Read an Excerpt
A RADIANT, CREDIBLE WITNESS
Cardinal Bertone, in your capacity as papal legate, you enjoyed more reg- ular contact than any other person with Sister Maria Lucia De Jesus e Do Coração Imaculado in her convent in Coimbra, Portugal. You met with her between 2000 and 2003, first in your capacity as secretary of the Congrega- tion for the Doctrine of the Faith, where you worked under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and then during your tenure as archbishop of Genoa. Some of the meetings were of an official nature, and were followed by either press conferences or media reports. Others were of a more private character. Fi- nally, after Lucia died at the age of ninety-seven on February 13, 2005, you presided at her solemn funeral Mass.
There were three meetings that you might label “official.” The first one took place on April 27, 2000, just a few days before Pope John Paul II’s pilgrimage to Fatima, where he was planning to beatify Lucia’s two cousins, Jacinta and Francisco. The pope had decided to reveal the third part of the so-called Secret of Fatima, and he needed a definitive inter- pretation from Lucia. Then I went back to Coimbra on November 17, 2000. At this point, the Secret had already been revealed. The reason for my second trip was the hue and cry raised in the media about the sup- posed omissis, the parts that had allegedly been left out of the text re- leased by the Vatican. I wanted a confirmation that the Fatima message had been completely revealed, and that Sister Lucia didn’t have any more notes about the Third Secret pertaining to, say, Pope John Paul I. The third trip was on December 9, 2003, according to the official appoint- ment calendar I kept as Archbishop of Genoa.
So there were three official meetings. How long did they last altogether?
At least ten hours. I met with Lucia personally on other occasions, but it was always during short stops in Coimbra to celebrate Mass. After the liturgy, we would exchange short greetings, but these brief meetings had absolutely no official significance or relevance to the Church.
How did the official visits come about? The first one, in particular, was pre- ceded by a letter from Pope John Paul II. “Sister Maria Lucia,” he wrote, “you may speak openly and candidly to Archbishop Bertone, who will re- port your answers directly to me.” 1 What a calling card! How willing did you find Sister Lucia?
Our meetings were very cordial. Of course, given the wishes of the pope, Sister Lucia was ready to confide in me and, I would say, to talk about the genuineness of her recollection and description of the events in which she had played a part.
What sort of impression did this very punctilious, very persistent woman make on you? After all, for the first time in decades she was experiencing the joy of being listened to by a pope.
What was striking from my point of view was how fresh her memory was, how trenchant her images were, how precise she was. When she re- counted events, she would paint a sequence of images so vivid that you thought you were watching a movie. She was a “good Samaritan” of the memory. I immediately sensed her radiant awareness of having received a very definite mission. She was humble and obedient, but—as you just said—she was also persistently determined to give a full explanation of the messages that Our Lady had entrusted to her. As she was speaking, I thought: “Here is a woman who never lets any difficulty stop her.” She had suffered, she had struggled, and now she was overcoming the last resistance and persuading the world. After having stored in her heart the events in which she had participated and the message she had received, she relived and reread both with a lucidity and a calm that only en- hanced her credibility. She was a witness in the fullest sense of the word. Are my remarks pertinent?
I would say that they’re fundamentally important, Your Eminence. Who is better qualified than you to describe what sort of person Lucia was? Mil- lions of people have looked up, and still look up, to Sister Lucia. She is a me- diator, a bridge, a messenger, an eyewitness. If Lucia is credible, then Fatima has a much more serious claim on our attention, and believers can be more confident that its mystery does not reflect darkness, but the light of God’s glory.
I noticed in our conversations that Sister Lucia was able to formulate the heart of the message in a simple, clear fashion. I also noticed that she would cite the Virgin’s exhortation (from the October 13 apparition) as a kind of basic reference point: “I have come to exhort the faithful to change their lives and to stop offending the Lord by their sins. He is al- ready too much offended.” Lucia found guidance in her prayerful read- ing of Scripture, and her inspiration flowed from an interior listening to the Word of God. She gave people the courage to convert. She also pre- sented a substantive vision of the nature and goals of the Christian life, a vision whose clarity strengthened people’s resolve to continue believ- ing and living moral lives. She had thought things through and had reached a deep level of settled conviction. She was persistent, stubborn, and exuberant. Such qualities are not at all in conflict with the ABCs of Christian behavior. On the contrary, if they’re properly channeled, they are very useful antidotes to anxiety, uncertainty, and doubt about one’s earthly and eternal destiny.
How about her memory? Was it particularly accurate?
Her memory was absolutely accurate.
Were you alone during the first conversation?
No. The first time I was accompanied by the bishop of Leiria-Fatima, Serafin de Sousa Ferreira e Silva, who helped me with the languages. We spoke a bit of Spanish and a bit of Portuguese. I’m not tremendous in either language, but the conversation was perfectly comprehensible. Anyway, I also needed a witness who could vouch for the precise mean- ing of Lucia’s statements, as well as of her questions to me and my replies to them. The pope’s letter cleared away every hesitation from Lucia’s mind. She said: “Okay, I will tell you everything you ask.”
I imagine that she was very happy.
Yes she was. Don’t forget that she had written several letters to John
Paul II’s predecessors.
And did they answer her?
I don’t think so. Correction: at least not officially. They may have re- sponded through intermediaries, but I have never looked into it. What I do know is that in the last long letter she sent to John Paul II, Sister Lu- cia asked for three things. I don’t know, though, whether this letter is confidential or whether it is under lock and key in the CDF archives.
Seeing as how you are piquing our curiosity here, perhaps you could give us some hints about the contents of the letter.
First off, Lucia requested the beatification of the two pastorinhos, Ja-
cinta and Francisco. There was a certain resistance to proceeding with the beatification. Some argued that, if we beatified Sister Lucia’s cousins, it would be like beatifying Lucia ante mortem, before her death, as well. The counterargument that finally prevailed was that each person is judged on his own virtues according to the standard procedures stipu- lated by the Holy See. We don’t make judgments about the holiness of a group, but decide who is a saint on a person-by-person basis. Now, as we all know, the two shepherd children were judged worthy of beatification because of their heroic virtue and their self-sacrifice for the Church and the conversion of sinners.
Can we say, though, that Sister Lucia’s testimony played a decisive role in getting them elevated to the glories of the altar?
I can’t deny that. The testimony of relatives, priests who knew them,
and the bishop was also important. Don’t forget the basic requirement, either. God had to give his seal of approval by granting a miracle through the intercession of the two pastorinhos, and the miracle had to be recognized as such by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.