Wed, Feb 16, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Portugal grieves for last survivor of Fatima visions

APPARITIONS Sister Lucia, the last of the three children who claimed the Virgin Mary appeared to them in prophetic visions in 1917, died on Sunday

AP , LISBON, PORTUGAL

The body of Sister Lucia, the last of three children who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary in 1917 in Fatima, central Portugal, lies in a chapel of the Convent of Carmelitas in Coimbra on Monday. The Catholic church has built a shrine in Fatima which is visited each year by millions of people from around the world.

PHOTO: AFP

Political parties scrapped their election campaign programs and worshippers prayed silently on Monday following the death of Sister Lucia, the last of three shepherd children who became known worldwide after they claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary during 1917 apparitions in a small Portuguese town.

The government ordered flags lowered to half-staff yesterday in memory of the Roman Catholic nun, who died on Sunday at age 97.

Lucia and her two cousins said the Virgin Mary appeared to them in a series of 1917 apparitions in Fatima, a farming town 190km north of Lisbon. Sister Lucia said the Virgin spoke only to her, revealing secrets.

Lucia was placed in a coffin in the chapel of the convent near Fatima where she lived. Hundreds of people brought flowers and prayed quietly at the chapel, media reports said. After working hours, a long queue of worshippers waiting to enter snaked around the convent.

In a letter expressing his condolences, President Jorge Sampaio said Lucia "was a symbol and a point of reference for so many people in the whole world."

The Bishop of Fatima, Serafim Ferreira e Silva, held a special service at the town's shrine, which is visited each year by millions of people from around the world. The funeral was to be held yesterday at the cathedral in the nearby city of Coimbra. Lucia was to be buried afterward in the graveyard of the Carmelite convent where she had lived since 1948.

The Social Democratic Party and the Popular Party, the two main right-of-center political parties, canceled their campaign events for the Feb. 20 general election for 48 hours as a mark of respect.

Dr Branca Paul, the doctor who was treating Lucia, said she died of heart failure.

Shortly before she died on Sunday, Lucia reportedly read a fax sent to her by Pope John Paul II. The pontiff has met with Lucia during each of his three visits to Fatima.

In the message, John Paul expressed his closeness and blessing, and said he was praying so that she "live this moment of pain, suffering and offering in the spirit of Easter, of passage," the Italian bishops' conference news agency SIR reported, citing Portuguese sources.

Lucia and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco said the Virgin Mary appeared to them on the 13th day of each month and predicted events, such as world wars, the re-emergence of Christianity in Russia, and one that Church officials say foretold the 1981 attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.

The first sighting was on May 13, 1917, and the appearances took place for another five months, ending abruptly in October of that year. Shortly after, both Jacinta and Francisco died of respiratory diseases. But Lucia became a nun, and penned two memoirs while living in convents.

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