VATICAN CITY, FEB. 15, 2005 ( Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, John Paul II's special envoy to the funeral of Sister Lucia, recalled the last of the Fatima visionaries as "an exceptional woman, but simple."

The cardinal archbishop of Genoa, Italy, presided over the funeral this afternoon in the cathedral of Coimbra, the Portuguese town where the witness of the 1917 apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima died last Sunday. She was 97.

Portugal officially observed a day of mourning. "All the country's agencies have paused to render homage to the great figure of a 'little shepherdess' who with the 'hidden' strength of prayer and faith was able to touch the hearts of all," said the Vatican's semiofficial newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, remembering the Carmelite nun.

"Those eyes have gently closed which saw the eyes of the Virgin," the newspaper said, describing the death of Sister Maria Lucia, which occurred at 5:25 p.m. Sunday, in the Carmelite Convent of St. Teresa in Coimbra.

"An uninterrupted pilgrimage of faithful has surrounded with affection and prayer the body of Sister Lucia exposed in the Carmel chapel," the newspaper said. "The people have lived this significant experience of conversion, 'proposed' with silent simplicity, through praying the rosary and participating in the Mass."

The body of Sister Lucia was to be buried in the Carmelite convent of Coimbra. In a year's time, in keeping with her wishes, her remains will be taken to the Fatima shrine, where those of the two other visionaries rest. Jacinta and Francisco Marto, her cousins, died in childhood and are already beatified.

Cardinal Bertone described Sister Lucia on Vatican Radio as "a luminous person, full of joy over the events of which she had been the recipient and at the same time full of friendship, friendship for Jesus, friendship for Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother."

She was "an exceptional woman, but simple; a woman full of prayer, of grace, of friendship with humanity because she was the recipient of a great hope for humanity," he said.

Sister Lucia kept "with great devotion to Mary and with a sense of mission of which she had been made participant," said the cardinal.

"I think that many know that one of the last works of this visionary of Fatima is her book 'Appeals of the Fatima Message,'" the prelate continued. "She felt strongly this call to prayer, to penance, to conversion, and she felt invested with this mission to proclaim, to propagate the appeals of the Virgin of Fatima."

"She asked permission from the Holy See and the Pope to publish this book and so multiply the message of Fatima to thousands of people whom it has reached," added the former secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In the cardinal's opinion, the spiritual legacy of Sister Lucia is "great closeness to God and to Mary … the first cooperator of the proclamation of the Kingdom with Jesus and, therefore, the principal cooperator in salvation."

Sister Lucia "saw Mary, was favored by Mary because of her simplicity of heart, together with the other two little shepherds, and leaves, precisely, this memory and commitment: to be, with Mary, cooperators in salvation," said Cardinal Bertone.

He said Sister Lucia also leaves us "the spirituality of being with God for the salvation of the world through the simplest of ways: prayer, sanctification of one's own life, of one's work, penance, reparation for the sins of the world and, consequently, a help that can transform the hearts of people of all times for the salvation of the world."