Pope Says He Felt Supported by Sister Lucia's Prayers

John Paul II Sends Message for Funeral of Fatima Visionary

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 16, 2005 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II expressed gratitude for the support he felt he always received from Sister Lucia's prayers, especially in moments of suffering.



The Pope expressed this in the message read by his special envoy, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, at the end of the funeral for the Fatima visionary, held Tuesday in the cathedral of Coimbra, Portugal.

The multitude that filled the cathedral and its surroundings responded with prolonged applause to the Holy Father's message.

Tens of thousands of people had arrived from all over Portugal and from other countries, to bid farewell to Sister Lucia and to participate in the funeral for the Carmelite nun. She died Sunday at age 97.

Most of the faithful had to follow the ceremony from the square and adjacent streets, reported the Italian newspaper Avvenire.

Waving white handkerchiefs, they bid Sister Maria Lucia of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart farewell as her coffin passed by from the church to her burial in the Carmelite convent where she lived for 57 years and where she died. In one year, her remains will be taken to the shrine of Fatima.

The funeral was presided over by Cardinal Bertone, archbishop of Genoa, who on several occasions had met with Sister Lucia, the last time in 2003, when the Carmelite gave him her walking stick so that he could give it to John Paul II.

The Pope entrusted to Cardinal Bertone a message, addressed to Bishop Albino Cleto of Coimbra, in which he expressed his "profound emotion" over Sister Lucia's death and expressed his "last farewell to this humble and devout Carmelite."

"The visit of the Virgin Mary, which little Lucia received in Fatima together with her cousins Francisco and Jacinta in 1917, was for her the beginning of a singular mission to which she remained faithful until the end of her days. Sister Lucia leaves us an example of great fidelity to the Lord and of joyful adherence to his divine will," wrote the Holy Father.

"I remember with emotion the various meetings I had with her and the bonds of spiritual friendship that, with the passing of time, were intensified," he stated.

"I have always felt supported by the daily gift of her prayer, especially in the harsh moments of trial and suffering. May the Lord reward her amply for the great and hidden service she has done to the Church," the Pope added.

John Paul II met with the Carmelite nun on three occasions: on May 13, 1982, and in 1991 and 2000, the Vatican Information Service recalled.

The first meeting took place exactly one year after the 1981 assassination attempt against the Pope in St. Peter's Square. On that occasion in 1982, the Holy Father went to Fatima to thank the Blessed Virgin for saving his life.

He desired that one of the bullets used in the attack be set in the crown of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, as a sign of gratitude.

The second meeting, in 1991, took place on the 10th anniversary of the attack. The last time that the Holy Father and Sister Lucia met personally was on May 13, 2000.

That day, the Pope beatified the two other visionaries, the little shepherds Jacinta and Francisco, and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, read the text relative to the third secret of Fatima.

On the eve of Sister Lucia's death, the Pope had sent a fax to her in which he expressed his closeness and assured her of his prayers so that she would be able "to live this moment of pain, suffering and offering with the spirit of Easter, of the passing."

There was a guard of honor around the coffin: 35 bishops from Portugal, the 17 nuns of Sister Lucia's community, her family members, and the Portuguese people. There were political representatives who, as a sign of mourning, suspended their electoral campaign.

The faithful waited in long queues from the early hours of Tuesday morning to bid Sister Lucia farewell.

For them, she was "the person who was touched by an extraordinary experience, but who was able to incarnate it in ordinary life," as Cardinal José da Cruz Policarpo, patriarch of Lisbon, said in his brief homily.

"Sister Lucia's life will be examined," said Cardinal Bertone, as reported by AsiaNews.

"Of course it will not be as easy as it was for Jacinta and Francisco, because Sister Lucia has written much," he said. "Some texts are not yet known. But I am sure that soon she will join her two little cousins who are already raised to the honor of the altar."

A nephew of the nun, Salesian Father José dos Santos Valinho, said his aunt "prayed until the last moment for the Pope and his health," and "when John Paul II sent her a fax message of gratitude" for her prayers, during his recent hospitalization, she wished to hold those sheets of paper.

Even though she was almost blind she said to her sisters in the community: "'Let me read, it's the Pope who is writing me,'" recalled her nephew.

The priest was invited by the Carmelites of Coimbra to preside in the convent at the first Mass for the repose of his aunt's soul.

"When the prioress of the convent would give [Sister Lucia] a message, a communication from the Pope, for her it was always a great emotional moment," the priest told Avvenire.

"What was most impressive was the arrival of the last message," he added. "In those dying moments it was as if all of a sudden she recovered her lost strength and her little eyes were illuminated."