Heroic In Suffering

An only child, married young, mother of twin sons, abused, widow, buried her children, saw her dreams denied and then fulfilled, a nun… It has all the elements of a novel. And yet it is the true story of a remarkable woman. The story developed in Roccaporena, Italy.

The parents, Antonio and Amata, had lost all hope of having a child when Rita – a shortened form of Margherita – was born. Obviously they were delighted and they gave her the best. Among this best, they included a sense of God. Children are natural mimics and they do what they see.

Growing near a convent of nuns, she felt a tremendous desire to join the sisters. Her parents were hesitant. She asked for advice. The priest told her to follow what the parents said. The parents suggested that she marries a reasonably rich, pleasant and good looking young adult, Paolo Mancini. The criteria for the choice were rather mundane, no? They somehow overlooked a distinct worrying trait in his character. He was so ill tempered and abusive that he would turn into a beast when angered.

The marriage started well, as most marriages do. They even had twins early on in their life together, Giovanni and Paolo Jr. Then things started going sour. Paolo Sr. wanted more excitement. Some men and women never understand that marriage demands a change in their way of life. He wanted to be more involved in politics which at the time was brutal and could easily turn vicious.

He got more and more caught up in the power disputes. Nights out. Covert meetings because his faction, the Ghibellines, was very unpopular in his town. Drinking.

When he returned home, he reversed all his fury on his wife. Angry outbursts, disrespect, selfish demands, physical violence. The pain was big. Every little thing became an ordeal. She tried to be nice to him. She tried to speak with him. Nothing

Obviously she could have run away. Obviously she could have tried to get even. But she did not. She not only put up with Paolo’s abuses for eighteen years, but somehow she managed to see in all this a word of God for her. There was no passive resignation in her, just the daring awareness that suffering has a meaning of redemption.

One day the husband was ambushed and stabbed to death. Her sons swore vengeance on their father’s killers. Vendetta! Rita was now desperate. She just could not convince her sons of the inutility of this course of action. Above all she was concerned about their souls. Hatred generates so much acid in our inner being.

She decided to have recourse to her only ally. She pleaded with God to avoid this ulterior tragedy. God listened to her prayers and in an epidemic that hit the town, both of her sons died. I suppose, God can be drastic…

“Deeply rooted in the love of Christ, Rita found in her faith unshakeable strength to be a woman of peace in every situation,” commented once Pope John Paul II. Not by chance that the people of God see in her an advocate of hopeless and even impossible cases.

Now alone, Rita felt called to her first love – the convent. However her request for entrance among the Augustinian Nuns of Cascia was refused, not once but three times! The Sisters were concerned because one of them was a relative to the murderer of her husband.

Rita did not take no for an answer. The boldness of the saints! She approached the family responsible for Paolo’s murder and managed to generate forgiveness.

Rita Lotti Mancini now became Sister Rita. She was 36 years old. For the next forty years she lived the normal life of an Augustinian Nun. She was so devoted to the Passion of Jesus Christ that she received a chronic head wound that appeared to have been caused by a crown of thorns, and which bled for 15 years.

When very sick she asked for a rose from her family’s estate and amazingly enough, in mid January, they found a single rose blossom on an otherwise bare bush! God is a delicate lover.

Many today would consider the attitude of Rita reckless and crazy. Maybe they are right. But perhaps the Gospel was always meant to be super-natural. Her secret, after all, is the secret of the Gospel: a loyalty to a Love that was crucified.

She is the patron saint of abused people.

(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.