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Sister Lucy dos Santos, the lone surviving seer of Fatima, died in her Carmelite Convent in Coimbra on February 13, 2005.
When she was buried in the convent cemetery last February, it was announced that she would be moved to Fatima in about a year. Her wish was to be eventually entombed in the Fatima Sanctuary next to her holy cousins. This translation (move) of her body occurred on Sunday, February 19, 2006.
I traveled to Portugal to observe the event.
Readers will recall that in August 2005 a Pilgrimage of Reparation was held in Fatima, attended by some 3000 Catholics from around the world, to make public reparation for the sacrilege of Fatima Shrine Rector Guerra allowing a Hindu prayer ceremony to take place at the altar in the Little Chapel of the Apparitions.
Readers will also recall that half-way through our scheduled hour of reparation, Rector Guerra ordered a small group of nuns to interrupt our Rosary by singing their own hymns over the microphone while we were still at prayer. Their voices cut into our devotions like an electric saw. It was one of the most bizarre spectacles I ever encountered.
When this failed to disperse us, Rector Guerra then ordered sacred music to be blasted at ear-splitting level through the Shrine’s outdoor speaker-system, so loud that it could be heard at a great distance. We finished our hour of reparation despite the brutal interruption, and processed from the Little Chapel chanting the Salve Regina.1
I stood in the large esplanade of the Fatima Shrine musing over these recent events at 11:00 a.m. Sunday morning, the day of Sister Lucy’s translation. It was important to arrive early, since a great crowd was expected to attend the ceremonies.
The proceedings started in Coimbra, 60 miles from Fatima. Sister Lucy’s casket had been disinterred from the convent cemetery a day or two before and moved to her Carmelite chapel where an 8:30 a.m. Mass was held. The casket was then taken to the Coimbra cathedral for an 11:00 a.m. Mass celebrated by Albino Cleto, Bishop of Coimbra.
All liturgies held this day, sad to say, were that of the Novus Ordo Missae. They were celebrated with a certain amount of exterior reverence, though they also contained novelties such as the Kiss of Peace, the presence of altar girls, and the sacrilege of Communion in the hand.
After the Coimbra Mass, Sister Lucy’s casket traveled by some kind of Hertz/van to Fatima where the faithful awaited. A large screen was erected in the esplanade, and pilgrims could watch the proceedings from Coimbra, including the motorcade of Sister Lucy’s body making its way to Fatima. Two helicopters followed the short convoy of vehicles and broadcast every mile of the trip not only to our screen, but to national Portuguese television networks that, from early morning, broadcast non-stop coverage of Sister Lucy’s translation. For the Portugal media this was as newsworthy as a Presidential funeral.
When the helicopters hovered into Fatima airspace, we knew the motorcade had arrived. It was nearly 2:00 p.m.
The ceremonies took place at Fatima in the midst of fitful weather, which veered back and forth all day from bright sunshine to overcast downpour mixed with winds and sleet, as if nature could not make up her mind.
Tens of thousands of faithful stood for hours in these conditions without a peep of complaint. If anything, they seemed to take it in good humor. The Message of Fatima centers on doing penance, and the Portuguese, who appear to have made up the bulk of the congregation, understand this simple fact. When glorious sunshine was suddenly disrupted by torrential rains, thousands of umbrellas shot up to the sky like a volley of anti-aircraft artillery.
Surveying the grounds during this downpour, the scene was reminiscent of photos from the morning of October 13, 1917, during the violent rains that preceded the Miracle of the Sun witnessed by the 70,000 present. Then too the Cova’s landscape was a sea of umbrellas.
The sun shone, however, when Sister Lucy’s body first arrived and was carried into the Esplanade. Each time she was processed through the crowd, pilgrims waved white handkerchiefs in affection, as is the charming Portuguese custom. The first stop was the Little Chapel of the Apparitions which marks the spot where Our Lady appeared to the three children in 1917. Five decades of the Rosary were recited, after which her casket was processed up to a small outdoor stand at the steps of the basilica.
At least 17 bishops, a large number of priests, and various religious and lay organizations made up the procession. The organizers of the day’s ceremonies had the good sense to arrange that only reverent-sounding hymns be sung, so that all was edifying to the ear. Well, almost all. A substantial jarring note came from Dom Serafim Ferreira e Silva, Bishop of Fatima and Mass celebrant, who during his homily felt compelled to defend Fatima’s new modernist orientation of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue.
After the Mass, Sister Lucy’s body was carried in procession into the basilica, thousands of white handkerchiefs waved again as the pilgrims sang. Sister Lucy was then laid in a newly-prepared tomb next to her cousin Jacinta. These tombs are on the left side of the front of the basilica (when facing the altar), Francisco’s tomb is on the right. As soon as they could, pilgrims formed long lines and in respectful silence, waited to pray at Sister Lucy’s new place of rest.
I say new place of rest, not final place of rest. For as the Portuguese newspapers reported, Fatima Shrine authorities announced that the bodies of the three Fatima seers will probably be removed from the old basilica and placed in a mausoleum yet to be built. The reason, they argue, is that it is not fitting that Mass at the basilica be interrupted by pilgrims visiting the tombs of the seers at the front of the church.
This reasoning does not seem quite sound, since all throughout Europe, saints are entombed in churches and visited by pilgrims.
A more likely reason for the seers’ removal, and this is mere conjecture on my part, is that the Shrine authorities know that the pilgrims will go wherever the seers are. And the pilgrims will gladly ignore the new hideous basilica now near completion at Fatima, not only because it is a colossal eyesore, but because pilgrims will always go directly to the Little Chapel of the Apparitions and to visit the tombs of the three beloved children, now in the old basilica.
If the mausoleum is built in or around the new concrete church, it will guarantee traffic into the new basilica, and therefore serve as some sort of justification for having erected the blot on the landscape. Again, this is simply conjecture, as I do not know where the mausoleum will be built.
As for the new building, I regret to say that the modernistic Church of the Most Holy Trinity proceeds at a rapid pace. Last August, the exterior walls were still under construction. Now it appears the walls are complete. The huge round structure has no windows, is a sickly grey-white of cement, and looks more like a maximum security prison than a Tabernacle of the Most High.
In fact, I visited Coimbra during my recent trip, and saw a large prison nearby Sister Lucys Carmelite convent. The penitentiary is topped with a handsome cupola that is nothing short of majestic. What irony, I thought, that this Coimbra prison looks like a church, while Rector Guerras concrete church looks like a prison. (See photos below.) And the new church/prison of Guerras comes at a price tag of at least 50 million dollars.
(Left) The hideous new modernistic concrete basilica at Fatima, now nearly complete, looks more like a maximum security prison than a church. In fact, the building shown at the right is a prison located close to Sister Lucy's convent in Coimbra. So in painful irony, we have a prison that looks like a church, while Rector Guerra's new "church" looks like a prison.
This brings us to the question: why would a churchman purposely design and build something so ugly? Especially at one of the holiest shrines on earth? Why give us a cement stadium? There is no sign of budget restraints to prevent the erection of something edifying. And there is no shortage of talent to pull it off. There are many gifted Catholic architects, such as Duncan Stroik and Thomas Gordon Smith, capable of designing noble structures that would conform to the requirements for large crowds, yet complement the existing architectural motif of the old basilica and colonnades.
Would it have been asking too much for Rector Guerra to insist that his architect design a church that actually looks like a church? Where are the external signs of majesty that befits the House of God? Where is anything on the building that points to Heaven, so that the place itself looks like a building at prayer? Where is there a trace of our Catholic architectural heritage on the church’s exterior? None of this is found at the new structure at Fatima. Instead we have Guerra’s concrete monstrosity which looks as if it were built to be a Marxist arena for the Proletariat; something on which placards of Stalin would not appear to be out of place.
In fact, it was Msgr. Rudolph Bandas, one of the most eminent theologians in the United States, who called the rise of modernist art and architecture in Catholic churches a “morbid epidemic”. He wrote in the October 1960 American Ecclesiastical Review, a prestigious theological journal, that “Many suspect — and not without reason — that we are face to face here with the infiltrations of Communism seeking to make religion ridiculous and repulsive, especially to the children.” Tragically, thanks to Rector Guerra, a multi-million dollar display of this repulsiveness is now a colossal fixture at the Shrine of Fatima.
The last bit of information to report from my time in Portugal is how the secular press treated the translation of Sister Lucy. This news was not something relegated to the religion page of the paper’s Section C, as it would be in this country, but in many cases was front page news. We counted at least 67 news reports about Sister Lucy, the Fatima Shrine and related events in a two-week period alone, and these are just the stories we know about. The story of Fatima is very much bound to the Portuguese people, they take an interest in anything that happens there; including the fact that Fatima has changed its statutes and will now be run by four bishops instead of one.
There was a report that Coimbra has named a street after Sister Lucy, and showed the Carmelite nuns from her convent present for the dedication ceremony. There were numerous articles leading up to and including the translation of Sister Lucy; a report that Sister Lucy’s girlhood home in Aljustrel is a place of pilgrimage; and stories speculating as to whether or not the five-year waiting period will be observed before the process of her beatification can proceed.
There was a report that the Carmelites at Coimbra are converting Sister Lucy’s cell to a little museum. No word was said on how it could ever be opened to the public since her cell is in the middle of a Carmelite cloister and, rightly so, off limits to the rest of the world. Perhaps it is for the nuns alone. There was also a disturbing photo in Diário de Coimbra of Sister Lucy’s chaplain, not in cassock or collar, but in suit and tie. (See below.)
A newspaper photo of the chaplain at Sister Lucy's former Carmelite
convent not in cassock and clerical collar, but rather in suit and tie!
But there was one piece of news I could not find, the question I could not get an answer to, neither from anything in the press, nor from my contacts in Portugal. It is the question everyone has asked since I returned: was Sister Lucy’s casket opened when she was disinterred, and was her body found incorrupt? On this point, for whatever reason, there appears to be a blackout. No news one way or the other.
1. See “Shrine Authorities Disrupt Pilgrimage of Reparation”, J. Vennari,
Crusader, Issue 81, Autumn 2005.