By Fr. C.G. Arevalo, S.J.
Loyola School of Theology
When Mrs. Cory Aquino was Philippine president in 1988, she made her official visit to the Vatican on 18 June that year. That was a really memorable event in her life. We are told that Pope John Paul II, as he read his message, departed from his text to tell her that she represented for him the Filipino people’s special love for Our Lady, and that he trusted she would foster that special love (“pueblo amante de Maria”) in her years as leader in our land.
Surely, she has helped keep that love for Mary, Mother of Jesus, alive and ardent among our people through all the years she has been a public figure. It is something she continues to do till the present. She continues to be an ever-active “apostle of the Rosary.” She is thus simply living out her authentic devotion to Our Blessed Mother, something very deep and very real in her own life.
Here we would like to say a little about a special rosary she has had since the year 1986 when the People Power “revolution” (EDSA UNO) brought her to the presidency in an historic and unique way, -with “People Power as Prayer Power.”
In September of 1986, Jaime Cardinal Sin and then-Ambassador to the Vatican Mr. Howard Dee organized at Fatima in Portugal an International Theological Symposium on “the Alliance of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary,” with a number of outstanding European theologians participating. But the Cardinal took a day’s time-out during the meetings, to visit Sr. Lucia dos Santos, “the last seer of Fatima” at her Carmelite convent in Coimbra. –The Holy See (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s office, in particular) had granted the privilege of the visit. Cardinal Sin went with Fr. Socrates Villegas. Sister Lucia, a member of the Carmelite community in Coimbra, was really happy to talk with the Cardinal. She had been told of the “People Power” events, and she assured the Cardinal that she and the other Sisters had prayed—prayed much—for our people’s peaceful liberation from the dictatorship. She seemed to be well informed about EDSA UNO.
Then Sr. Lucia did something the Cardinal did not expect. She took out a rosary which (she said) she herself made, bead by bead. She wanted Cardinal Sin to give it as her personal gift to Mrs. Aquino, and she said—somewhat surprisingly—“Tell her to take good care of it.” It was a promise of Our Lady’s blessing on President Cory during her presidency and beyond.
Let me now cite Mrs. Aquino herself: “Sister Lucia sent me this rosary which she herself made, with the message that I would be supported and protected in my presidency. She added, however, that more suffering would come my way. I now know that it was a prophetic message, as I had to fight back seven coup attempts to save my administration from power-grabbers in uniform. With Our Lady’s protection, I stood my ground and never left Malacañang, even when it was being attacked.”
We know that President Cory saw the seven coup attempts through, and finished her term, handing over the post to her duly elected successor, General Fidel Ramos, in 1992. The six years of her governance she constantly entrusted to the protection of Our Lady of Fatima, to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart.
The year 1992 marked the 75th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions, and Mrs. Aquino, no longer head of state, went to Fatima that year, armed with the permission to visit the Carmel of Coimbra and to talk with Sister Lucia. Her daughter Kris accompanied her on this trip. She also brought a small group with her, who (unexpectedly!) were all allowed to see Sr. Lucia. The former Father General of the Comboni Fathers, Fr. Manuel Lopes, who had served in Manila before being elected Superior General, was present and acted as translator. He himself being from Portugal, could help in the conversation between Tita Cory and Sr. Lucia.
Again, let me quote Mrs. Aquino: “When I visited Sister Lucia in 1992, the first question she asked me was, ‘Do you still have the rosary I sent you?’ I replied, ‘Yes, but right now a niece who lives in Boston and is hoping to have a baby is borrowing it.’ –I feel so blessed and privileged to have this bond with Fatima and so I shared this rosary with relatives and friends.”
When we asked Mrs. Aquino the names of some of the people who had borrowed her rosary, usually at a time of crisis or health need (a grave surgical procedure, for instance) or when begging for some important grace from the Lord, she texted in reply: “Some names I remember, among the people who have prayed using the rosary given by Sister Lucia: Teddy Benigno, Chino Roces, Ed Angara, Violy Drilon, Bea Zobel and her daughter, Titoy Pardo, Sasa Lichauco, Doding Carlos, Meldy Cojuangco and her son Tony, Sr. Christine Tan, Mercy Tuason, Howard Dee and Dodo Dee, Arben Santos, Bettina Osmeña, and … my sisters, my children and grandchildren.”
The list goes quite a bit longer, for sure, and there are moving stories connected with many of the “borrowings.” The story of the last weeks of Mr. Chino Roces’ life is surely one worth telling. The heroic “Chino” had asked Mrs. Aquino to let him borrow the rosary as he waited for death. He prayed it daily with his loved ones, returning filial devotion to Our Lady when the end came.
Sr. Lucia’s rosary has become somewhat “legendary” already. Mrs. Aquino has been touched by accounts of how much healing, and strength, and comfort (even miracles!) the rosary has brought to those who have borrowed it. But she has also wondered, as others have, why so humbly and saintly a person as Sr. Lucia was so insistent that she “take good care of the rosary.” One of those who were with Mrs. Aquino at Fatima in 1992 said, “It seems to me that the Sisters at Coimbra know that Our Blessed Mother sill appeared to Sr. Lucia, from time to time, even in her late years. (It is interesting to note that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, SDB, the present Vatican Secretary of State, who “officially interviewed” Sister Lucia more than once before her death, has said the same: “Sister Lucia received visits from the Blessed Mother in later years of her life.” Some of the Sisters believe that Our Lady, during one of her visits, held the rosary in her own hands and blessed it for Mrs. Aquino, promising her presence and strength to her in times specially of suffering and need. That is why Sr. Lucia reminded Tita Cory to take good care of the rosary. Our Lady had held it in her own hands.
Mrs. Aquino’s final comment on trusting Our Blessed Mother and praying to her? Here are her own words:
“What are the lessons of Fatima, which I have experienced in my own life, and which I can share with you? When people talk of Fatima, they invariably focus on the secrets of Fatima. These are the ‘three secrets’ of Fatima which Ninoy and I discovered:
“First is the power of prayer, especially the daily praying of the rosary of Our Lady.
“Second is the acceptance in faith of God’s plan in our own lives, and the entrustment of our lives to Mary.
“Third is the spirit of sacrifice to carry out God’s designs, after the example of Mary, offering personal sacrifice for a greater good toward God’s purposes.
“These three elements are actually intertwined, as one leads to the others, to complete the process of one’s total conversion.”
Sister Lucia dos Santos died in Coimbra on 13 February 2005. She had earlier witnessed the beatification of her two cousins, Francisco and Giacinta Marto, on 13 May 2000 in Fatima. Now that, as we hope and trust, she has joined her cousins in heaven, we know she prays with Tita Cory whenever she prays with the “special rosary” in her hands, as (for sure!) she joins us when we pray the rosary too, that God be ever more glorified, and that Mary our Mother may be with us “now and at the hour of death.”