Nun other than Sr. Lucy Britto

May 15, 2013, 04:26 IST | Hemal Ashar

A Goa-born nun, who worked in Mumbai, works in the archives section of the Vatican, serving under the pontificates of three Popes

India meets Italy at the Vatican. Sister (Sr.) Lucy Britto, originally from Goa, continues her decade-long tenure in the Secretariat of State in Vatican City. Sr. Britto (65) comes from Cuncolim in Salcette (Goa) but has spent a number of years in Mumbai, working at various places before her linguistic flair (she knows Italian and French, besides English) made her a candidate for the Vatican.

Memories: Sr. Lucy Britto with a former Pope

Sr. Britto says over the phone from the Vatican, “There may be other Indians here, I do not know if I am the only one,” but she is in a way, unique, as she has worked for three Popes: Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis.

Blessings: Vatican City, Vatican City State: Pope Francis greets people from the Popemobile at the end of a canonisation mass in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican. The Pope led a mass for candidates to sainthood – Antonio Primaldo, Mother Laura Montoya and Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala. Pic/AFP

Birs’s eye view: Vatican City, Vatican city state: Pilgrims gather in St Peter’s Square. Pic/AFP

Sr. Britto explains her work in a telephonic chat from Vatican City, “I work in the archives section, where we have to preserve and archive documents and letters received by the Pope. He receives letters from all over the world. In this tech age, mail comes on Internet but, yes, the conventional handwritten letter by post comes in too. We are 15 of us from all over the world in this section or department, whatever you call it. It is a 9:30 am to 5:50 pm job, just like a conventional one.”

Maybe, the timings are the only thing conventional about this job. There are few people in the world who can claim to have the ‘Pope’ as their office boss, so to speak and work with colleagues who come from nations all over the world. Says Sr. Britto, “We have to be linked with the world, go in line with the world, do not make this into a political issue, After all, the Vatican here is a spiritual force that helps people live by gospel values of love, peace and goodwill.

Proud brother: Victor Britto (l) with wife Bapsy Britto and son Pierre Britto

” When asked whether the Secretariat of State is a bit like a United Nations in microcosm with people of all nationalities working within, she laughs and says, “I am the only Indian in the archives section but I think there may be Indians working in different institutions or departments outside. We have so many different sections like clinics, more precisely a day care centre.” In a world cleaved with strife, Sr. Britto says that so many diverse nationalities at work, teach, “harmony, peace and fraternity. I do not understand what is happening in the world today but I do not blame anybody either.”

In the lord’s service: Sr. Lucy Britto with Pope Francis

Sr. Britto is wary about terming her being at the Vatican as an achievement. “I was ‘sent’ here to do my work. Life here is simple. I live very close to the Vatican and I am humbled by the work of God. We are servants of the servants of God,” says Britto adding that she has seen at least half of Italy, been and lived in France, Spain, Portugal and England. When asked what she thought of reports citing dwindling Church numbers in Europe, Sr. Britto merely said, “Times are changing and today it is as if the world is the centre of everything but it is actually God who is at the centre of everything. Though there may be diminishing numbers, there are people who still believe in God and cling to His values,” she ended, before going back to her archival work at the Vatican.

Sr. Britto is a Goa gal to use a colloquialism. She was born in Veroda-Cuncolim, but shifted to Mumbai in the 1950s. At 21, she joined the Sisters of Charity and was sent to Hyderabad to complete higher studies. She graduated in English literature, political science and psychology and simultaneously, completed a three-year diploma in French. After a teaching college lecturer post, she went for further studies to France, taught for a few years. She was in Mumbai at Prabhadevi’s Yuvathi Sharan hostel too in the early part of 2000, before going to Rome. She still has family in Mumbai and Goa.

Sr. Britto’s brother Victor Britto, who is now based in Saudi Arabia though he used to live in Malad says, “I came to Saudi Arabia on June 24, 2002 and work as Executive Secretary for Sabic, Riyadh. I used to live in Rathodi Village, Malad (W) in Mumbai and was Office Assistant at the Premier Cable Co. Ltd. which is closed now.”

Victor adds, with a touch of pride, “Sr. Lucy Britto has the distinction of becoming the first Indian nun to have served at the Vatican during the pontificates of three popes. She can speak fluent French and Italian (besides Marathi, Hindi, Telegu and Konkanni) and believes her linguistic skills helped her work with the Vatican Archives under Blessed John Paul II (1978-2005), Benedict XVI and Francis. She works in the Archives, where all documents and letters of the Pope are kept. They save the records and details on the computers. All documents and letters are treated with utmost secrecy and respect for the person who writes to the Pope.”

While her village is in South Goa, Sr. Lucy Britto and family retain strong Mumbai connects. Says Victor, “She, along with her parents, two sisters and a brother shifted to Mumbai in the 1950s and stayed in Versova (7 Bungalows till 1970). Now when she comes on her vacation after three years, she resides with me, sister-in-law, Bapsy Britto and nephew Pierre Britto in Rathodi Village at Malad. Of course, holidays also mean meeting her sister, nephew, nieces and cousins in Mumbai and then it is off to meet the rest in Goa.”

In fact, Goa is rightly proud of Sr. Britto who brushes away all the compliments. She has told Goa papers that each of the three Popes is “unique”. Sr Britto elaborates, “Pope John Paul II was a charismatic figure, while Benedict is a learned theologian and Pope Francis is a great pastor.”

When Victor was asked if he could cite certain qualities that may have helped his sister go into God’s Service, he only said, “God’s Call, but on a lighter note, I was 8-years-old when she joined the convent.”

He described his sister as, “very studious, with a flair for dramatics, sports and cultural events.” It is apparent that when she started out on her mission, little did Sr. Britto realise that her journey would take her to the Vatican. Yet, today, as the multi-talented Indian woman serves in the archives aided by her skill at different languages, she endorses one lingo most of all – the language of love, peace and humility. 

Vatican city
Vatican City is a sovereign city-state within the city of Rome. It was established in 1929 by the Lateran Treaty, an agreement signed between Pope Pius XI and Italian king Victor Emmanuel III. (Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri signed the treaty on behalf of the Pope while Benito Mussolini signed it on behalf of the king.) It is the smallest internationally recognised independent state both area wise (110 acres) and population wise (826, according to a 2009 estimate). The Pope is the Head of State and of the Government of the Vatican City State. The highest state functionaries are all Catholic clergymen of various national origins. During World War II, the Vatican City officially pursued a policy of neutrality under the leadership of Pope Pius XII. It was never occupied by either side, even though the city of Rome was occupied by Germany from 1943 and by the Allies from 1944.

Almost all of Vatican City’s citizens either live inside the Vatican’s walls or serve in the Holy See’s diplomatic service in embassies around the world. Vatican City has no formally enacted official language, but uses only Italian in its legislation and official communications. Vatican City is home to some of the most famous art in the world such as St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel.

The Vatican Library and the collections of the Vatican Museums are of the highest historical, scientific and cultural importance. The Vatican Library is one of the oldest libraries in the world. Formally established in 1475, though in fact much older, it currently has some 75,000 manuscripts and over 1.1 million printed books. In 1984, the Vatican was added by UNESCO to the List of World Heritage Sites; it is the only one to consist of an entire state. 
The city has a small gauge railway system that connects to Rome’s St Peter’s station, and a heliport but no airport.  

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