02/16/2005, 00.00
PORTUGAL
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A final farewell to Sr Lucia, the last visionary of Fatima

John Paul II: she sustained him in trials and suffering. Perhaps the time leading to beatification will be reduced. For the people, Sr Lucia "is a saint".

Coimbra  (AsiaNews) – At the funeral of the last depository of the secrets of Fatima, the congregation saved its longest, most emotional applause until a message of John Paul II for the occasion was read out. The applause resounded through the aisles of the Cathedral of Coimbra, before Sr Lucia's little coffin decorated with white lace. "I recall with emotion my meetings with her, filled with a chain of spiritual friendship. I always felt sustained by Sr Lucia especially in difficult moments of trial and suffering," wrote the Pope. "I love to think that waiting to greet her in her holy passage from earth to heaven was she who Sr Lucia saw in Fatima many years ago."

Hundreds of men, women and children came from all over Portugal, some even from abroad, to pay their last respects to Sr Lucia. The congregation were well aware of the mysterious bond – built on prophecies, affection and suffering – which for all these years united the Portuguese sister to the Polish Pope. Many are sure that because of this tie, John Paul II will be able to allow a dispensation, as he has already done for Mother Teresa of Calcutta, to shorten the period leading up to the beatification of a woman already canonised for some time by the people. "Sr Lucia is a saint," reiterated the faithful, who on Sunday queued for hours for a chance to glimpse Sr Lucia for the last time and to pray before her. First in the Carmelite convent, where for 50 years, Sr Lucia lived out a commitment of silence and obedience to the mystery which marked her life, and where, at the same time, she lived out the Mission entrusted to her by the Madonna 90 years ago: prayer and penitence for the salvation of the world. Today in the Cathedral, when the coffin was taken out to return to the Carmelo, hundreds of people started to wave white handkerchiefs, repeating the refrain of a song dedicated to the Madonna of Fatima. "One day, we will see you again up there". They are sure that, as John Paul II said, she was greeted by the beautiful Lady who appeared to her for the first time in 1917.

Cardinal Tacrcisio Bertone went to Coimbra to preside over the funeral as papal representative. He too had met Sr Lucia several times. The last was in 2003, when the visionary – elderly by then, but no less tenacious – gave him her stick to deliver as a gift to John Paul II, thus offering even "physical" support to an evermore sick and suffering Pope. "The life of Lucia will be examined," said Bertone. "Certainly it will not be as simple as it was for Giacinta and Francesco, because Sr Lucia wrote proficiently, and some texts are not even known as yet. But I am sure that soon, she will join her two little cousins already honoured at the altars." One of the known writings left by Sr Lucia regards her burial. For one year, her body will remain in the Carmelite Convent of Coimbra, in an unmarked grave without a tombstone, like those of all the other sisters. Later, even Lucia will be able to reach the place prepared for her for years, alongside Giacinta and Francesco in the sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima. (AB).

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