In direct contrast to the spirit of our times, the whole life of intense suffering of Blessed Alexandrina, offered up humbly and willingly for the conversion of sinners, “reaffirms the immense value of suffering offered in union with Jesus, and stands as a beacon of hope to those who suffer in any way, and a sign of contradiction to those who would deny the value of suffering offered in union with Jesus”.
“ I desire that, after your death, your life may be known, and that will happen; I shall see to it. It will reach the ends of the earth .” (Our Lord speaking to Blessed Alexandrina, 22nd November 1937)
The desire of Jesus to see a widespread knowledge of the life of Blessed Alexandrina Maria da Costa of Portugal is starting to be fulfilled, as devotion to her grows steadily throughout the world. One of the great mystics of modern times, a ‘victim soul’ chosen by Christ to suffer in atonement for the sins of humanity, she appears set to become an important and well-loved saint in the Universal Church.
Her life gives us an example of complete fidelity to the will of Christ, and also presents an astonishing and undeniable explosion of the supernatural to an increasingly secular world. Bedridden for life from the age of twenty, after sustaining a serious injury some years earlier while trying to escape from an attack on her virtue, she suffered unspeakable pain throughout her life and mystically underwent the Passion of Christ on Fridays to atone for the sins of humanity. She also had frequent ecstasies during which she saw and spoke with Our Lord and Our Lady, and offered her sufferings to bring about the consecration of the world by Pope Pius XII to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, an act which in turn shortened the duration of World War II.
Her life reaffirms the immense value of suffering offered in union with Jesus, and stands as a beacon of hope to those who suffer in any way, and a sign of contradiction to those who would deny the value of suffering offered in union with Jesus. She prayed especially for youth, and has been proposed by the Church as “a model of purity and perseverance in the Faith for today’s youth.”
Although she was never able to visit the site of the apparitions of Our Blessed Lady at Fatima, Alexandrina’s extraordinary story has many connections to the Fatima events, and her message is essentially the same: “Do penance, sin no more, pray the Rosary, receive the Eucharist ”. Because of this, she has been described as the ‘fourth seer of Fatima’. One can point to miraculous occurrences in the lives of all the saints, but Alexandrina herself became a living miracle , for in the last thirteen years of her life, she ate and drank absolutely nothing, existing on the Holy Eucharist alone.
Pope John Paul II said the following about Alexandrina in his homily at her beatification ceremony in 2004:-
‘Do you love me?’, Jesus asks Simon Peter, who replies: ‘Yes Lord, you know that I love you’. The life of Blessed Alexandrina Maria da Costa can be summarized in this dialogue of love. Permeated and burning with this anxiety of love, she wished to deny nothing to her Saviour. With a strong will, she accepted everything to demonstrate her love for him. A ‘spouse of blood’, she mystically relived Christ’s passion and offered herself as a victim for sinners, receiving strength from the Eucharist: this became her only source of nourishment for the final 13 years of her life. With the example of Blessed Alexandrina, expressed in the trilogy ‘suffer, love, make reparation’, Christians are able to discover the stimulus and motivation to make ‘noble’ all that is painful and sad in life through the greatest evidence of love: sacrificing one’s life for the beloved. Secret of holiness: love for Christ.”
In 1928, devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, who had appeared in the Cova da Iria 11 years earlier, was sweeping through Portugal, and people from the diocese of Braga responded to the call of Fatima by arranging a pilgrimage. Alexandrina, like many others of her time, would have been caught up in the fervour and awe of those relatively recent events. Alexandrina’s parish priest had already lent her a statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary during the month of May, and she saved hard until she could afford a similar one. The parishioners of Balasar arranged to join the Braga pilgrimage, and when Alexandrina learnt of this, she dearly wanted to go with them, and begged Our Lady to obtain this grace for her. Reports of numerous miracle cures occurring at the Fatima shrine gave Alexandrina cause for hope, but this hope was very short lived as her doctor and the parish priest were in complete opposition to the idea. They argued that it would be impossible to carry her nearly 200 miles, when the least movement caused her intense pain. Alexandrina, bitterly disappointed, offered this sacrifice to God and she redoubled her efforts to pray for a cure, even promising that if she were healed, she would become a missionary. Although she was never healed, she did become a most effective missionary for the Fatima message – without ever leaving her bed. She constantly exhorted those she came into contact with to live the Fatima message – and of course, the best way to inspire is by example, and few can claim to have lived the message of Fatima more faithfully than Alexandrina. She kept a picture of Jacinta Marto, one of the Fatima seers, over her bed where it remains to this day. She also requested that a little altar be set up beside her bed, on which she kept the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which Deolinda decorated with candles and flowers. During Our Lady’s month of May, she used to offer what she called “spiritual flowers” to Our Blessed Lady. These “flowers” consisted of offering in a spirit of reparation the various sufferings she underwent throughout the day.
It was at this time that Alexandrina began to realise that suffering was going to be her vocation, and instead of praying incessantly for a cure, she began to think only of loving God and suffering for Him. She wrote the following after her fellow parishioners had returned from Fatima:-
“Before he went to Fatima the Parish Priest asked me what I wanted from there. I asked him to bring me a medal but he brought a rosary, a medal, a Pilgrim’s Manual and some Fatima water. His reverence suggested that I make a novena to Our Lady and drink the Fatima water, and that when I finished it I would be cured. I did this not just once, but many times . . .
Nothing has happened, but my desire to be cured has died. Each time I feel a more ardent desire for the love of suffering and I think only of Jesus. Without knowing quite how, I offered myself to Our Lord as a victim, and from this I went on to ask for a love of suffering. Our Lord granted me everything, that is, all the graces, so that today I wouldn’t exchange my illness for the whole world. It was the consolation of Jesus and the salvation of souls that consumed me.”
Alexandrina made an important connection between her own circumstances and those of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. During prayer, she thought of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, present nearby in the parish church of St. Eulalia, and it suddenly dawned on her that He was a prisoner in the tabernacle, just as she was a prisoner in her bed of pain.
This connection with Jesus prompted her to remain before Him in spirit, offering Him constant love and reparation, and imploring Him to convert sinners. Through this union with Jesus, she was given insights into the terrible consequences of the many grave sins occurring throughout the world at that time. In turn, she became more convinced of her mission to offer her sufferings in union with those of Jesus, as a victim soul for the conversion and salvation of sinners. She begged Jesus to accept her as a victim, and agreed to suffer as much as she could endure if only sinners could be saved.
Having made this offering sincerely, she was taken at her word, and her pain increased greatly. In a desperate state, and wracked with fever, Alexandrina would continually make the offering of her agonising suffering, using the prayer given by Our Lady to the three shepherd children at Fatima:- “O Jesus, this is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the offences committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary”. Her extreme pain continued with only brief periods of respite. In 1931, she entered into a state of ecstasy and heard Jesus confirming her vocation as victim soul, when He said to her “Love, suffer and make reparation.” Alexandrina gave her full consent to Jesus’ request and asked Him for the necessary grace to fulfil her mission of suffering for humanity. This was the first of many ecstasies.
[…] [Here follows a detailed account of the ecstasies and torments of Alexandrina.]
In her final years Alexandrina increasingly prayed for the Church, as Jesus told her that it was facing a “great crisis”. He said:- “Tell my ministers to be vigilant, for the devil is preparing a massive assault on the Church . . .” She also underwent an astounding array of profound mystical experiences, such as a mystical marriage with Jesus, a coronation by Our Lady, and a piercing by darts of unspeakable love from a flight of angels. An incredibly beautiful fragrance emanated from her that was even noticed in other parts of the village. Alexandrina was unaware of this, but Jesus told her that it was the perfume of her virtue.
Thousands of people continued to visit Alexandrina on a daily basis, and she constantly exhorted them to live the message of Fatima, crying out:-
“Make reparation to Our Lord in the Adorable Eucharist! Penitence! Penitence! Penitence! Pray the Rosary devoutly every day. Practise the First Saturday devotion. Consecrate yourselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary through the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.”
Alexandrina pleaded with people to practise the First Saturday devotion and to consecrate themselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary through the Brown Scapular for very good reason, as Our Lady Herself has promised to assist with the eternal salvation of those who practise these devotions. Our Lady revealed the First Five Saturday devotion on December 10 th 1925 to Sister Lucia of Fatima, saying:-
“ . . . I promise to assist at the hour of death, with the graces necessary for salvation, all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, shall confess, receive Holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me.”
The Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, was given by Our Lady in the 13 th century to St Simon Stock of the Carmelite Order at Aylesford in Kent, with the promise that those who die wearing it shall not suffer eternal damnation, and it has been worn ever since by millions as a sign of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and a pledge of Her Motherly protection. Countless saints have recommended its use, and it has consistently received Papal approbation, including that of Pope John Paul II, who said in a message of 25 th March 2001 to the Carmelite family on the 750 th anniversary of the Bestowal of the Brown Scapular:
“ . . . two truths are evoked by the sign of the Scapular: on the one hand, the constant protection of the Blessed Virgin, not only on life’s journey, but also at the moment of passing into the fullness of eternal glory; on the other, the awareness that devotion to her cannot be limited to prayers and tributes in her honour on certain occasions, but must become a ‘habit’, that is, a permanent orientation of one’s own Christian conduct, woven of prayer and interior life, through frequent reception of the sacraments and the concrete practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. In this way the Scapular becomes a sign of the ‘covenant’ and reciprocal communion between Mary and the faithful: indeed, it concretely translates the gift of his Mother, which Jesus gave on the Cross to John and, through him, to all of us, and the entrustment of the beloved Apostle and of us to Her, who became our spiritual Mother . . . I too have worn the Scapular of Carmel over my heart for a long time! ”
Formerly, only Carmelite priests could enrol people in the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, but now the Holy See has extended the faculty to all priests, so that as many as possible may reap the benefits of this great devotion.
In 1948 Fr Pasquale was sent by his superiors to do other work, which meant that Alexandrina had to rely on other priests to bring her daily Holy Communion. She recorded in her diary that on occasions when no priests were available, Jesus Himself used to bring her Holy Communion. In early 1955 her health rapidly deteriorated and she lay for several months in agonising pain – worse than anything she had suffered before. Towards the end of September 1955 the pain subsided somewhat, and on October 2 nd she heard a voice saying to her :- “Who will sing with the angels? You, you, you! In a little while, in a little while.” Taking this as a sign that her time on earth was coming to an end, Alexandrina started to prepare for death. In the evening of the 12 th October, Mass was celebrated in her room and she received Holy Communion. Towards the end she said:- “My God, I have always consecrated my life to you and I offer you now its end, accepting death with resignation, with all its pains, for your greater glory.” After thanking everyone present for all they had done for her over the years, she cried out :-
“O Jesus! I can no longer stay on earth! Oh Jesus, life is dear, Heaven is dear! I have suffered so much in this life for souls! I am crushed, I am consumed in this bed of pain. Forgive everyone! Pardon, pardon the entire world . . . Oh I feel so happy! I am so happy because I am going to Heaven at last!”
On the morning of the 13 th October, the 38 th anniversary of Our Lady’s last appearance at Fatima and the day on which the miracle of the sun took place, Alexandrina received a vision of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who said to her “I am about to take you”. She received Holy Communion for the last time at 8am, and afterwards delivered her final poignant message to those present in her room, and to all humanity, crying out:- “Do not sin. The pleasures of this life are worth nothing. Receive Communion. Pray the Rosary every day. This sums up everything.” Alexandrina suffered extreme pain throughout the whole day, which she bore with great fortitude to the very end. At 8pm, she kissed the crucifix for the last time, and died at 8.29pm.
Fr Pasquale was in Italy at this time and was unaware that Alexandrina had died. On the day after her death, he offered Mass in the morning as usual, and afterwards was approached in the sacristy by an elderly woman. Thinking that she wanted confession, he asked her to wait in the confessional and said that he would be with her shortly. He was amazed when this woman told him that she didn’t want confession, but that she had a message from Our Lady for him. The woman said:- “ When you were saying Mass, Our Lady appeared to me and asked me to tell you that Alexandrina is dead and is in heaven ”. The woman said that she didn’t know who Alexandrina was. She also informed Fr Pasquale that Our Lady had told him not to worry, and that Alexandrina was with him. Three days later he received a letter from another Salesian priest confirming her death.
The news of Alexandrina’s death spread quickly throughout Portugal and a multitude came to venerate her and pay their last respects. An all-pervading deep sense of loss affected the entire region. The funeral took place on the 15 th October and was attended by thousands, including dozens of priests. Alexandrina was buried in a humble tomb, with her face turned towards Jesus in the tabernacle, as she had requested. Two years after her death, a small chapel was built over her tomb, and 12 years after her death, on 14 th January 1967, the diocesan investigation into the cause for her beatification was solemnly opened. It was completed on 10 April 1973 and sent to Rome. In 1978 the diocese transferred Alexandrina’s remains from the small chapel to a place of honour inside the parish church of St Eulalia, next to the high altar, where her remains are kept to this day. She had previously predicted that her body would turn to ashes, without decomposing, and when she was disinterred, this was indeed found to be the case. There was no body or bones – just ashes. These have been known on occasions to exude the same heavenly fragrance that used to emanate from Alexandrina during her life.
Sister Lucia of Fatima wrote to Fr Pasquale, saying “ May the Lord grant that Alexandrina’s cause of beatification advance as quickly as possible, for the glory of God. It is necessary that such a materialistic world sees that there are still souls capable of being raised into the realms of the supernatural. ”
A plea to sinful humanity, which Alexandrina originally dictated in 1948, was engraved on her tomb at her request:-
“Sinners: If the ashes of my body can be useful to save you, approach; if necessary, pass on the ashes, trample on them until they disappear; but never sin again, never offend Jesus again. Sinners: There is so much that I would like to tell you. This vast cemetery could not contain all that I would like to write. Be converted. Do not offend our dear Lord any more. Do not lose Jesus for all eternity. He is so good. Enough of sin! LOVE HIM! LOVE HIM !”
Rome approved Alexandrina’s writings in the late 1970’s, and issued a decree for the introduction of the cause for her beatification on 13 th January 1983. She was declared Venerable on 12 th January 1996. In the previous year, a miracle took place through the intercession of Alexandrina, and the evidence of this was used for her impending beatification. The miracle, the complete cure of a woman named Maria Madalena Azevedo Gomes Fonseca, from a type of incurable Parkinson’s disease, was approved by Rome in 2003. To the great joy of her devotees throughout the world, Alexandrina was beatified on 25 th April 2004 by Pope John Paul II, who decreed that her feast be celebrated each year on the 13 th of October.
Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, was asked by the international journal Inside the Vatican about the significance of Alexandrina’s beatification for Portugal and for the world. He told them:-
“Because a Saint does not belong to this or that country, but rather to the Church of Christ, firstly the Beatification of Alexandrina da Costa is a great event for the Church in Portugal, but even more so for the Universal Church because Pope John Paul II is going to propose a special role model for the world today and especially for today’s youth, and that is the great message of the beatification of Alexandrina da Costa. Firstly, she was a great heroine when she defended her virginity by jumping from a window and ending up a paraplegic. This was a heroic act. Today there exists a great spiritual laziness. A lack of courage in today’s youth that should always have present a strength of conviction in the values of the Faith. Therefore, Alexandrina da Costa is a model of purity and perseverance in the Faith for today’s youth.”
The centrality of the Holy Eucharist in Alexandrina’s life, and her call for our lives to be centred on the Eucharist is highlighted by Fr Joaquim Mendes, Salesian Provincial of Portugal, in an article on the Salesians of Don Bosco website. When asked what specific contribution Alexandrina had made to Salesian spirituality, he said:-
“The first particular contribution is love of the Eucharist. She lived this love for Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. She spent the greater part of each day praying, with her eyes fixed on the tabernacle in the church of Balasar. As well as this she received Holy Communion each day, and for thirteen years took no other food. She also wanted her tomb to be directed towards the tabernacle”
It is fitting that the 50 th anniversary of Alexandrina’s death coincided with the year pronounced by Pope John Paul II to be The Year of the Eucharist.
One of the most moving tributes to Alexandrina, written ten years after her death in 1965 by her second spiritual director, Fr Pasquale, is held in the archives at Balasar. The following is an excerpt:
“Being frequently questioned about Alexandrina, I confirm that in my long clerical life I became close to many people of all kinds, but I have never found anyone (even religious or priests) so spiritually and humanly perfect, in all aspects, as Alexandrina. Never. When I recall the frequent meetings I had with that exceptional soul, illuminated by ascetic knowledge that I have learnt from spiritual readings throughout my priestly life, I cannot discover the least shade of imperfection in her. On the contrary, I discover beauty, refinement and heroism in her virtue. I admire the wonderful action of God’s grace in that soul more and more. If I had to point out the virtue in which she most distinguished herself, I could not, because she did not have one that shone more than the others: she was excellent in all, in a perfect harmony, even in those that were more visible: for example, in her obedience to ecclesiastical authority and her directors; in the patience so often tested by her illness or by troublesome people that came to see her; or in her charity to others, especially to those who had caused her serious sorrow. Her truly giant personality was assisted by a spirit of genuine and evident humility that arose from her lips and more so from her inner attitudes, which can easily be deduced from the careful reading of her daily notes: by complete indifference to her own will, always anxious in seeking and fulfilling the will of God, through a total resignation of her desires and personal wishes. She was a creature truly and totally consecrated to her God, in a spirit of immolation and reparation for the offences continuously committed against Him, and to save all souls for Him. Such a consecration cannot be explained without an eminent degree of love of God: insatiable, burning, overwhelming love. This love could not be better defined than by applying to it the adjective ‘seraphic’, in the most complete sense of the word . . .”
Model of purity and perseverance in the Faith for today’s youth; ardent adorer of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament; inspiration and help for those suffering in any way; faithful Fatima messenger: Blessed Alexandrina is all these things and much more. Many have already benefited from the graces won by her sufferings and prayers, and undoubtedly, many more will benefit in the future. Let us pray that her canonisation may take place soon.