THE PRECIOUS PEARL : ST RITA
Sharlet Francis Xavier tells the story of St Rita of Cascia.
Rita Lotti was born in 1381 in a small village in the Umbrian Hills, part of the Republic of Cascia in Italy. Her parents were a well-respected Catholic couple, Antonio and Amata, who had prayed for a child for many years. When their only child was born, they called her Rita, which in the local dialect meant ‘pearl’
As a young girl, Rita often visited the local Convent of Augustinian Nuns in Cascia and dreamed of one day becoming a Sister. She was attracted to their way of life and felt that she had a calling to dedicate her life to Christ. Her parents, however, were worried about their only child and decided to arrange a marriage between her and the son of a noble family, Paolo Mancini. They thought that this would be the best way to provide security for Rita and so at the tender age of twelve, she obeyed her parents and married Paolo, accepting that this was God’s will for her life.
Rita’s married life was not easy as Paulo was a violent and aggressive man. They had two sons and Rita tried to raise them in the faith, teaching them the Christian values of love and forgiveness. At the time there was a lot of rivalry and fighting between the local families and in one dispute Rita’s husband was killed. It was expected that Paolo’s sons would avenge the killing and Rita strove hard to stop her sons seeking retribution on the killers. She encouraged them to be peace-makers and to forgive. It is said that she would show them an image of the Crucified Christ and point out that He had forgiven His killers.
Rita knew that if her sons did seek revenge they would be endangering their own lives and their hope of eternal life with God. She was very worried about them and prayed constantly that God would save their souls. Within a year of their father’s death both sons suffered a deadly illness and died. Rita was left alone after eighteen years of marriage and in her loneliness and solitude, Rita, was drawn closer to Jesus. After much prayer and discernment she decided to pursue her original dream of becoming a nun.
When she first approached the Augustinian Convent they refused to let her enter. They usually did not accept widows and they feared that her presence would cause problems as there were already some members of the rival family in the Convent. Rita insisted that she had forgiven her husband’s killers but the nuns pointed out that some members of her family had not. So Rita became a peace-maker between the families and after much prayer and discussion she helped them to put aside their differences and brought forgiveness and healing between the rivals. Eventually, a written agreement was signed that put an end to the vendetta. St Rita always acknowledged that three of her favorite Saints helped her with this peace mission, St John the Baptist, St Augustine and St Nicholas.
AT THE CONVENT
When she was 36 she eventually managed to enter the Convent, where she spent her life in prayer, contemplation and spiritual reading. St Rita’s life was ever more surrendered to God as she contemplated the passion of Christ. With her thirst to console the crucified Christ, she asked for a share of the pain and agony of Jesus and it was granted to her. She was a great inspiration to the fellow members of her community. She endured much suffering, which was a joy to her and she offered all her pains and agony for the conversion of sinners.
Many miracles have been attributed to her holy life of prayer and penance. At one time, a weeping wound on her forehead was instantly healed so that she could go to Rome to receive an indulgence. Even before she died many miracles were attributed to her prayers and she was known to have the gift of healing. There is a story that at the moment of her death the bell of the Convent Chapel started ringing by itself and a divine fragrance spread over the whole of the village.
St Rita faithfully responded to God’s call on her as a wife, mother, widow and religious sister and she lived her life totally conformed to the will of God. Today in the Catholic Church, St Rita is venerated as the Patron Saint of impossible causes, abused women, difficult marriages, motherhood, and infertility. St Rita died on May 22 1457, aged 76. Her body has not decayed over the centuries and is venerated today in the shrine of Cascia. Her Feast Day is on 22 May.