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Is sickness a vocation? For the young Venerable Bertilla it was

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Bertilla Antoniazzi

Association AMIS DE BERTILLA ANTONIAZZI

Bertilla, 10 years old, and her older sister Maria, at the hospital in Schio

Mathilde De Robien - published on 02/04/23

Young Bertilla Antoniazzi lived a life of suffering with faith and self-offering, and Pope Francis declared her venerable.

On January 19, 2023, Pope Francis authorized the promulgation of decrees recognizing the heroic virtues of four Italians and two Spaniards, who are now considered venerable. Among them is a young girl, Bertilla Antoniazzi, who lived a life of suffering with faith and self-offering.

Born in Veneto, Italy, the daughter of farmers and the second to last of nine children, Bertilla Antoniazzi (1944-1964) was diagnosed with rheumatic endocarditis at the age of 9, which prevented her from attending school. Alternating weeks of hospitalization and periods at home, she courageously faced her illness, giving herself the mission of consoling those who suffered and methodically offering her sufferings to Christ for universal causes. She died at the age of 20, but not without having left her mark on those around her by her courage, her joie de vivre, and her desire to intercede for others.

At the age of 8, Bertilla Antoniazzi caught a bad flu, followed by an intestinal infection. As soon as she recovered, she was struck by severe joint pain, and then by considerable respiratory difficulties. The diagnosis was merciless: it was rheumatic endocarditis, a heart disease that made it hard for her to breathe and destroyed her strength, forcing her to stay in bed most of the day.

As the years went by, her hospitalizations became more and more frequent and prolonged. But instead of simply enduring her illness, Bertilla decided to offer it up and “use it” — in a notebook dating from her first hospitalization in August 1953, she meticulously noted day after day for whom she offered up her sufferings. Her desire to intercede was focused mainly on those close to her, and in particular on her little brother Egidio, who had lost his hearing and speech as a result of medical treatment. She was only 9 years old at the time.

Her “vocation” as a patient: to pray and console

At the age of 13, her desire to intercede had already taken on a universal dimension: on Mondays she prayed for the souls in purgatory, on Tuesdays for missionaries and non-believers, on Wednesdays for the conversion of dying sinners, on Thursdays for priests, on Fridays to make reparation for offenses against the Heart of Jesus, on Saturdays for the conversion of poor sinners, and on Sundays for the conversion of Russia.

Bertilla Antoniazzi
 Bertilla as a teenager (left), with a friend

At the age of 15, Bertilla joined the “Center for Volunteers of Suffering,” founded by Blessed Luigi Novarese. She found the full meaning and value of her existence, which, in the eyes of the world, might seem “miserable,” “pitiful,” or “useless,” but which, lived in union with Christ, became “an unceasing prayer.” 

The members of her family often heard her whisper, “Everything for the love of God.” At first they didn’t attach much importance to this phrase, thinking that she repeated it to give herself courage. But in reality, doing everything and offering everything for the love of God was a true vocation for her.

Bertilla prayed tirelessly, but also forged very deep ties with those around her, especially with the other patients in the hospital, with whom she kept up an intense correspondence. She also became close to her cousin Aldo, who had multiple sclerosis, and in one of her letters she urged him to hand his suffering over to Jesus: “I urge you not to let a single moment of your suffering go by without putting it into the hands of Jesus. You will see that he will give you all the help you need.”

“Sickness” was a kind of vocation she embraced with such passion that it left her little respite. “I never bothered to ask myself if I had a vocation to become a nun, because my vocation is to be sick and I don’t have time to think about anything else,” she answered her parish priest, Fr. Antonio Rizzi, when he asked her if she planned to become a nun once she was cured. She was 19 years old.

Her petition at Lourdes: holiness rather than healing

In the fall of 1963, the doctors finally gave their consent for her to go to Lourdes, on the occasion of the pilgrimage organized by the bishop of Vicenza for his 50th anniversary of priesthood.

To Bertilla’s great surprise, her heart did not cause her any problems during the pilgrimage, and she filled herself with consolation by praying to Our Lady and participating in the various celebrations.

The day after her return, she wrote to her sister: “I tell you the truth, dear sister, I am happy to be able to suffer a little for Jesus, for the conversion of sinners, and I am sure that Our Lady, who is so good, is going to make me a saint, as I asked her to do at the foot of the grotto.”

The recognition of her heroic virtues by the pope – the first step in the process of recognition of sanctity – suggests that she was heard by Our Lady.

Bertilla Antoniazzi
Bertilla as an adult, in the hospital of Vicenza

Bertilla was called home to God on October 22, 1964, in the public hospital of Vicenza. Fifty years later, on February 8, 2014, in the same place, the Bishop of Vicenza, Beniamino Pizziol, opened the diocesan phase of the investigation of the heroic virtues of Bertilla Antoniazzi. Numerous testimonies poured in, reporting singular graces attributed to the intercession of the young girl. The most striking case is the healing of Lorena Vona, a little girl born prematurely in Crotone, Calabria, who was miraculously cured. It was Bertilla’s sister, Rita, who had become Sister Pialuigia, who suggested that the baby’s parents invoke Bertilla’s intercession.

Prayer for the canonization of Bertilla Antoniazzi:

Lord Jesus, 

You allowed the Servant of God Bertilla Antoniazzi to experience the mystery of suffering from childhood and to share it with you, transforming her hospital bed into a place of encouragement and hope for the sick, for the medical team, and for her family members.

Through her intercession, we pray for all those who suffer in body and spirit. Inspire in their hearts the same desire for God that gave Bertilla strength, so that none of them will be crushed by the weight of the cross and that illness will become a privileged opportunity to witness to God’s love.

Grant us, according to your will, through Bertilla’s intercession, the grace we implore in the hope that she will soon be counted among the saints.

Amen.

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