Since this year is the centenary of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin at Fatima, it seems fitting to publish here this little article Cardinal Luciani wrote in 1977 about his talk with Sister Lucia and the urgency of Our Lady’s message.
On Monday, July 11, I concelebrated Mass with several priests from Venice and the Veneto in the church of the Carmelites in Coimbra, a Portuguese city of around one hundred thousand inhabitants. Immediately afterwards, I met alone (only cardinals can enter the cloister) with the whole community of nuns (twenty-two, including both professed and novices). After that I spoke at length with Sister Lucia dos Santos, the only survivor of the three seers of Fatima. Sister Lucia is seventy years old, but she carries her years well, as she herself assured me smiling. She did not, like Pius IX, add: “I carry my years only too well, for I have not dropped one of them.” Sister Lucia’s jovial character, her quick way of speaking and the passionate interest she shows in her speech about everything regarding the Church today, with all its very serious problems, are proof of her youthful spirit.
I more or less understand Portuguese, because I studied it very briefly before spending a couple of weeks in Brazil. But even if I had been completely ignorant of that language, I would have understood the little nun, who insisted to me how essential it was today to have Christians, and above all seminarians and novice brothers and sisters, who have decided to give themselves to God without reserve. She spoke to me with great energy and conviction about freiras, padres et cristaos con a firme cabeça, nuns, priests and Christians with firmly held convictions. Radical like the saints: either todo or nada, either all or nothing, if we seriously want to belong to God. Sister Lucia did not talk to me about the apparitions. I only asked her something about the famous “dance of the sun.” She had not seen it. For ten minutes on October 13, 1917, seventy thousand people saw the sun changing to different colors, revolving around itself three times, and finally descending rapidly toward the earth. But Lucia, along with her two companions, had at that moment seen, next to an immobile sun, the Holy Family, and then, in successive scenes, the Virgin, first as Our Lady of Sorrows and then as Our Lady of Carmel.
At this point some people will ask: is a Cardinal interested in private revelations? Doesn’t he know that the gospel contains everything? That revelations, even approved ones, are not articles of faith? I know it very well. But this is also an article of faith contained in the Gospel: that “signs will accompany those who believe” (Mark 16,17). If today it has become so fashionable to “scrutinize the signs of the times,” that we are witnessing an inflation and plague of “signs,” I believe it is permissible to refer (with human faith) to the sign of October 13, 1917, attested to even by those who were anti-clerical and unbelievers. And, beyond the sign, it is important to pay attention to the things underlined by that sign. What are they?
First: Repent of your sins, and avoid offending the Lord again.
Second: Pray. Prayer is a means of communication between men and God, but the means of communication between human beings (TV, radio, movies, press), today prevail unknowingly and seem to want to put out the whole prayer: ceci tuera cela (this will kill that), it has been said: it seems to be happening. It is not I, but Karl Rahner who wrote: “There is now underway, even within the Church an exclusive commitment of people to temporal realities, which is no longer a legitimate choice but an apostasy and total collapse of the faith.
Third: Say the Rosary. Naaman the Syrian, a great general, disdained the simple bath in the Jordan suggested by Elisha. Some people act like Naaman: “I am a great theologian, a mature Christian who breathes the Bible with full lungs and exudes the liturgy from all my pores, and you propose the Rosary to me?” Yet even the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary are the Bible, and even the Our Father and Hail Mary and Glory Be are the Bible joined with prayer that is good for the soul. Studying the Bible out of pure love of research could inflate the soul with pride and make it arid: it is not uncommon for biblical researchers to lose their faith.
Fourth: Hell exists, and it is possible to fall into it. At Fatima, Our Lady taught this prayer: “Jesus, forgive our sins, preserve us from the fire of hell, bring all souls to heaven.” There are important things in this world, but none more important than meriting heaven by a good life. It is not Fatima that says it, but the Gospel: “What advantage does a man have if he gains the whole world and then loses his own soul?” (Mt 16:26).
First published in Gente Veneta, July 23, 1977, p. 5.