Oporto, to which we returned that evening, was stirring with activity. The crowded impression I had gotten of the city when I first saw it from the train was confirmed in our walk down a shop-filled street to the central square, the Praça da Liberdade. There it seemed as if the entire population had poured down the twisting, cobbled streets with the rain and had filled cafés, sidewalks, stores, and rows of yellow streetcars. Automobile horns in Oporto seemed even more excited and persistent than those of Lisbon. It was a strange setting for reflection on our visit with Irmã Dores [Sr Lucia, one of the children at Fatima].
Interesting as that visit had been, it had not turned out quite according to plan. Irmã Dores had liked the profile of the statue and the attitude of the figure, but everything else needed correction. The drawings I had planned for minor corrections would have to carry an entirely new design. I wished I had the conveniences necessary for modeling a new statue. It would have been provident to have brought clay and tools for such a job, but I had not considered that my statue might be so far away from the reality of the vision.
After dinner, at Father Gardiner’s invitation, Mr. Ronald Symington came to the hotel. Deeply devoted to Our Lady of Fatima, he had assisted the sick at the pilgrimages in the Cova da Iria for years in the capacity of stretcher-bearer. He was most interested in the details of our visit. Father Gardiner spoke with admiration of Irmã Dores. He declared that our Lady could not have chosen a better witness, so clear and simple had her answers been, and so sure and solid her personality.
I asked Mr. Symington about miracles at Fatima. He told me that he had been very close to Maria da Silva when she was cured. She was the one whom Father Gardiner had also seen. Mr. Symington declared that she had been “absolutely moribund” and that she arose as the Blessed Sacrament passed.
Then he spoke of a woman whom he had helped carry to the place of the sick on the same day. Her people apologized for her not thanking him and explained that she was mute. As the statue of our Lady passed by her, she joined the crowd in singing a hymn. Mr. Symington hastened to add, “Of course, this would not be a miracle from the medical point of view.” He said that on that day, May 13, 1946, the crowd was estimated at 700,000. “The general Communion was a most astonishing sight; it went on, and on, and on; 130,000 went to Holy Communion.”
Mr. Symington solved part of my problem about the statue by offering me the hospitality of his home, where, he said, I would have space to work on a new statue, if I so desired. I would have to find materials and make adjustments in my plans; but a new statue seemed to be the only means of fulfilling the purpose for which I had come to Portugal. I decided to remain.
We met with Irmã Dores and Mother Corte Real again in the morning. I told Mother Provincial that I had decided to make a new statue.
“Father, why don’t you stay here and make it?” she said.
I felt like answering, “Mother, why don’t I?” but told her instead that I thought the arrangement would be very nice; and I gratefully accepted.
She assured me there was plenty of room; the entire priest’s house was unoccupied. But space was a minor consideration at this point. I would have been content with a lean-to for the work in order to have the privilege of making the statue right there.
Irmã Dores was waiting patiently for the questioning. She seemed more at ease than she had been the day before. I was going to ask her about the contents of the revelations made to her by our Lady, and I wanted to make clear to her my reverence in approaching the subject.
“Although I have an infinite curiosity, as everyone has, about the revelations made to her,” I said to Mother Provincial, “I wish you would tell Sister that I will not ask any question that I do not see related to the welfare of souls.”
Mother Provincial replied: “Irmã Dores knows that already; she is very keen.”
Interpretations of the message of Fatima are many and varied. Generally, certain basic ideas are found in all of them: penance, sacrifice, the Rosary, devotion to the Immaculate Heart, the punitive character of war, the hopes for peace and for the conversion of Russia. Different authors had given emphasis to different points. Now I wished to have these ideas clarified and correlated by the person through whom they had been given to the world at Fatima.
First in importance was the general motivation of the apparitions. I asked Irmã Dores to put this motivation into words.
“The conversion of sinners, and the return of souls to God,” she said. “This idea was repeated in all the apparitions; that is why I consider it the principal message.”
“Would you give a quotation of our Lady that expresses this motivation?” I asked.
She replied, “In October, our Lady said: ‘Do not offend our Lord anymore; He is already much offended.’ ”
“Did our Lady address this to you three children or to the whole world?” I asked.
“I believe it was for the whole world.”
In every apparition the Blessed Virgin had asked the children to make sacrifices, both to appease divine justice and to bring about the conversion of sinners. They had responded with heroic penance and patience. Was such extraordinary self-sacrifice requested of everyone? Recently Irmã Dores had been reported to have said that the sacrifice asked for by Our Lady of Fatima was merely that sacrifice necessary for the fulfillment of duty.
“When our Lady asked for sacrifice, did she ask merely for the observance of the commandments?”
Irmã Dores answered: “The meaning we took was that she wanted voluntary sacrifices — of course, after keeping the commandments, because, if we started making voluntary sacrifices without keeping the commandments, it wouldn’t be much good.”
She went on to warn me, however, not to confuse what she had just said with the wish expressed by our Lady in 1940. It was quite easy for me to avoid such confusion, for I knew nothing of 1940. Irmã Dores explained that in 1917 our Lady had asked for penance and sacrifice and that the children had understood this to mean voluntary sacrifice, but that “in 1940 she asked again for penance and sacrifice but the penance and sacrifice necessary for fulfilling religious duties and the duties of one’s state.”
I inquired if this was a mitigation of our Lady’s earlier request. Irmã Dores’s reply was typical of her factual reporting, free of the elaborations of her own opinion: “Our Lady did not explain that to me.”
Mother Corte Real reminded us that the children of Fatima were “children of the mountains” and could hardly be expected to understand such theological distinctions.
Looking back later on the situation, I wondered how it all must have appeared to Irmã Dores and to Mother Provincial. The interrogation by two white-robed friars, their seriousness and note-taking might have been faintly suggestive of the Inquisition, although the seriousness was really begotten of reverence. We were there as disciples, not masters. But whatever the appearances, Irmã Dores was fully capable of coping with us. She was not troubled by any crackling of faggots. Nor was there confirmation of the possibility suggested by Mother Provincial that the children did not clearly understand the nature of the sacrifice requested by our Lady in 1917.
“Obviously she wanted more than the fulfillment of duty,” Irmã Dores replied to an interpretation offered by Mother Provincial, “because she had already asked us not to offend God — that means doing one’s duty — then she went on to ask for sacrifice and penance.”
Mother Corte Real ventured a further explanation, the content of which escaped me, to which Irmã Dores replied with an emphatic finality that terminated the discussion of sacrifice:
“But they don’t do their duty! If they did, our Lord would be more content.”
“What were the devotions recommended by Our Lady at Fatima?” I asked.
“The Rosary and Communions of reparation,” she replied. For Rosary, Irmã Dores used the word Terço, the Portuguese name for the five-decade Rosary.
“In all the apparitions our Lady mentioned the Rosary (Terço); in the third apparition she said she would come to ask for Communions of reparation.”
She went on to say that the concrete request for the devotion of the Communions of reparation of the Five First Saturdays came later, mentioning 1926. Then she gave the conditions of the devotion indicated by our Lady. “She asked for Communions of reparation, Confession, a quarter-hour meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary, and the Terço.”
In a letter I received on my return to the United States replying to an inquiry I had made after the interviews, Irmã Dores mentioned the triple demand of our Lady for this devotion: “In 1925, 1926, and 1927, request and insistence on the Communions of reparation of the Five First Saturdays.” Her mention of 1926 in the interview must have had to do with the detailing of all the conditions, for it was in that apparition that our Lady clarified the initial revelation of the devotion, which she had made in 1925.
“Did our Lady mention the First Saturdays in 1917?” I asked.
“She said: ‘I shall come back to ask for the consecration of Russia and Communions of reparation.’ ” She remarked that Father De Marchi’s first edition was correct on this quotation.
The Secret of Fatima was the next subject. I asked Irmã Dores to tell me the parts of the Secret that she had already made known.
She answered: “The parts of the Secret already revealed are the vision of hell; and that she would come back to ask for the consecration of Russia and for Communions of reparation.”
The consecration of Russia and the Communions of reparation are the two forms of homage to the Immaculate Heart that were requested at Fatima.
Irmã Dores stated that the book Jacinta, by Father Galamba, exactly reported the revealed portions of the Secret.
“What it has is correct; but it hasn’t all,” she said.
“Can any more you have written about be published?” I asked.
“No. I can’t publish anything,” she said, laughing. She made it clear by a simple reference to the authority of the bishop, that the measure and manner of her presenting the message of our Lady to the world are dictated entirely by obedience.
Belief in the message of Fatima depends on the credibility of Irmã Dores as the only witness of the message in its entirety. By making known her communication, ecclesiastical authority has implicitly assured us of her reliability. It is further confirmed in this evidence of her complete submission to authority. She speaks of Fatima only to her ecclesiastical superiors or with their permission; her testimony is simple and without personal commentary.
We inquired further about her writings, which we had called her memoirs, and the published parts of which, the bishop had said, were contained in the book Jacinta. We wondered if these writings of Irmã Dores were limited to the memoirs referred to by the bishop. Father Gardiner inquired why her writings could not be published in their entirety. Irmã Dores answered: “They must contain private things that the bishop thinks inconvenient to publish; and they might contain things about Russia that the bishop thinks should not be published.” She added that it would be unwise to publish all her notes because of living persons referred to in them.
I returned to the actual wording of the Secret. In order to have this central passage of the revelations of Fatima accurate I asked Father Gardiner to read, phrase by phrase, a printed text that I had, for her approval or correction. The following is the complete text, as corrected:
You have just seen hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them the Lord wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If people do what I shall tell you, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.
The war will soon end. But if men do not stop offending the Lord it will not be long before another and worse one begins; that will be in the Pontificate of Pius XI.
When you see the night illuminated by an unknown light, know that it is the great sign which God is giving you, indicating that the world, on account of its innumerable crimes, will soon be punished by war, famine, and persecutions against the Church and the Holy Father.
In order to prevent it I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, as well as Communions of reparation on the First Saturdays of the month.
If my requests are granted Russia will be converted and there will be peace. Otherwise Russia will spread her errors through the world fomenting wars and persecutions against the Church. Many will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer; several nations will be destroyed.
In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, Russia will be converted, and there will be a certain period of peace.
The English text had had the expression, “in the next Pontificate.” Irmã Dores corrected it to read “in the Pontificate of Piux XI.”
“In order to stop it I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart” was the corrected version of the sentence that had read: “In order to stop it, I ask for the consecration of the world.” Irmã Dores was emphatic in making the correction about Russia. “No!” she said, “not the world! Russia! Russia!”
The final sentence was supplied entirely by her.
In his address to the Portuguese nation on the silver jubilee of the apparitions, on October 31, 1942, Pope Pius XII had consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart and had made special, descriptive mention of Russia. Some had regarded this as fulfillment of the request of our Lady. Others had stated that it was not sufficient, that all the bishops of the world were expected to join with the Holy Father in making the consecration of Russia.
“Did the Holy Father consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart?” I asked Irmã Dores.
“He included Russia in the consecration,” she said. Then, very humbly, as if wishing that she were wrong, she added, “In the official way that our Lady asked for it? I don’t think so.”
Father Gardiner, wishing to make certain of this point, re-framed the question, “Do you think that our Lady’s request has been complied with?”
Irmã Dores replied: “As our Lady made it, no.” But she added, “Whether our Lady accepted the consecration made in 1942 as fulfilling her wish, I don’t know.”