More accounts of lives lived in sanctity:
Luigi and Maria Quattrocchi
On November 25, 1905, Luigi Quattrocchi, a lawyer and civil servant from Urbino, Italy, married Maria Corsini of Florence at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. Thus began a journey of sixty years marked by committed love and devotion to each other, to their children, to the Church, and to God in service to the poor and all in need.
Luigi was not a very faith-filled man when he married Maria. Her love and example changed that. Over the years they would have four children, Filippo, Stefania, Cesare, and Enrichetta. Jose Saraiva Cardinal Martins, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, describing the Quattrocchi’s efforts to create a Christ-centered home, said that they “made a true domestic church of their family, which was open to life, to prayer, to the social apostolate, to solidarity with the poor and to friendship.” Inspired by the home life of faith, service and prayer led by their parents, the three older children would each enter religious life, while the youngest dedicated herself to her parents care.
They consecrated their family to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and prayed the rosary every evening. Yet, theirs was not a family life of pietism. They enjoyed sports and holidays by the sea or in the mountains. Their door was always open to friends, and the cupboard to the poor who came begging. Neither was their life one long episode of godly peace and solace. In 1913, Maria was pregnant with Enrichetta. The pregnancy was difficult and the doctors recommended an abortion in hopes of saving Maria. Maria and Luigi refused, putting their total trust in God during this trial. Though the pregnancy proved an anguish for Maria, the Lord responded to their prayers, and both mother and daughter came out of it well. This only strengthened the already great faith and love Luigi and Maria shared.
During World War II, they opened their apartment to refugees for shelter, and Maria served as a volunteer nurse with the Red Cross, as she had during the war between Italy and Ethiopia. With their own children, Luigi and Maria organized a scout troop for youth from the poor neighborhoods of Rome. All of this, however, only touches the surface of the ministries and apostolates to which the Quattrocchis were dedicated. To make themselves completely and utterly available to God in service to His Church, the Quattrocchis took a vow of renouncing marital relations after twenty years of marriage and four children. Luigi died in 1951 and Maria followed her beloved in 1965. Because of their sanctity, their cause for beatification was introduced in 1994, and on October 21, 2001, Pope St. John Paul the Great made them the first married couple to be beatified together.
At the beatification Mass, Pope John Paul II said of the Quattrocchis, “This couple lived married love and service to life in the light of the Gospel and with great human intensity. With full responsibility they assumed the task of collaborating with God in procreation, dedicating themselves generously to their children, to teach them, guide them and direct them to discovering his plan of love. … Drawing on the word of God and the witness of the saints, the blessed couple lived an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. Among the joys and anxieties of a normal family, they knew how to live an extraordinary rich spiritual life. At the centre of their life was daily Eucharist as well as devotion to the Virgin Mary, to whom they prayed every evening with the Rosary, and consultation with wise spiritual directors. In this way they could accompany their children in vocational discernment, training them to appreciate everything ‘from the roof up,’ as they often charmingly liked to say.” On October 21, 2001, the relics of Luigi and Maria Quattrocchi were transferred from their original resting places to their crypt in the Shrine of Divino Amore (Divine Love) in Rome.
The sanctity of Luigi and Maria Quattrocchi, as with Mother Josephine Bakhita, was not manifested in mighty miracles, visions or other-worldly, divine interventions. Rather, it was in their deep and dedicated commitment to Christ in the sacrament of matrimony that this loving couple found the fortitude to overcome the troubles and the freedom to revel in the joys of marriage and family life. Their legacy of sanctity is not in numbers healed or prophecies fulfilled, but in the lives of their children so devoted to God and His Church, in the lives of the refugees and the poor who came to them when in need, and to the untold numbers of friends and acquaintances who stood witness to their heroic life of prayer and service.
In 1939, Maria Esperanza Medrano was a little girl living with her mother and brother in Caracas, Venezuela. She was a devout child who had grown up playing with statues of saints the way other girls play with dolls. At ten, she received her first Holy Communion and had gone to Mass every day since to receive her Lord in the Eucharist. But now she suffered from bronchopneumonia. On her sick bed, Maria received a vision of the Virgin of the Valley, Patroness of the Island of Margarita. Our Lady had come to comfort her and to give her a mission: “Help me save this world that is going astray.” After her vision, Maria soon got well and took up the mission Our Lady had given her.
At the age of fourteen, however, she found herself ill again, and this time much more seriously. She had developed a heart condition, and the doctors gave little hope for recovery. This time, the Sacred Heart of Jesus appeared to her to comfort her and assure her of healing. Afterwards, she desired to become a nun, but the Lord had other plans. While living with the Franciscan Sisters of Merida, Jesus told her, “You will sanctify yourself in the world as a spouse and family mother spreading my message.” On December 8, 1956, Maria married Geo Bianchini Giani, whom she had met on a pilgrimage to Rome. They had seven children, all of whom would marry and bless the Bianchini’s with many grandchildren.
Besides visions and locutions, Maria received other spiritual gifts, including supernatural knowledge, discernment of spirits, spiritual ecstasy, the ability to read hearts and to heal others of infirmities. Witnesses speak of seeing her levitate during Mass, and testify to her having the power of bilocation. She was a friend of the Italian mystic, St. Pio of Pietralcina. It is said that on the day before he died in 1968, St. Pio visited Maria via bilocation and passed his mantel on to her, giving her the gift of the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, that he had received many decades before, as a spiritual legacy.
In 1974, the Bianchinis purchased a farm in northern Venezuela called Betania with the intention of fulfilling the mission the Lord and His Mother had given Maria. She had been instructed in her visions that she was to develop a land of great spiritual promise, and Maria was convinced that Betania was the place. Named Betania by the previous owner after the city where Jesus would visit with His friends and rest, the farm grew sugar cane along with a variety of fruit and fowl. On March 25, 1974, the Feast of the Annunciation, Our Lady again appeared to Maria in the grotto on the farm under the title, “Mary, Virgin and Mother Reconciler of All People and Nations”. In this and subsequent visions, Our Lady told Maria that her mission was, “to hand on my message of love and reconciliation to all people and nations.”
In 1979, Maria founded the Betania Foundation, “a social, apolitical and a non-profitable civil association, which carries out works to serve man. The mission of this social work is the new construction of human rights. It is a community project with the prime base of striving for a world of true sharing among men, without discrimination that cares for a greater union between men, and of men with God. … The foundation also has the objective of teaching and spreading the message of the Blessed Mother under the title of Mary, Virgin and Mother Reconciler of all People and Nations, …” The Betania Foundation serves the community in a variety of ways, including spiritual education, music, art and cultural programs, sports programs for youth, and providing assistance to the poor and those in need.
On Marcy 25, 1984, the “great apparition” took place, where Our Lady appeared to Maria and almost 150 others. The diverse group of college students, military men, physicians, psychologists and psychiatrists, engineers, judges, and even children claimed later during the investigation of the apparition that they could see Our Lady sharply and clearly. The apparition was later declared authentic by the local bishop, Pio Bello Ricardo. The message of Betania was that the Church and the people were to work together for the well-being and salvation of souls. Maria told her spiritual children that the message of Our Lady was to commit oneself fully to the service of the Church: “All Christians have to do this service by reconciling ourselves more and more, since reconciliation brings forth human rights, social justice, renovation and charisma. And furthermore reconciliation posits truth, love, reparation and freedom of conscience, so we may live in accordance with the doctrine that Jesus Christ bequeathed us.”
Maria Esperanza died in 2004 of complications related to a Parkinson’s-like illness. She was given the title Servant of God when her cause for canonization was initiated by the Diocese of Mutechen, New Jersey in 2010.
Sanctity of life is not manifested in piety put on display for personal recognition and fame. It is a gift, given for the purpose of testifying to the powers of God and to His great mercy. Those who possess genuine sanctity are as likely to be found in the barrows of the poor and at the bedside of the infirm as in the pews of chapels and cathedrals. Their holiness is never for their own sake, but for the sake of the Church and for the salvation of souls, for the encouragement of the faithful and the service of others. The atheist would have us dismiss sanctity as a medieval device meant to shore up the charade of faith. But lives handed over to God in total surrender have done more to transform this world and the lowly ones who suffer in it than all the books, articles and lectures given by atheists to convince us that there is nothing in this world worth striving for except the supposed satisfaction that comes with accepting that life in general, and my life in particular, are nothing exceptional.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.