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Young girl on road to sainthood: “Maybe I look like a monster, but I’m not!”

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Daniela Zanetta, who died at age 23, witnessed to her peers how to suffer with Jesus.

This past Thursday Pope Francis officially recognized the heroic virtues of Daniela Zanetta, a 23-year-old Italian girl who died in 1986 from a rare skin disease (dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa). She was deeply admired during her life for her constant love of God in the midst of great suffering.

Zanetta was a leader in a local parish youth group and enjoyed hanging-out with her friends. She tried as much as she could to be an ordinary teenager and didn’t want to be treated any differently. However, her activities were often limited by the frequency of her hospital visits and the need for medical attention.

Her skin disease made her prone to sudden hospitalization and blood transfusions and generally make her weak. She needed frequent medication and constant care to allow her the opportunity to live a semi-normal life. At the time she heard a number of doctors in Italy advocating for euthanasia and vigorously did what she could to oppose it. Zanetta wrote to a local magazine in response and urged everyone to see the beauty of life, even if it is a life of suffering.

“I am a 22-year-old girl. I was born handicapped. I have a skin disease which leaves scars all over my body (…). Maybe I look like a monster, but I’m not! It’s not easy to spend 22 years on the Cross but I believe in God and love him immensely. I thank him for having given me life because every new day presents me with a new opportunity to love him and serve him. It’s not madness that makes me consider suffering as a precious gift from God, it’s concrete experience, lived out and often soaked with tears: I am sure that everything is a fruit of Divine Will and Love. (…) Every day that dawns is a gift from God and if this life is marked in a particular way by pain it’s a double gift because pain makes us grow, generates a deep dialogue with God, helps us expiate for many sins and stops foolish people’s nonsense. (…) Life is Beautiful!!”

Zanetta also kept a diary in which she wrote letters to Jesus and expressed her deepest feelings of struggle, faith and trust.

“You, Father, you have entrusted me with this task, this cross, a seal imprinted in my flesh since my first cry, as if you wanted to be sure not to stray… I have not always enjoyed this your attention towards me; how many times I wanted to mingle with the crowd, be one among many… I did not understand your love for me because it meant pain… so many sacrifices, so much bitterness; I did not understand… Then in tears I told you you!… and from that moment I offered my body sick, wounded, disfigured... I will remain firm at the center of your love.”

Zanetta died in 1986 at the age of 23 due to complications with her skin disease. A large crowd of young people flocked to her funeral and her steadfast faith in the midst of such great suffering has been an inspiration to many.

The cause for her canonization was opened in 2004 and this past week Pope Francis gave her the title of “venerable.” The next step in her cause will be the authentication of any miracles that occur because of her intercession.

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