THE TRUE STORY
“The Lady in the Light”
by the Rev Father John De Marchi, IMC, 1952.
Re-published by Patrimonium Publishing, 2016.
DEVOTION GROWS: The Chapel
The author, although having lived at Fatima for a considerable number of years, must rely on the records and on the gospel sincerity of his older friends and companions for a faithful picture of those early years with which we are here concerned.
Devotion did grow and multiply at the little shrine in the Cova da Iria. Senhora Maria da Capelinha was, of course, a primary witness, since her life, from the first apparition until the day of her recent death, was motivated almost exclusively by her love for Our Lady of Fatima
Senhora Maria da Capelinha:
After that day on which the sun danced there was an endless procession of people to the Cova, especially on Sundays and on the 13th day of each month. The people came from all around – all kinds of people, really. The men came with their sticks and bundles on their shoulders, and the women came carrying children. Even the old and infirm came faithfully, and all of them would kneel near the tree where our Lady had appeared. A remarkable thing, but no one ever seemed weary or tired when he was here. It was, from the beginning, a place that gave strength. Here, at this holy place, mark you, nothing was ever sold, not a cup of wine or of water – nothing! And, oh, what good times those were for true prayer and true penance. Often we would weep with emotion.
Telling us of this place where her own heart and hopes had found an enduring home, Maria da Capelinha would sometimes have tears of great and remembered joy running down her cheeks:
Here there were many tears and prayers for our Lady, Father, and when there were plenty of people, we would sing our favourite hymns. All of us, it seems, did so much penance with such joy of heart, that I believe if I had died just then that our Lady would have taken me straight to heaven. Surely those days are long gone, but I cannot help myself from wishing to live them again.
People went home contented from the Cova because our Lady always heard their prayers. Truly, recalling those times I can think of no one saying that our Lady had not responded to prayer. All who came, it seems, came with faith, or else, if they did not have it at first, they found it here.
One day a man who had come a long way was standing there soaked with the rain. I went up to him and asked him if there were any ill effects. “No,” he told me, “I am every bit all right and have never passed such a happy night as this. I have come and yet I do not feel at all tired. I am so happy in this place.” I remember this because, apart from the rain, it was winter, and terribly cold, and this man had passed the whole night in the open air, since there was no shelter for him.
Another time a group of gentlemen and ladies came with Padre dos Reis do Montelo, who has since become a parish priest at Saint Sebastian’s in Lisbon. Later I found that they had been to a christening and a dinner nearby and had only come here through curiosity, since they did not believe one little bit in all they had heard. But they stayed awhile, listening to those of us who did believe, praying around the table where the lighted candles were. Suddenly Father Reis took off his hat and began responding to the Rosary we were saying. When it was finished, I heard someone say – and I think it was Father Reis: “Even if Rome never approves this, I shall always believe that something extraordinary happened here.”
And yet Maria da Capelinha, for all this happiness, was not content. Of grave concern to her, as well as to Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, was the fact that work had not yet been started on the chapel requested by our Lady.
There had been no lack of alms. The faithful, although few of them had more than meagre means, left food by the little tree, with the intention that it be sold to provide some of the necessary money for a chapel. Others left coins of varying value, and some left objects of gold and silver. Support for the simple project was full-hearted and most willing.
But there were other obstacles to fulfilment of the Lady’s request. First of all there was the vigilant opposition of the civil authorities in the area, and beyond that, as a discouraging hindrance, there was the indifference and indeed the hostility toward their intentions of Father Ferreira, the parish priest.
As we know by now, Maria da Capelinha was custodian of the alms box, an honour by no means lined with joy. Faithfully every day Maria gathered the coins left on the table, and marketed, for the purpose of acquiring additional cash, the food that was left there, along with occasional items of greater value. In all, it became with time a considerable deposit of cash – the entire amount in the personal safekeeping of this pious woman, and, of course, there was yet no sign of a chapel. The tongues of the unsaintly began in their very human fashion to wag up a substantial scandal. It was said without timidity, that the Carreiras, of Moita, had known how to use their opportunity.
Maria de Capelinha recalls for us:
My daughters went out to work by the day in the fields, and those who worked with them used to taunt them if they had new dresses or shoes. The people began to murmur, and so I went to the priest and asked him to take charge of the money because I was tired of the criticism. Then Father Ferreira took me to his office and showed me a letter from the Cardinal Patriarch which said that the money was to be kept carefully by some reliable person (but not the children’s parents) until further notice. This time I went home in a happier state of mind.
But the persecutions went on and this upset me a great deal. One day I heard a sermon by the parish priest of Santa Catherina on All Souls’ Day. He said from the pulpit that people who looked after the money for festas were always criticised and that there were always evil tongues ready to wag. But we must suffer such persecutions patiently for our Lord’s sake as He had suffered for us. From that time I determined to bear my trouble.
It was not long, however, before another worry came up. A man from the mayor – the one we called the Tinker – came to the house with a notice for my husband to appear at the tribunal. We and the neighbours thought that it would be about the money:
“Be careful, Ti Manuel,” they said to my husband. “Think out what you’re going to say!”
“I needn’t do that!” said he.
Although we didn’t know for certain, we were nearly sure that it would be about the money, and when he arrived at the town hall the people in the office asked him:
“What do you want?”
“The mayor sent for me and I have come to find out what he wants.”
“Where do you come from?”
“From Moita, near Fatima.”
“Ah, yes,” put in the mayor, who was sitting there, too.
“Then you are Senhor Carreira?” My husband replied that he was.
“Then you live near the Cova da Iria?”
“Do you go there often?”
“I have been there.”
“What do you do there?”
“I do what the others do.”
“Do you see our Lady, too?”
“No, sir, I haven’t seen her up to now.”
“Then what do you do there?”
“I go with the other people.”
“What do they say?”
“I don’t know. Some say one thing, some another.”
“There must be plenty of money left there?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“Don’t you see it, then? Don’t you know anything about it?”
“I know nothing about it sir.”
“Who keeps this money?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“You seem to be a very ignorant man!”
“That I am, sir!”
Behind the mayor was Senhor Julio Lopes, from the tribunal, and he nodded to my husband approving the way he was talking and telling him to go on. My Manuel kept on pretending he knew nothing and returned home very pleased at having got the better of the mayor. But our troubles didn’t end here.
One day – it was a Sunday – my eldest son came back from Mass and said to me:
“Mother, listen; I have just been talking to Joao Nogueira and he told me that the regedor intended to come here to see father again about that money. I don’t know if he was joking, but I don’t think so because he spoke seriously. You had better think out what you’re going to say when he comes.”
“I shall tell him it was stolen,” I said promptly.
“Then you should have said something about it before or he will know you’re lying.”
“Then I shall go and make a complaint now,” I said.
At this moment Jose Alves’ wife came along and I pretended to be very upset. When she asked me what was the matter I said:
“They’ve stolen our Lady’s money….”
“Stolen it? But didn’t you keep it safely somewhere?”
“No, I kept it in a tin tinder a stone in the garden.” The woman seemed surprised but she believed me:
“Well, it serves you right for being such a fool.”
“Yes,” I said, with my hands in front of my face.
Shortly afterwards Antonio Joaquim’s wife came along and I played the same game with her, pretending to be upset and telling her the story of the tin under the stone.
“You were asking for it, weren’t you!” she said. (The next door family were known not to be very reliable.) And she went away.
This happened in the morning and by nightfall everyone in Moita knew that our Lady’s money had been stolen. I felt my ears burning! Some days later Senhor Alves’ wife came back and said:
“You were lying weren’t you! The money wasn’t stolen. I could see you were only pretending to be upset.”
Then I told her everything. Sometimes one has to lie!
Some time passed, and when I saw that there was no more danger from the authorities in Ourem, I went to the priest and asked for his permission to begin building the chapel. I told him that we intended to put the statue of our Lady in it, and the gifts which the people brought which were often spoiled by the rain as things were at present. Father Ferreira answered as if he didn’t care one way or the other, and finally said that he didn’t want to have anything to do with it.
“If we build it with the money we have shall we be doing anything wrong?”
“I don’t think so,” he replied.
He spoke like this because he didn’t want it to be said later that he had ordered the chapel to be built. He had orders from the Cardinal Patriarch not to take any part in the affair. For myself, I had heard enough and I went home happy. I told everything to my Manuel and he went and spoke to Lucia’s father, because he was the owner of the land.
Lucia’s father gave his permission and said we could make it any size we liked. All the same he was very upset, and with good reason. The people spoiled everything so that nothing would grow there. They spoiled the trees cutting branches – big branches, not twigs – right and left until there was nothing left growing near the tree of the apparitions. When he saw people going by with branches in their hands he knew that they had come from his property. When the little tree disappeared they began to attack the big ones and if my Manuel had not protected them with thorn bushes the big trees in the Cova would not be there now.
The chapel took more than a month to build and everyone wanted to have a finger in the pie. Some wanted it one way, some another. Each one had his own idea, the more so because no priest would have anything to do with it. It became so difficult that I went and spoke to the mason, who was a man from Santa Catherina, a very good religious man and clever at his work.
“Don’t worry about it, woman,” he said to me. “If this is God’s work there’s bound to be trouble at the beginning.”
It was a dear little chapel when it was finished but it was not much more than a depository because it had nothing inside. No priest would come and bless it, and it was only much later that this was done by Dr Marques dos Santos. It had a little covered balcony in front, very tiny – with six people it was full. It was later enlarged to the size it is today.
It was a considerable time before the little chapel was graced with an image of the heavenly Lady it was built to commemorate. Most of a year went by before it arrived at Fatima, concealed among farm tools in a crude wooden cart. As the price of caution, there was further delay before it was moved to the Cova da Iria, but in the interval it was blessed by the obliging but hardly enthusiastic Father Ferreira. Finally, on May 13, 1920, the statue was brought to the chapel, and the people came with joy to behold its rather great beauty. Among those who came was Lucia, now a girl of thirteen, who stood reverently above the opened packing case, and wept without shame or self-consciousness, and by now, of course, in 1920, her little cousins had gone to that reigning Queen of Heaven who had called them in fulfilment of her promise.