"Age had made her very frail and the doctor advised her not to catch cold, so she heard Mass from her cell and we took her Communion," said the prioress, Sister Maria Celina of Jesus Crucified, in an interview on the program "Ecclesia" broadcasted by the agency of the same name.
Sister Maria Lucia of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart, the last witness of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917, died Feb. 13 in St. Teresa's Carmelite convent in Coimbra, where she had lived since 1948. She was 97.
According to the prioress, "In these last days, especially since June 15, one of us was always with her, 24 hours a day. She became much more intimate, from this point of view," something that "occurs with all sisters who are dying, because -- none has yet died suddenly -- when they are in need of our help, there is a greater bond."
"Since November 21, when her health conditions worsened, she became more dependent on us," continued the prioress.
Sister Maria Celina noted Sister Lucia's simplicity, saying that not even the "burden" of the Fatima secret, which the visionary kept for decades, affected her humility.
The prioress, who lived in the same convent with Sister Lucia for 28 years, also recalled the "normality" of her conversations, adding that the other nuns "did not ask questions."
The visionary's lack of prominence was such that when Sister Maria Celina arrived at the Carmel convent, she went "eight days without knowing that it was Lucia of Fatima."
With the passing of the years a close bond was established between them, so much so that the prioress said she saw Sister Lucia "as a niece."
The death of the witness of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin caused great sadness among the religious of her community, the prioress said. "She was part of our lives and, as you can well understand, in a Carmelite convent, in a cloistered life, one is in contact 24 hours a day."
Regarding the mission entrusted to the then little shepherdess of Fatima, the prioress said: "It was not Sister Lucia who wanted to give that message; she was entrusted with giving it to others."
Speaking about the future without the visionary's presence, Sister Maria Celina expressed the certainty that "she is with us in another way."
"Passing by her cell, one feels like going in, but she is no longer there," she said. She is "not there at the sensible level understood by our nature, but we know in faith that she is with us."
The prioress sees as possible an eventual flowering of vocations to the contemplative life, motivated by the example of the little shepherdess' life. "It might happen. God makes use of everything. It is he who calls.
"It was no accident that my vocation was born when I heard talk about the house where the little shepherdess lived only to pray, and I said: "I also want to be like that."