Mabel Aghadiuno reviews a book about a young girl, Chiara Luce Badano.
[New City magazine – November 2008]
When I was a little girl, one of the things that I aspired to be was a martyr. The idea of paying the ultimate penalty of your life for God attracted me. However, when I realised that some of these martyrs met terrible gruesome deaths, I had an inkling that my courage would have failed me if put to such a test. I then thought that I would settle instead for what I thought was the next best thing – to be a saint.
Chiara Luce Badano does not seem to have had any ideas about becoming saint and yet she has recently been declared a Venerable Servant of God – the first stage towards the process of canonisation in the Roman Catholic Church. The idea of canonisation does not sit comfortably with everyone and even the word ‘saint’ for some is quite archaic. I know the way saints have sometimes been portrayed in stories is sugary, unreal and remote. They have not appeared human – or rather they have appeared ‘superhuman’. This is not the case with Chiara Luce, and New City’s book about her reveals a girl who lived her ordinary life and her illness in an extraordinary way.
Chiara Luce’s virtue did not just appear out of a puff of magic and her mature spiritual life did not come into being without the least effort. She was a ‘tryer’ and someone humble enough to start again when she made a mistake. Her parents were also special people. They nurtured Chiara Luce in an atmosphere filled with love and wisdom. Meeting the Focolare Movement when she was eight was pivotal for Chiara Luce. She discovered a ‘new way of living and thinking, something which satisfied her love for God’ and that ‘either one lives the Gospel or it is just a dead collection of words’. The Focolare spirituality and the support that she received from Chiara Lubich, the young people and other members of the Focolare meant that Chiara Luce was never alone on her journey to God. Journeying together made her ‘run’ even faster.
The thing I like about Chiara Luce is that she shows that ‘holy’ people are not dull, unreal and unattractive. They can be really rather ‘cool’. She loved life – sport, staying out with friends, having fun, music – but she also had a deep thirst and love for God. Chiara Luce illustrates that the two are in no way incompatible.
Over the years I have looked after many people with terminal illnesses – some of them young. I have seen that illness can be a time of spiritual crisis but also of great spiritual growth. Why Chiara Luce was so special, how a serious illness opened up a new life full of light for her, and how she managed in eighteen short years to live this life to the full is something to which I cannot do justice in this short review. You will just have to read the book!
Chiara Luce, a girl full of vitality, but, suddenly, she fell gravely ill. And, strangely, moment by moment, a new life full of light began to unfold for her. She was eighteen when she died, yet she had lived to the full. On 25 September 2010, Chiara Luce was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI and is now known as ‘Blessed Chiara Badano’.