Their stories largely span the 20th century, apart from that of a nun who lived at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries. Of the eight upcoming new Blesseds for whom the Pope approved the promulgation of the Decrees yesterday (Thursday 14th December), six are martyrs who were victims of fascism and communism. The other two involved the recognition of miracles attributed to the intercession of a Carmelite nun and a founder of a religious institute.
The Decrees also concern three new Venerables, a Capuchin Franciscan and two lay people: an Italian mother of a family and a Guatemalan father.
The stories of the martyrs
The dramatic stories of the six martyrs killed in odium fidei (“out of hatred of the faith”) concern priests, religious, and a seminarian. Don Giuseppe Rossi, born in 1912, was a diocesan priest in the Ossola Valley, in Piedmont, when this territory, a few months before the end of the Second World War, became the scene of a clash between partisans and fascists, which caused deaths and injuries. In retaliation, the militia of the Ravenna Black Brigade, one of the cruellest and most anticlerical fascist groups, unleashed a reprisal against the local population. Father Giuseppe was kidnapped on 26 February 1945, transported to the Vallone dei Colombetti, forced to dig his own grave with his bare hands, and then shot dead by fascist militiamen.
Luigi Carrara and Giovanni Didonè were professed priests of the Pious Society of St Francis Xavier for the Foreign Missions (Xaverians). Together with Vittorio Faccin, a professed religious of the same Society, and the diocesan priest Albert Joubert, they were killed on 28 November 1964 in Baraka and Fizi. The two locations are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which at that time was experiencing a complex transition from Franco-Belgian colonialism to a new socio-political scenario, characterized by unrest that also involved the Church, which was the victim of repeated looting, persecution, and outrages. While many missionaries decided to leave the country, the Xaverians remained, and in the early afternoon of 28 November 1964 a military jeep stopped in front of the church in Baraka and the leader of the rebels opposed to the dictator Mobutu ordered Brother Faccin to get into the vehicle. When he refused, he was shot dead. Father Carrara, who was hearing confessions, came out to see what had happened and instead of getting into the jeep, he knelt in front of his brother’s body and was also assassinated. The remains of the religious were desecrated horribly and carried around the village. One of the militiamen who took part in this terrible exhibition later converted. Towards evening, the squadron arrived in Fizi and the leader knocked on the door of the mission, killing Father Didonè in cold blood when he came to the door, and shortly afterwards doing the same to Abbé Joubert.
Three years later, hatred of the Church was the cause of the death of 37-year-old Slovakian seminarian Ján Havlík, a member of the Missionaries of St. Vincent de Paul. Like many priests, religious, and nuns, he was forced to undergo formation in hiding due to the communist persecution. In 1951 he was arrested along with his superiors and other seminarians. He was interrogated and tortured, and sentenced to 14 years in prison. This was the beginning of an ordeal of imprisonment and forced labour, which seriously undermined his health. He also suffered psychological harm due to the administration of drugs, and three years after regaining his freedom, on 27 December 1965, he died suddenly in Skalica.
There are numerous stories of the two blesseds whose journey to the altars continues after miracles attributed to their intercession have been recognized. Moisés Lira Serafín was a Mexican priest of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit from the Puebla area. During the religious persecution in 1926, he distinguished himself for his missionary dedication, which he shared with a group of acolytes and catechists. Later, in 1934, he also founded the Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity of Mary Immaculate. Father Moisés died in Mexico City in 1950. The miraculous healing of a woman has been attributed to his intercession. Rosa María Ramírez Mendoza was pregnant and discovered at 22 weeks that her baby was suffering from a very serious foetal abnormality. She refused the suggestion of doctors to end the pregnancy through abortion, faithfully entrusting her situation to Father Moisés, whose book about his priestly vocation she was reading at the time, and invoking healing from him for nine consecutive days. At a check-up in the sixth month of her pregnancy, the doctor, to her amazement, informed Rosa María that the abnormality had disappeared and the baby was in good health. On 6th September 2004 she gave birth to Lissette Sarahí, a perfectly healthy baby girl.
The story of Anne of Jesus, a Spanish Discalced Carmelite, is much older. Anne was born in 1545. In 1570, she entered the monastery of Ávila, where she was taught by St Teresa of Jesus herself. With her she moved shortly afterwards to Salamanca and in 1570, she met St John of the Cross, who dedicated to her the commentary of the Spiritual Canticle. Later, Anne founded new monasteries in Spain as well as in France and Belgium. She died in 1621, at the age of 75, in the monastery in Brussels, which she led for 14 years. The miracle attributed to her intercession concerned a younger Carmelite sister, Sister Jeanne of the Holy Spirit, whom she met in the Brussels monastery. On 24 April 1613, Sister Jeanne was struck by a high fever for about ten days and showed the first symptoms of paralysis in her lower limbs. The illness worsened, and by the end of 1619, the nun became completely paralyzed in her legs and was bedridden, deprived of treatment by the doctors because she was considered incurable. On 4 March 1621, four hours after Anne of Jesus’ death, Sr Jeanne asked the sisters to be brought before her body. While attempting to kiss the body with the help of two sisters, Sr Jeanne was assailed by a sudden tremor. The sisters, believing she had fallen ill, placed her in the chair in which they had carried her, but Sister Jeanne immediately said she felt recovered. She began to walk and knelt before the body of the Venerable Servant of God. On that day she resumed walking and carrying out the activities of daily life and community life normally. From the testimonies it appears that the Venerable Servant of God Anne of Jesus was saddened by the illness of Sister Jeanne of the Holy Spirit and, a few days before she died, had expressed the intention to intercede, after her death, for her recovery.
The new Venerables
Pope Francis also approved the decree recognising the heroic virtues of the Capuchin religious Father Alberto Beretta (born on 28 August 1916 in Milan and died on 10 August 2001 in Bergamo), the brother of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla. Alberto became a doctor and desired to become a Capuchin priest and go as a missionary to Brazil, where he worked for 33 years. A cerebral haemorrhage brought him back to Italy in 1982, and for almost 20 years he lived between the Capuchin infirmary in Bergamo (the hospital where he was hospitalized due to his worsening clinical situation), and the home of his brother Fr Giuseppe. He took part in the beatification of his sister by John Paul II in ’94. He died in Bergamo on 10 August 2001.
Francesca Lancellotti, who was born in Basilicata in 1917, lived a life characterized by charisms and mystical gifts but lived in total humility and a deep sense of poverty. From a very young age, she worked in the fields. She studied until second grade, and dedicated herself to an intense life of prayer, venerating in particular the Madonna della Purità of the Sanctuary of Belvedere in Oppido. She desired to be a nun, but her father wanted her to marry; and in 1938 she celebrated her marriage to Faustino Zotta, a saddler and farmer, with whom she had two children. She opened a tobacconist’s, liquor, and food shop while continuing to cultivate her spiritual life. Following an alleged private revelation in July 1956, and after selling the business and property, Francesca moved with her family to Rome in 1960. They lived first in the Primavalle district, later near the Pantheon, and finally on the Via del Seminario, where she regularly attended the Church of St Augustine. Her house became a centre of refuge for the needy and for those who asked for spiritual and material help. She died in 2008 at the San Giovanni Addolorata hospital in Rome.
A similar story in terms of evangelical values lived with intensity of faith is that of layman and family man Ernesto Guglielmo Cofiño Ubico, born in 1899 in Guatemala. He became a doctor and created and directed the chair of Paediatrics in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of San Carlos for 24 years. In 1933 he married Clemencia Samayoa Rubio, with whom he had five children. He collaborated with various organizations for the education and instruction of peasants, workers, and women with little financial means; and in the training of young university students. He was a tenacious defender of the right to life of unborn children. In 1956 he joined Opus Dei and intensified his relationship with God, through a profound sacramental life and Marian devotion. On 8 December 1961, Pope John XXIII made him a Knight of the Order of St. Sylvester. A widower in 1963, he intensified his commitment to the “Work.” A tumour in his jaw led to his death in 1991.