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VATICAN LETTER Feb-18-2005 (860 words) Backgrounder. With photo. xxxi

Secrets, superstitions, sainthood: Cardinal talks of Sister Lucia

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Carmelite Sister Lucia dos Santos -- the last of three Fatima visionaries -- was buried in mid-February, a surprising number of people believed still-secret secrets of Fatima were buried with her.

Her Feb. 13 death also led to widespread discussion in Italy about the number 13, given the fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary promised to appear to Lucia and her two cousins on the 13th of the month. The apparitions took place from May 13 to Oct. 13, 1917.

And, of course, discussion began almost immediately about when the process to canonize her would begin. Her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, were beatified -- a step toward sainthood -- in 2000.

Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa, who celebrated Sister Lucia's funeral in the pope's name, discussed all three issues with the press.

In 2000, when Pope John Paul II ordered the publication of the so-called "third secret" of Fatima -- a description of a vision the Blessed Virgin Mary showed the children -- groups such as the Canadian-based Fatima Center immediately began claiming that the publication was incomplete and the Vatican was hiding something.

And when Sister Lucia died, the Fatima Center posted a message on its Web site saying it would "continue to campaign for the release of the full third secret."

But Cardinal Bertone, who had spent hours with Sister Lucia discussing the third secret and the Vatican's interpretation of it before it was published, categorically denied anything remains a secret.

"I can say, without any doubt, that it is absolutely certain that everything having to do with the secret of Fatima has been revealed and that the third part of the secret is contained in the four pages that we published in their entirety and which correspond exactly to the letter written personally by Sister Lucia," Cardinal Bertone said Feb. 14 before flying to Portugal for the funeral.

The cardinal said he was aware that people, despite the affirmations of Pope John Paul -- unquestionably devoted to the Fatima message -- continue to claim there is more to the secret, but he insists the Vatican published everything in its possession.

"I explicitly asked Sister Lucia if she had written something before or after what has been published of the third secret. She herself confirmed that she had written nothing either before or after," Cardinal Bertone said.

After the funeral, Cardinal Bertone confirmed that Sister Lucia's computer and all the letters, diaries and other written material found in her cell at the cloister had been collected and sealed.

"They will be examined one by one in the process for her beatification, which will begin soon," the cardinal said.

However, Cardinal Bertone did not give any timeline for the official opening of her cause, nor did he indicate whether he thought Pope John Paul would waive church rules requiring a five-year waiting period before the process could begin.

Jesuit Father Paolo Molinari, postulator of the cause for Blesseds Francisco and Jacinta, said he personally believes it is important to wait.

"We must avoid the danger of people thinking that she is being beatified or canonized just because of the visions," he told Catholic News Service Feb. 16.

"The apparitions of Our Lady and what Our Lady said certainly had an impact on Sister Lucia's life," he said, but they did not make her holy.

"She accepted the message and she lived according to the message for more than 80 years, offering her life for the sake of sinners. This is holiness, not just receiving the grace of a vision," the Jesuit said.

The five-year wait allows the church to confirm that a large number of the faithful around the world recognize in a prospective saint a special way of living the Christian faith and helping "bring God's love, mercy and goodness into the world because she modeled her life on the life of Jesus Christ," Father Molinari said.

As for the number 13, it was part of the story -- at least in Italy -- of Sister Lucia's passing.

Cardinal Bertone was asked to comment.

"The fact that the number 13 connects almost all the apparitions and was the date (May 13, 1981) of the attempted assassination of the pope is something more than simple coincidence, I think," the cardinal said. The pope has linked the assassination attempt to the third secret of Fatima.

"In the same way, I think it is a heavenly sign that the Madonna called Sister Lucia to herself precisely on the 13th of February," the cardinal said.

The cardinal said people should remember the 13th of each month, "not out of superstition," but simply because God and the Blessed Virgin Mary had done extraordinary things on that date in the past.

Cardinal Bertone said he last visited Sister Lucia in November 2003 and told her that he would come visit her again.

"She told me that I would not see her alive again, but that I would come only to bless her casket. She knew even this," the cardinal told reporters.

"I am not saying this was a prophecy, but it was the simple truth," he said.

END


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