When Our Lady of Fatima appeared June 13, 1917, to the three children, she specifically told 10-year-old Lucia dos Santos, “I want you to learn to read and write, and later I will tell you what else I want of you.”
Little did Lucia realize that after she became a Dorthean sister and then a Carmelite, she would develop into a prolific writer.
Lucia’s major work in her lifetime began with the first of four memoirs or reminiscences, when she was ordered by the Bishop Jose Alves Correira da Silva of Leiria to write down what she remembered about Jacinta. In the Dorothean convent, Lucia had received photos of her cousin taken when Jacinta’s remains were moved from Via Nova de Ourem to Fatima and her casket opened. In a letter in 1935, in thanks for the photos, she wrote, “I was half in the clouds, such was my joy at seeing again my closest childhood friend.”
“I have hopes that Our Lord, for the glory of the Most Holy Virgin, will grant her the crown of sanctity. She was a child only in years. As for the rest, she knew how to practice virtue and to show God and the Most Holy Virgin her love, through the practice of sacrifice. It is to her companionship that I owe, in part, the conservation of my innocence,” she added.
When the bishop saw this remembrance, he made his request for her to write more. Lucia wrote back that she would take up the work “in spite of the repugnance I feel,” but “I obey, nevertheless, the will of Your Excellency, which, for me, is the expression of the will of our good God. I begin this task, then, asking the most holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary to deign to bless it, and to make use of this act of obedience to obtain the conversion of poor sinners, for whom Jacinta so generously sacrificed herself.”
Thinking of her limitations, she added, “I know that Your Excellency does not expect that I write skillfully because you know my incapacity and insufficiency.”
Lucia did not realize her natural gift for bringing the truth to life simply and for painting vivid work pictures in all truth, sincerity and honesty. With the eye of an artist, she described her humble home in orderly and precise detail, taking readers through it with “word photos.”
Her spelling and punctuation were imperfect at times, but easily corrected in the published memoirs. As Bishop Serafim de Sousa Ferreira e Silva of Leiria-Fatima wrote in 1997 in his preliminary note to her book “Calls” From the Message of Fatima, “Our Lady asked her to ‘learn to read’; she did not ask her to go to the university!”
Less than two weeks after Lucia began the initial memoir, on Christmas Day 1935, she finished it. At the time, it was titled simply Jacinta.
Expanding the Memoirs
Shortly after, a priest working with the bishop suggested he ask Lucia to expand on the history and details of the apparitions. So the bishop shared the request.
Lucia started writing more Nov. 7, 1937, completing the second memoir Nov. 21. Included are the recounting of the apparitions of the angels and the revelation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in the June apparition, plus several other details.
Her writings are “exceptionally transparent and unpretentious,” Father Louis Kondor, the vice postulator for the canonization causes of Sts. Francisco and Jacinta, noted years later in the introduction to the collected memoirs titled Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words.
With Fatima’s silver jubilee in 1942 on the horizon, again the bishop wanted her to write further. This expanded version of what was then known as Jacinta would be the third memoir in time for the jubilee anniversary. Lucia realized this was the time in this requested third memoir to reveal the First and Second Secrets of Fatima.
Lucia wrote the bishop that, in obedience to his order, “the moment has arrived to reply to two questions which have often been sent to me, but which I have put off answering until now.”
“In my opinion, it would be pleasing to God and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary that, in the book Jacinta, one chapter would be devoted to the subject of hell and another to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Your Excellency will indeed find this opinion rather strange and perhaps inopportune, but it is not my own idea. God Himself will make clear to you that this is a matter that pertains to his glory and to the good of souls.”
These updates were written in the summer of 1941. After Lucia completed the text, the bishop and a priest working closely on Fatima with him visited her on the feast of the Holy Rosary, Oct. 7, 1941, and wanted to know even more. She wrote in two parts, turning in the first part Nov. 5 and the second, completed addition, Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
Over the years, after the memoirs (she was asked to write a fifth about her father and a sixth about her mother years later), Lucia furthered her efforts as a prolific writer. She penned not only a book — “Calls” From the Message of Fatima — but thousands of letters, most from the decades she lived in the Carmel in Coimbra.
In his introduction to Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words, Father Kondor explained that her deficiencies in things like spelling did not hamper her “clear and distinct construction of sentences; sometimes, indeed, she writes in an elegant and elevated style.”
As this excerpt from the second memoir reveals, she used descriptive language. “And so, thanks to Divine Providence, I passed through the flames without getting burnt and without knowing that little worm of vanity that gnaws at everything.”
Father Kondor explained, “Her literary qualities could be summarized as follows: accuracy and clarity of thought; delicate and deep feeling; lively imagination and a truly artistic sense of humor, giving charm to the narrative; a sensitive irony that never hurts; an extraordinary memory as far as details and circumstances are concerned. Lucia’s dialogues pour forth as though the people concerned were present in person. In her imagination, she sees the scenery as if it were before her eyes. She describes Jacinta and Francisco, her confessors and others, with words which disclose an unusual psychological insight. She is fully conscious of her deviations and always returns with much skill to her starting point.”
Take just one simple sentence in which Lucia brings in Genesis and the Gospel in relation to her efforts. As she turned in the fourth memoir, she wrote to the bishop, “Yielding blindly to the Heavenly Father and to the protection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I am going to put into your hands the fruits of my one tree, the tree of obedience.”
Catechist Par Excellence
“Lucia has sketched out a kind of message of Fatima according to the Gospel, or a Gospel according to Fatima” in line with Pope St. John Paul II’s words on Fatima, noted Carmelite Father Jesus Castellano Cervera about “Calls” From the Message of Fatima. At the time, he was a consultor of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
Father Cervera pointed out how Lucia wrote with “great simplicity and openness,” at the same time with amazing depth and understanding, as “more than half of the text consists in explicit or implicit references to sacred Scripture. Lucia is very much at home in the books of the Bible.”
Lucia weaves together her insights from Fatima with the sacred Scriptures into a tapestry of spirituality.
As Father Cervera pointed out, the book is “easy to read on account of the coherence and simplicity of the themes discussed and their applications.” Not only that, but, “[a]t times her prose takes on a poetic tone, especially when she praises the beauty of God in creation.”
Bishop Ferreira e Silva observed about the book: “Written entirely by Sister Lucia and about how to live with great fidelity the message and requests of Fatima — ultimately the message of the Gospel.” He added, Lucia “presents a great catechetical style.”
Mother Mary, the Rosary, morality and the family were all included topics in “Calls.”
Talking about how Mary is the woman of Genesis who will crush the head of Satan, Lucia wrote: “Mary is the Mother of this new generation, as if she were a new tree of life, planted by God in the garden of the world so that all of her children can partake of her fruit.”
Regarding the Rosary, as pray-ers recall how each mystery reflects the life of Christ, “this in turn will light in their souls the gentle light of faith which supports the still smoldering wick, preventing it from extinguishing itself altogether.”
Relative to family, she wrote: “A home must be like a garden, where fresh rosebuds are opening, bringing to the world the freshness of innocence, a pure and trusting outlook on life, and the smile of innocent happy children. Only thus does God take pleasure in his creative work, blessing it and turning his fatherly gaze upon it. Any other way of behaving is to divert the work of God from its end, to alter the plans of God, failing to fulfill and carry out the mission that God has entrusted to the married couple.”
From topic to topic, Lucia’s writing offers a blessed read.
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.
Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words (available at EWTNRC.com)
Documents on Fatima & The Memoirs of Sister Lucia by Father Antonio Maria Martins & Father Robert J. Fox (available at EWTNRC.com)