of Fatima asked the pilgrims to "strive to live like Sr Lucia, who always observed the Commandments, loving God above all things. The grace of Fatima serves to enable us to obtain eternal grace by loving one another as God loved us".
Mons. Guerra presented the theme for the Pastoral Year 2005 at the Fatima Shrine: "The Fifth Commandment of God's Law: Thou shalt not kill". The project as a whole entails dedicating the first 10 years of the third millennium to the Ten Commandments.
"Recalling our beloved Sr Lucia", the Rector said, "let us ask the Lord to grant us the spirit of the Message of Fatima. Do not trespass against the Lord who has already been deeply insulted, in the certainty that the greatest grace that God can grant to us is the joy of true love".
The prayerful celebrations for Sr Lucia were marked by a deep joy born from faith and Marian tenderness. A hymn resounded throughout Portugal, "No Céu, no Céu A irei ver" (To Heaven, to Heaven, I will go to see Her). This was Sr Lucia's favourite hymn and expresses the treasures of her heart: great faith and great love.
Marking a key liturgical memorial
The liturgical memorial of Francisco and Jacinta Marto, beatified by John Paul II on 13 May 2000, was celebrated on Sunday, 20 February, at the Shrine of Fatima. Bishop Serafim de Sousa Ferreira e Silva of Leiria-Fatima presided at the Holy Mass.
Indeed, it was on 20 February 1920 that little Jacinta Marto died in Lisbon after a long and painful illness, offering all her sufferings for the conversion of sinners, for peace in the world and for the Holy Father.
The liturgical celebration honouring the two little Blesseds of Fatima is usually marked by the attendance of many local children, joined by their parents, relatives, teachers and pilgrims from all parts of the world.
On 13 May 2000, in his Homily for the Beatification, Pope John Paul II asked the children to be like Francisco and Jacinta:
"Dear Boys and Girls, I see so many of you dressed like Francisco and Jacinta. You look very nice! But in a little while or tomorrow you will take these clothes off and... the little shepherds will disappear. They should not disappear, should they?!
"Our Lady needs you all to console Jesus, who is sad because of the bad things done to him; he needs your prayers and your sacrifices for sinners. Ask your parents and teachers to enrol you in the 'school' of Our Lady, so that she can teach you to be like the little shepherds, who tried to do whatever she asked them" (Homily, 13 May 2000, n. 6; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 17 May, p. 3).
First church to be dedicated
The first church to be dedicated to Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta will be inaugurated on Sunday, 1 May. Cardinal José da Cruz Policarpo, Patriarch of Lisbon, will preside at the Mass.
Church construction began in 2002. On that occasion Sr Lucia sent the parish priest a joyful message: "I accompany in spirit this moment I have so longed for, when work is beginning on the new Church of Alverca, by the grace of God dedicated to Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta".
A key part of preparations for the inauguration will be the blessing of 72 bells for the church on 20 March.
In line with the Pope's invitation to the children in Fatima in the year 2000, special care will be taken to keep alive the deep-rooted popular traditions that are so dear to the Portuguese People.
Weekly Edition in English
16 March 2005, page 8
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