“I want my heart as big as the sea, as joyful as the sun, as pure as the stars”. These are Carla Zichetti’s words.
Allow me to tell you about her. This Italian girl was alone in the world from a very young age and, because of various illnesses, dependent on other people. Often feverish, unable to leave the house, she spent most of the time in bed or on the sofa. A flat with two bedrooms, living room, kitchen and balcony was her whole small world. Unhappy, complex, useless, bitter and sour, expecting nothing from life, this Carla of ours?
What a girl! Happy, committed, full of vitality, transmitting and spreading joy. Despite the many misfortunes that have befallen her, she has a beautiful voice: timbre, fresh, spring-like.
From then on she began to telephone the sick in Genoa, guided by a list of her friends, to establish a network of friendship. She then began to write letters, which she is very good at, and to record cassettes, reading passages from the Gospel, messages gleaned here and there, letters received and answered, and a variety of well-chosen music.
With the help of friends, these cassettes are sent to a thousand addresses and broadcast by radio stations. Carla also publishes booklets and some of them – for example, The letters dictated by the heart – have spread like petals of hope throughout Italy. Above all, she favours personal contact, whether through letters and telephone calls, or through visits organised by her friends to different places and radios.
Carla Zichetti is the brain of a small multinational of good works. Always welcomed by her many friends, she collects the “crumbs”, as she puts it, the small offerings they send her and sends them to people in difficulty, charitable works, missionaries in lands nobody remembers.
One day she was asked to pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. Do you know what he answered?
– Yes, I will pray for priests and nuns. But before asking for more vocations, I will pray that they may be people in love with God and with human beings. The world today needs living witnesses of the Gospel in the midst of society. Priests and nuns are few, but if they were more holy they would be enough to meet the needs.
Some people think that the saints are men and women from another galaxy: giants who perform deeds and renunciations that make stones weep; who know and say things beyond the normal range; or who withdraw from society and live on mountain tops or in the middle of the desert.
Such figures do not arouse sympathy or interest. I remember a lady who took her little nephew of three years old with her to work. He was a lively child, loquacious and bustling about like a sardine, but for almost two hours he remained mute and stolid, as if paralysed. Only later did he reveal the reason for such an unusual procedure: he was terrified, because of two statues of saints that had been set up there and that looked like the bogeyman to him.
Those virgins smooth as planks, those dry and hard as roots, really do frighten us. And they are often painted or sculptured in this way.
Holiness, however, is not a race for half a dozen greyhounds. Nor is it a crushing burden, made up of endless moral precepts, that leaves one with one’s tongue hanging out.
The example of Carla Zichetti tells us that holiness is a project of authentic living, in the manner of Christ. A project that frees us from ourselves and is capable of putting our own evils to shame. A project that gives meaning and flavour to our life.
Jesus Christ is the revelation and the proof of what our God is like. A very human God. Whoever draws near to him humanises himself and humanises the lives of others, especially the most vulnerable.
Carla does not live coiled up in her limitations, which are many and serious. Faith awakens her energies to help thousands of human beings and makes her happy, while at the same time preventing her from being happy alone. The tenderness that floods her heart gives her a fresh and youthful air, engaging and contagious. The verb “to love” never grows old. Hearts of this shape – big as the sea, joyful as the sun, pure as the stars – are still in gravy. So I say like the other: “There’s still hope!
Abílio Pina Ribeiro, cmf
(PHOTO: Tyler Nix)