The testimony of Lucia do Santos

By: Daniel Céspedes Góngora

At a time of advanced the feature film Fatima (Marco Pontecorvo, 2019), Professor Nichols (Harvey Keitel), in the process of requisitioning for his book on the mysteries of Fatima, has a conversation with Sister Lucia (Sónia Braga), whom he has gone to visit in his convent retreat. Lucia was one of the child shepherds who, together with her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto, testified to the appearance of Our Lady between May 13 and October 13, 1917. Nichols expresses opinions/questions related to what elected people see. Something like this why apparitions bears much resemblance to popular icons, already present in churches. She reminds him that God has to manifest himself in a way that most expect. This makes it more communicateable in terms of images.

In matters of announcement, assumption and presentation…; in matters of earthly apparitions witnessed by privileged persons; in matters even of sanctuaries…, what Alfonso Reyes said according to the possibility we have when referring to something or someone is not fulfilled to the letter: “Very easy to judge of things a posteriori”. For while some disbelievers are nodding today in relation to the “secret of Fatima”, the believers of this advocation of the Virgin Mary predominate everywhere. In fact, the film is not only responsible for showing the beginnings of veneration for Fatima, but the transnationality of its events and messages on behalf of Portugal and the world. Do not forget that the contemporaneity of the cult was due to mediations, about “errands” with alarming prophetic and eschatological components: a world war, conversion to Catholicism of Soviet Russia after its disintegration in 1990 and the assassination attempt of John Paul II.

Fátima (Marco Pontecorvo, 2019)
Fátima (Marco Pontecorvo, 2019)

Dreaming, rambling theories, boy game, imaginations, lie, disrespect, appearances, story, stupid superstitions…  were some of the qualifications used from Lucia dos Santos’ mother to the town’s mayor. “What harm can three young children do?” asks the authority manager his wife. He replies: “More than you think (…): the dangerous is what they represent. More dangerous than guns.” She questions him again: “What could be dangerous about meeting the Blessed Virgin? It’s a wonderful thing. And it’s wonderful that it happened here.”

As you know, Lucia’s cousins died soon. Our Lady anticipated them. The most lasting mission (“a message of suffering and atonement” so early) would fall to Dos Santos. On April 28, 1919, the construction of the Chapel of apparitions began. But it was necessary to wait more than ten years for the Bishop of Leiria to declare worthy of faith both the apparitions and the freedom or authorization of the cult of Our Lady of Fatima. This event occurred on October 13, 1930. Just as the true foundation of the main cities in the fields, of such a destination is the board of faiths that exceed the rural to expand into the small and large cities. Today, the sanctuary of Fatima is one of the most welcoming spaces for pilgrims from all regions of the world.

The film alternates between Lucia’s present and the researcher and the origins of the cult in the second decade of the 20th century. Unsurprisingly, curiosity about the capital fact and dramatic force of the story lie in that past, where the conflict between skepticism and other prejudices lies and belief and subsequent approval. However, as the events were the case, the old Lucia may already confess to Nichols: “Faith begins within the limits of understanding.”

It is also worth highlighting to Fatima its simple staging and an attendable excellence. In particular, it is worth highlighting the use of the ochre hue of interiors and exteriors of days and nights, integrated into those lipid greens and yellows, sometimes gloomy, others of a well-resolved natural luminosity, always beautiful, present in the Lusitanine countryside. Photography, in principle, privileges the strong bond of the human being with the rural landscape. As for the work with the actors, let us recognize the aforementioned Keitel and Braga, but also Joaquim de Almeida, Goran Vi’niji, Simo Cayatte, Lúcia Moniz (charming and descollante as the mother of the main child), Joana Ribeiro among others, while not mentioning the boys Alejandra Howard as Jacinta, Jorge Lamelas as Francisco and especially the Lucia de Gil.

The so-called religious films seem to concern only one Catholic audience, as if the other theologies immediately discarded the knowledge of the cult of figures while not knowing the facts associated with God and the divine in general. The film lover has his preferences regarding genres, themes and issues, as anyone has, belongs to a religion or not. But belittling a documentary or fiction because someone intends to “strengthen” a radical lay ethic deprives his intellect of corporatizing a more comprehensive image of human history.

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