By John C. Preiss
Today, so much darkness looms over us. Especially as Christians, we continue to see physical and mental persecutions. This led me to do a comparison of two great sisters, women, and possible saints of the church. The example of their lives of suffering and sacrifice on our behalf is remarkable, and I hope it will inspire us to raise our standards of our love for Our Lord and Our Lady.
Sister Lucia, like Mother Angelica, began her journey to grow closer to Jesus at an early age. In the spring of 1916, the Angel of Peace appeared to Sister Lucia and her two cousins Francisco and Jacinta. The angel repeated prayers that pertained to Eucharistic adoration. In the third apparition of the angel, the angel gave the Host to Lucia and the Chalice to her cousins. After receiving the Host, they immediately kneeled reverently and said the Angel’s Prayer. Father Jose dos Santos, cousin of Sister Lucia, was told by her that this was the most important part of the message of Fatima because it drew them closer to God and the real presence in the Eucharist.
On May 13, 1917, Our Lady appeared to the three children, and she asked them, “Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you for the conversion of sinners?” Lucia answered, “Yes, we are willing.” Our Lady said, “Then you are going to have much to suffer, but the grace of God will be your comfort.”
Mother Angelica (Rita Rizzou) had a different route to Jesus, but the outcome was the same as Lucia’s with a life full of miracles. A stomach ailment that Rita had experienced starting in 1939 continued to cause her severe abdominal pain, despite extensive medical treatment. Her mother took her to Rhoda Wise, who was hailed as a mystic and stigmatic and "who claimed to receive visions of St Thérèse of Lisieux." Wise instructed Rizzo to perform "a novena (a nine-day course of prayers) and made the girl promise that she would spread devotion to the saint if she was cured."
On the novena’s final day, January 18, 1943, Rita declared that she woke up with no pain, and the abdominal lump causing it had vanished. This experience profoundly touched her; she believed that God had performed a miracle. She traced her lifelong commitment to God to this event. She later told an interviewer that, at that point, "I knew that God knew me and loved me and was interested in me. All I wanted to do after my healing was give myself to Jesus."
The correlation of these two events and their mystical miracles both led them to the same end—and that was Jesus. They both developed a deep love to serve Him.
They Both Encountered the Child Jesus
Sister Lucia said that, on December 10, 1925, the Virgin Mary appeared to her at the convent in Pontevedra, Spain, and by Her side, elevated on a luminous cloud, was the Child Jesus. According to Lucia, Mary requested the institution of the Devotion of the Five First Saturdays in reparation to her Immaculate Heart.
“Look, my daughter, at my Heart, encircled by these thorns, with which men pierce it at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. You, at least, strive to console me, and so I announce: I promise to assist at the hour of death with the grace necessary for salvation all those who, with the intention of making reparation to me, will, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, go to confession, receive Holy Communion, say five decades of the beads, and keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary.”
Devotees of Fátima believe that the First Saturdays help to console the sorrows of God, Jesus, and the Virgin Mary for the sins against Her Immaculate Heart.
Below is another encounter Sister Lucia shared with the Child Jesus: While Sister was emptying the trash outside the monastery gardens, a child was there playing, and she asked him to say three Hail Marys alone. He remained silent and did not appear capable of saying them. “I asked him if he knew the church of Saint Mary. He answered yes. I then told him to go there every day and to pray thus: ‘Oh my Heavenly Mother, give me Your Child Jesus!’ I taught him that prayer and departed. Then on February 15, while returning as usual [to empty a garbage can outside of the garden], I found there a child who appeared to me to be the same, and I then asked him: ‘Have you asked Our Heavenly Mother for the Child Jesus?’ The Child turned to me and said: ‘And have you revealed to the world what the Heavenly Mother has asked you?’” And saying that, He transformed Himself into a resplendent Child. She recognized the child as Jesus.
Divino Nino's Call to Mother Angelica
In 1995, Mother Angelica was traveling in South America on business for EWTN. A Spanish television network was in the works for Latin America, so many Catholics were losing their faith, and Mother was concerned with this.
On this trip, Colombia was among the countries that Mother visited. In Bogotá, a Salesian priest—Father Juan Pablo Rodriguez—brought Mother and the nuns to the Sanctuary of the Divine Infant Jesus to attend Mass. After Mass, Father Juan Pablo took them into a small shrine that housed the miraculous statue of the Child Jesus.
Mother Angelica stood praying at the side of the statue when suddenly the miraculous image came alive and turned towards her. The Child Jesus spoke with the voice of a young boy: "Build Me a Temple, and I will help those who help you." After this spiritual event, a great adventure awaited for Mother and her sisters back home that would eventually result in the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, a temple dedicated to the Divine Child Jesus and the Holy Eucharist.
The Lord wished to manifest His loving Providence yet again by inspiring five families to financially assist with the building of the shrine. Each family wished its donations to remain anonymous, and the Child Jesus kept His promise to "help those who help you."
This holy place is a miracle of God's Divine Providence. I was fortunate to visit with Mother in the parlor shortly after her stroke in 2004 and was told that the Child Jesus would run up and down the stairs at the Shrine. At the time, my son Mark was just one year old, and one of the sisters asked Mother as she was gripping my hand if our child resembled the Child Jesus. She shook her head, meaning “no.”
The last years of the lives of these two great women of the church were filled with much suffering. Yet like Mother Angelica, before her ability to talk was gone, those who spent much time with Sister Lucia would soon be in the presence of a first-rate wit, a woman who loved jokes, humor, and kidding, even into her late 90s. Sister Maria Celina described Sister Lucia as a religious who “emanated joy.”
Speaking of Sister Lucia’s last hours, the Superior said: “When she needed assistance, we placed her bed at the center of the cell, and we were around her, together with the bishop of Leiria-Fatima. I was kneeling down next to her. Sister Lucia looked at everyone and then looked at me at the end. It was a long look, but in her eyes there was a deep light, which I carry in my soul.”
Sister Lucia’s last words were relayed to us by her doctor for the last fifteen years, Branca Paul: “A check of her vital signs showed the Fatima visionary would not live long. She had slipped into a coma. But then Lucia surprised everyone. She lifted her head and began moving it back and forth, trying to see in front of her.
‘For the Holy Father!’ Lucia said. ‘Our Lady, Our Lady, holy angels, Heart of Jesus, Heart of Jesus! We are going, we are going.’
‘Where?’ Mother Celina asked.
‘To Heaven,’ Sister Lucia replied.
‘With whom?’ Mother queried.
‘With Our Lord, Our Lady, and the little shepherds,’ Sister Lucia answered. They were her last words. Francisco and Jacinta had come along to take her to Heaven.”
Mother Angelica’s Last Days Full of Pain and Suffering
I am very fortunate to live about a mile from the beautiful Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament. I had seen on many occasions an ambulance or rescue vehicle scooting down the road in a hurry. Automatically, I would think, I hope my mother is okay. She had suffered a great deal the last fifteen years before her death. Although this was the case, the worst was yet to come. Mother similar to Lucia somewhat reverted back to a life of simplicity as she was confined to her room. Father Joseph Wolfe, long-time chaplain and priest for the Friars, recounted those last difficult moments leading up to Mother’s death:
Fr. Joseph Wolfe described how Mother Angelica went into her death throes on Good Friday.
"It was on Good Friday that I heard form one of the caregivers who was helping Mother, as well as one of the sisters," Wolfe said. "Mother began to cry out early in the morning from the pain that she was having. She had a fracture in her bones because of the length of time she had been bedridden. They said you could hear it down the hallways, that she was crying out on Good Friday from what she was going through. These two people said to me she has excruciating pain. Well, do you know where that word excruciating comes from? Ex cruce means from the cross. Excruciating pain.
"Her whole life really was colored with suffering," Wolfe said. "We don't think of her as someone who was downcast in her suffering but gave us courage in our own sufferings.
"After the 3 o'clock hour arrived on Good Friday, she was more calm; she was more peaceful," Wolfe said.
Father Wolfe left Mother Angelica's side to officiate the Easter Vigil on Saturday night in the chapel at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Several hundred people attended. "We had a beautiful Easter vigil," Wolfe said. "At 5:30 in the morning, Mother Delores called me and said Mother was really struggling. She wasn't doing very well. She wanted me to come over. I went over there; the sisters were already there."
That's when preparations for her death began with the last rites, he said.
"I anointed her, did the litany for the dying, gave her the apostolic pardon that the church grants to someone who is dying, and the sisters prayed their divine office around her bed—the morning prayers."
The holiday altered the procedures, he said.
"The fact that Mother's death took place on Easter Sunday means that, liturgically, we have to do certain things," Wolfe said. "We have to be singing alleluias. Our divine office cannot be the office for the dead; it's got to be the office for the octave of Easter. But you know, I'm happy about that. We can be singing alleluias for all that she has brought to so many of us.
We may never truly understand the significance of these two great sisters of the church. Sister Lucia’s mission was to spend her life promoting devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary throughout the world. And of course, Mother Angelica’s mission was to promote Jesus through Eucharistic Adoration throughout the world. Both sisters reached their nineties in age. In their last years, they were confined to their cells but still trusting in Our Lord and Our Lady. What an example of faith and dedication for all of us! In reality, they had the same mission, and that was to give glory to God. As Christians, this should be our mission and to achieve this we must dedicate ourselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary our refuge and our hope.