02/15/2005, 00.00
PORTUGAL
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Sister Lucia's funeral Mass will be held this evening

Coimbra (Asianews/Agencies) - The body of Sister Lucia is receiving mourners paying respect in the Coimbra cathedral. A funeral Mass will be celebrated this evening. Sister Lucia was the last survivor among the three Portuguese children to whom the Virgin Mary appeared at Fatima. Sister Lucia died on February 13 at her Carmelite convent in Coimbra, Portugal, after a long illness. Living in isolation in the cloistered convent, Sister Lucia had reportedly lost her eyesight and hearing in the months preceding her death.

Born on March 22, 1907, Lucie Dos Santos was only 10 years old when the Virgin appeared to her and her two young cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, on a field outside the town of Fatima, on May 13, 1917. The apparitions continued through October 13 of that same year, and the seers conveyed Mary's predictions of World War II, the rise of Russian Communism, and the urgent need for the faithful to pray the Rosary. After the Fatima apparitions, and subsequent personal visions of the Virgin in 1923 and 1929, Lucie Dos Santos entered religious life, first in Spain and later, in 1948, as a Carmelite in Portugal.

Sister Lucia also revealed the famous "third secret" of Fatima, which was kept secret by successive Popes until May 2000, when John Paul II revealed the text of a mystical vision involving a "bishop dressed in white" who was struggling toward the Cross, over the bodies of martyrs, until he himself was felled by gunfire. Pope John Paul concluded that the vision referred to the attempt on his own life. Some Catholics continue to insist that aspects of the "third secret" have not yet been disclosed, although the Vatican insists that there is nothing more to reveal.

Sister Lucia had spoken of the Fatima promises in four published memoirs, but kept the "third secret" hidden. She divulged that secret to the Bishop of Leira, Portugal, in January 1944; he confided the secret to Pope Pius XII. Sister Lucia had said that the secret should be revealed at the Pope's discretion, but not because 1960.

The first Pontiff to meet privately with Sister Lucia was Paul VI, when he visited Fatima in May 1967. Pope John Paul II met with her on three separate occasions: in 1982, when he made a pilgrimage to Fatima to thank the Virgin for saving him from assassination; in 1991, on the 10th anniversary of the shooting; and in 2000, for the beatification ceremonies. The Holy Father strongly believes the Madonna of Fatima saved his life on May 13, 1981, from the shooting of Ali Agca in St. Peter's Square. The shooting took place on one of the anniversaries of the 1917 apparitions. In a sign of gratitude a year after the assassination attempt, the Pope had one of the bullets that Agca fired at him placed in the crown of the statue at Fatima. The Holy Father said: "One hand fired the bullet and another guided it".

Francisco and Jacinta Marto were beatified by Pope John Paul in ceremonies that took place at Fatima on May 13, 2000-- the anniversary of the first apparition there. Both Francisco and Jacinta had died in their youth-- in 1919 and 1920, respectively. Sister Lucia made a rare journey outside the Carmelite cloister to take part in the ceremony.

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