Josef Sciberras osa

 

Reflections and Articles written by Fr Josef Sciberras osa

 


 

THE TROUBLED EVENTS OF THE RELICS OF AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO, BETWEEN TRANSFERS, FINDINGS AND DEVOTION.

Many Christians, and non, are well aware of the troubled and agitated life that Augustine (354-430), son of Monica and Patrizio, lived. He is revered as one of the major saints and fathers of the Church of all times. Nonetheless, very probably, few people know that after his death, his mortal remains had a rather restless course, as indeed was always the life of Augustine of Hippo himself.

Augustine lived for 76 years, not a few given the times. Many of these, from the age of 33, were lived as Servus Dei, in the monastic life he himself introduced to the West, and then, with a heavy heart, as presbyter and bishop of Hippo, a consular city in Africa. Towards the end of his earthly years, he witnessed the imminent invasion of his beloved city by the Vandals; a city which fortunately, after reaching an agreement with King Genseric (429-477), was not devastated. In fact, we know that the great Augustinian treasure, that is his library with his works - where, according to his biographer and close friend Possidio of Calama, everyone can still find him “always alive” - was spared and remained intact.

The fate of the Christians in that area changed with the king Huneric (+484). In that period we witness mass persecutions and exiles by Catholics, favouring the Aryans. Toward the end of the fifth century, we find another wave of persecutions, where many North African bishops were exiled to Sardinia in 498. A tradition has it that, in these circumstances, where most likely Augustine’s successor was found among many exiled bishops, the remains of the bishop of Hippo were jealously transported by these to the island of Sardinia. But this is only a guess, since so far there are no reliable documents that mention this explicitly. Some scholars postpone this possible transfer even to the sixth or seventh century. According to an undocumented tradition, the remains of Augustine were kept in a church in Cagliari, called in time “Sant’Agostino Vecchio”. Unfortunately, this church was demolished in 1884. Nevertheless, the crypt still exists, where the relics of the bishop of Hippo supposedly lay.

The first source that mentions this translatio of the relics from Hippo to Sardinia is from Bede the Venerable in his De temporum ratione. The same author speaks of a second translatio, that is, the one possibly executed between the years 721-725 by the Lombard king Liutprand, who buys at a high price the holy mortal remains, taking them to Pavia. According to stories from the twelfth century, driven by a strong devotion, Liutprand travelled to Genoa to venerate and meet the relics barefoot.

The holy remains of Augustine were placed in the church dedicated to “San Pietro in Cella Aurea” (today “San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro”) in Pavia, built for the veneration of the remains of Boethius (killed in 524 and popularly venerated as a martyr), to which Liutprand annexed a monastery that for a long time was in the hands of the Benedictine monks of Bobbio. The city of Pavia, then the capital city of the Lombard kingdom, in the unstable political and social context of the time, needed an increase in its self-esteem, to rise to the rank of one of the important cities, and one of the means to achieve this was the presence of prominent relics. Pavia was in competition with the nearby Milan, the city of Ambrose, another influential figure of Christian antiquity, and even more influential on the life and the conversion of Augustine himself. Therefore, the second transfer of Augustine’s remains had a clear political background: Liutprand wished to see his city increase in its prestige, and the presence of a saint like Augustine, certainly helped in all this. This undertaking around the saint’s relics was very dear to the king. In fact, out of the various religious buildings he constructed, he chose San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro to be buried in after his demise.

The cult of the relics grew a lot, and as a result several episcopal seats tried to obtain pieces of the mortal remains of the bishop of Hippo. We know, for example, that in 1022, the Archbishop of Canterbury obtained a piece of a certain consistency from the left arm. Also worth mentioning the tradition that the heart of the saint was preserved in Antwerp. Despite this increase in devotion, it does not seem that the presence of the relics changed greatly the religious physiognomy of the city of Pavia (it was only at the beginning of the 16th century that Augustine was proclaimed co-patron, after the liberation from the plague), and subsequently after a flourishing period of worship, gradually the traces of the exact place of the burial of the holy remains were lost. We have no news of monuments that indicate such a place.

Meanwhile, the year 1222 saw the passing of the custody of this church to the Regular Canons of the Congregation of Montara (replaced by the Lateran ones in 1509). These where joined, in 1327, after a request to the Pope by the Augustinian Guglielmo of Cremona and by consequent order of Pope John XXII, by the Hermits of Saint Augustine, who, founded by the Holy See on the style of the Mendicant Orders in 1244, had already had a presence in Pavia from 1254. But they wanted to get closer to the saint. Therefore, two religious Orders, both under the patronage of Augustine’s Rule, shared the same temple, each making use of literally half of it. That of the Regular Canons was not a peaceful coexistence, but the material closeness of the Augustinians to the relics of Augustine had an enormous implication in their identity as an Order. Unlike the Dominicans and Franciscans, the Augustinians did not have a physical founder. In fact, after John XXII’s decision, we witness a decisive growth in the Augustinian identity of the Hermits, making him the material founder of the Order and in an icon manner dressing him in the same black habit and leather belt that the Hermits had assumed since their foundation. In 1362 the most noble marble arca was commissioned, nowadays located in the centre of the presbytery, where since recent times the relics have been kept, but which was originally placed in the part in use by the friars themselves.

The tensions between the two orders always remained high, each claiming Augustine as its founder. This created inconvenience and quarrels for years. In fact, in 1580, Pope Gregory XIII, to extinguish further debates on heated issues between the Canons and the Hermits, will also prohibit any attempts to search or move the remains of Saint Augustine. But the battles between the two religious groups were destined to continue, at times even reaching the point of bloodshed. It is in the light of this historical background that the events of the discovery of Augustine’s relics must be interpreted.

It was the 1st October 1695, a Tuesday morning, the day of the sensational discovery. A group of bricklayers had to carry out some works on the altar in the crypt in the church of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro. Putting their hand on some stones behind the said altar, and removing some paving stones, they came across a buried box of white Carrara marble, of about 120cm x 30cm x 30cm. The sacristan friar of the Hermits was immediately called, since the prior was not in the city.

The box had some letters written in charcoal, deciphered by those present as the name of Augustine. Inside this first box, there was another one, also in marble, but carved, and inside the latter, another one in silver decorated with Lombard-style crosses. Opening the latter, they could glimpse human remains wrapped in a cloth. An exhumation was carried out in the presence of the authorities of the two religious communities and other civil and religious authorities, with expert anatomists meticulously listing the remains. An investigation was carried out between November 1695 and February 1696, and another one in 1698. Despite a certain reluctance on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities to authenticate the relics as those of the bishop of Hippo, the enthusiasm of the city and a number of miracles, attributed to the relics, accelerated the course of the events.

The news of the rediscovery of the “relics of Augustine” spread across the Italian peninsula, and there was no lack of controversy among the scholars of the time, those in favour of the authenticity of the remains as well as those against it, or at least dubious, producing a number of works in the form of brochures, pamphlets, and treatises on the subject, which circulated in large numbers, and possibly involving a large part of the Pavia population, at least for some years. Despite popular enthusiasm in the city and other places, no decision was taken on the authenticity of the relics.

This question led to the intervention of the Dominican pope Benedict XIII who, in 1728, asked for clarifications and conclusions on the matter, and he wanted them in a circumscribed time. The pontiff seems to have tended to hope for a positive conclusion, that is, one that is in favour of authenticity. On this occasion a small inventory was also made of the relics scattered in different cities: Montalcino, Piacenza, Valencia, Dubrovnik…

With the arrival of the Roman authorities, things took a different turn, for example, with more control in the bibliographic production. In May of the same year, the box with the bones was reopened, and specialists of the time were consulted, concluding the works on June 20th. Three days later a procession was held from the Duomo to San Pietro. Those who participated and those who visited the remains during the following 40 days were granted a plenary indulgence, which indirectly implied that a conclusion favourable to authenticity had been reached.

The conclusions, which were handed to the bishop of Pavia in July of the same year, confirmed the authenticity of the relics. The events proceeded in a hurry: on July 10th, the bishop announced that the official proclamation was to be made on July 16th and that three days later there was to be the singing of the Te Deum and fireworks to celebrate the event. These notices included the threat of excommunication to those who disagreed with this decision. On 22nd September 1728, Benedict XIII, surrounded by intellectuals and scholars whom he could trust to advance the topic, confirmed in writing the judgement of the bishop of Pavia, Francesco Pertusati. With the confirmation, the prohibition to continue with the controversy on the subject was renewed. Publications on this event saw the light in Madrid, Leipzig, Barcelona, Venice, Rome…

A series of political and military events marked the fate of the city of Pavia, and with it that of the relics of Augustine. In February 1734 these were briefly transferred to the Duomo for safety reasons. Under Emperor Joseph II, in 1758, the community of the Regular Canons ceased its presence in San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro, and the Hermits were moved the following year to a former Jesuit convent. They took with them the relics of Augustine and of Boethius, with all the marble arca commissioned in the second half of the fourteenth century. In the 1790s, the convent was transformed into a seminary. In 1799 the Augustinians ere expelled from Pavia by Napoleon. They had to separate from the relics of the Holy Bishop, leaving them in the hands of the Bishop of Pavia, who happened to be also an Augustinian, and who placed them in the Duomo for the second time. In the 1830s there was the idea of demolishing San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro, which fortunately did not happen. In 1842 an important piece of relic was granted to the bishop of Hippo, mons. Dupuch, to take with him to Algeria, where it can still be found today, in the basilica on the hill overlooking the city, today with the name of Annaba. In 1884 the last survey of the sacred remains was made, where an inventory with two hundred and twenty-five pieces of bones was collected, with some glass containers. After restorations that brought the church back to its medieval state, it was reopened in 1896 and the sumptuous late-medieval marble arca was placed in the middle of the presbytery. Finally, on the 17th of October 1900, the mortal remains were solemnly returned to San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro, and handed to the Prior of the Augustinians, who are till this day the only guardians of their Father and Master.

The relics are solemnly exhibited twice a year: on the 24th of April, the anniversary of Augustine’s conversion, and on the 28th of August for the solemnity. Among the countless personalities who have venerated these holy relics, it will suffice to mention St. Paul VI, a great devotee of Augustine, who visited in May 1960; St. John Paul II, who had the opportunity to venerate them in his private chapel during a pilgrimage of these in November 2004; Benedict XVI, who during his life allowed himself to be shaped by Augustine’s thoughts, and who wanted to personally venerate the relics, which he did on April 22nd, 2007. On that occasion he expressed himself in these words: “Here then is the message that still today St Augustine repeats to the whole Church and in particular, to this diocesan Community which preserves his relics with such veneration. Love is the soul of the Church’s life and of her pastoral action. […] Only those who live a personal experience of the Lord’s love are able to exercise the task of guiding and accompanying others on the way of following Christ. At the school of St Augustine, I repeat this truth for you as Bishop of Rome, while as a Christian I welcome it with you with ever new joy.”

List of relics encountered at the opening of the silver case after the discovery in 1695 (cf. Mathis De Carmagnuola (1965). Dell’inventione del sacro corpo di S. Agostino nel primo d’Ottobre 1695, 2)

 

  1. 10 pieces from the skull and some other small ones
  2. The lower jaw with two teeth
  3. A petrous bone with the auditory foramen
  4. 10 vertebrae of the spinal medulla, part od the neck, lumbar part, part of the back with a large part of the sacrum
  5. A left clavicle
  6. 25 pieces of ribs
  7. Portion of the pubic bone and the illion bone
  8. The bone pf both thighs, one whole and the other broken into three pieces
  9. The major foci of a leg
  10. The head of the major focus and all the minor of the other leg
  11. The adjuvant bone of a shoulder broken into two pieces
  12. Two foci of one arm
  13. Two foci of the other arm
  14. Some pieces of the carpus, and metacarpus, both of the feet and of the hands, with various articles of the fingers, of which it has not been possible to know precisely the missing
  15. 86 pieces of different bones
  16. Two glass ampoules, one larger than the other, both empty
  17. Several pieces of lead and a piece of wooden board

Bibliography

Mathis De Carmagnuola (1965). Dell’inventione del sacro corpo di S. Agostino nel primo d’Ottobre 1695, Pavia.

Fulgentius Belelli (1729). Collectio actorum atque allegatorum, quibus ossa sacra Ticini in confessione S. Petri in Cœlo aureo anno 1695 reperta esse sacras S. Augustini Hipponensis episcopi, & ecclesiæ doctoris exuvias probatum est, & novissime judicatum, Venice, volumes I and II.

A.C. De Romanis (1931). Sant’Agostino: il santo dottore nella vita e nelle opere, Rome.

J.T. Hallenbeck (2000). The transferal of the relics of St. Augustine of Hippo from Sardinia to Pavia in the early Middle Ages, Lewiston, NY.

H.S. Stone (2002). St. Augustine’s Bones. A Microhistory, Amherst.

M. Schrama, The commemoration of the Translation of the Relics of Saint Augustine, in U. Hascher-Burger – A. den Hollander – W. Janse (2010). Between lay piety and academic theology. Studies presented to Chr. Burger on his 65th birthday, Leiden, 55-77.

 

Fr. Josef Sciberras OSA, Postulator General (orig. in Italian)

Translated in English by Martina Scicluna


Anna Clara Giovanna Baseggio was born in Ferrara on 5 May 1752. From an early age she showed a strong artistic inclination, leading her parents to imagine a promising future. At the age of 12, she was entrusted to her paternal uncle to learn better the art of wood gilding but her encounter with God led her to desire a different path, oriented towards religious life.

There in Ferrara, in fact, Dom Mario Scudellari, the Olivetan abbot of Santa Francesca Romana, began to instruct her in the doctrine of the faith, preparing her to receive her first communion and it was precisely in this sacramental communication that was the place for this encounter: “I knew my God”, she told her Olivetan spiritual father after receiving the Body of Christ. The family, however, did not welcome this “distraction” from her artistic practice and began to hinder her by even removing her from her spiritual guide with transfers to different cities: Venice, Padua, Siena and Senigallia. The young woman endured with resignation every adverse measure, every mistreatment of her dear ones, every suffering inflicted on her growing vocation thanks to love for the Father, to whom she ardently desired to consecrate herself.

In 1776, at the age of eighteen, the Servant of God returned definitively to Rovigo, with her parents, not at all persuaded to move away from the journey of faith that she had undertaken; on the contrary, she returned even more determined in wanting to continue it, supported by the spiritual direction of Don Annibale Coltro and, shortly after, of Msgr. Giovanni Battista Lachini. To the choice of religious life, now evident although not manifested, her family reacted by exacerbating their hatred towards her with continuous mortifications and pains, even forcing her to pray in secret.

Her joy, her every energy was reserved for love for the Lord, ever increasing, as was the assimilation of the teaching and experience of the Cross. There was no lack of spiritual struggles, faced with prayer, in the awareness that everything happened by God’s permission. In the year 1782, after having overcome numerous obstacles and temptations, the intention to become a nun became irrepressible and so she clearly manifested it to the family, supported in the enterprise by Msgr. Lachini. The reaction was, as expected, full of hostility, especially on the part of his brother Sante, but the Servant of God did not lose faith and hope, turning with charity, especially towards him, despite his contrary attitude.

Finally, as had been anticipated in a heavenly vision, in the first days of October of the year 1783 she left the house to enter the much-desired cloister of the convent of the Tertiaries of San Francis of Rovigo, choosing for herself, as she did in spirit, a religious life of “penance” and “suffering”, wanting to find and follow the narrow path that “leads to life”. In this convent, on November 8 of the following year, as a novice, she received the habit and took the name of Sister Maria Felicita Fortunata, and then made her religious profession on November 9, 1785. She immediately showed great dedication, humility, and obedience to the commands of the superior and of the confessor, showing herself exemplary, while remaining humble, in the formative path and spiritual growth. Her own teacher, Sister Rosa De Paoli, testifies in writing that she was so impressed by the edifying example of this young woman that she even considered herself unworthy in the presence of her. Nonetheless, the Servant of God attracted the envy and gossip of the other nuns towards her, also stimulated by the malicious curiosity about the numerous extraordinary phenomena related to her person and witnessed by some of the sisters closest to her. This was an adverse attitude, that was held toward her in the monastery and which would accompany her throughout her stay there, and even more so in her role of superior, as a victim of spurious accusations which later proved completely unfounded.

To all this she reacted with resignation to the will of God, in prayer addressed to the cross, in the devoted entrusting to the Virgin Mary and in the joy received from the heavenly visits of the Child Jesus, the “Picanano” or “Bambolo” as she used to call him until the end of her earthly life.

Later, as was predicted by the Servant of God in a prophetic ecstasy, Europe came to be impacted by Napoleon and the consequences are well known; among these, the one that is most interesting here is the first suppression of convents and monasteries decreed on June 8, 1805, which also involved the monastery of the Tertiaries of San Francesco. In this regard, it is important to highlight that Sister Maria Felicita had no fear of the impending upheavals; in fact, her tranquility found its source in the trust and knowledge of God’s love for his children. Felicita Baseggio, together with other nuns, were welcomed among the hermit nuns of Saint Augustine, in the convent of the Holy Trinity of Rovigo where she embraced and professed religious life according to the principles of the Augustinian Rule: it was 13 December 1805.

Already on 13 March in 1806, under the permission of the Vicar Chapter of Adria, she took the habit and on July 28 of this same year she made her solemn vows. Also, in this new conventual reality, characterized by an austere lifestyle, due to the rigor of the enclosure and the rigid impositions, Felicita Baseggio, obedient to the will of God and of the superiors, was the victim of numerous oppressions by some sisters, for whom, despite everything, she never stopped praying, without rancor and remaining projected towards love of neighbor, trying to build everywhere a spirit of communion according to the spirit of Augustine.

Certainly, as witnessed, there was no lack of extraordinary and prodigious events relating to the Venerable also within the walls of this convent. In the meantime, the French Empire continued its expansion, imposing its determination with greater force, including the total suppression of all religious congregations, decreed on 25 April 1810.

The convent of the Holy Trinity of Rovigo, therefore, was definitively suppressed and the religious were forced to leave the cloister. Felicita Baseggio moved to live, at first, in the house of her brother Sante and later in a rented house. Although in the world, her life continued according to the dictates of religious life, as we read in the eulogy in her honor: “She changes her home, she does not change feelings or affections: dead to herself and to the world, in her room she equally finds retreat from the world, the solitude of the heart, and God”. She, therefore, continued to live withdrawn in the house in prayer (except to go out to the nearby church for spiritual nourishment) which was visited by a few people, mainly priests. In the world she continued to live as if she were still in the Augustinian monastery, with a life marked by prayer, work, establishing a community spirit with the people who sought her to obtain from her direction, a consoling word, a light of hope in difficult times.

Her house was called, by those who had the privilege of frequenting it, “house of bliss”, precisely to underline the uplifting effect of her experience of faith and her testimony of charity. Furthermore, numerous were the recourses of the faithful, supporting her for her intercession with the Father or grateful for the graces received from her; a circumstance that greatly disturbed her soul, considering herself unworthy of so much grace granted by God. In the last years of her life, in need of care, she moved to the house of a nephew, where she died in the odor of sanctity on the 11th. February 1829.

Despite the hostility of the family, the first and not easy obstacle to overcome along the vocational journey, the Venerable did not lose hope, finding solace in the prayer addressed to the Crucifix, enduring the denigrations inflicted with resignation, humility, and obedience, never refusing the humblest work and the fatigue in serving promptly, always showing charity. To suffer for the love of God and to share the weight of his sufferings was her desire, so much so that she received the mystical gift of the cross-shaped stigmata on her chest, manifested several times in the course of her life.

Sister Maria Felicita embraced Christ crucified, gathering from his heart the strength to accept all suffering, to forgive the evil received, to transform pain into a gift, to love according to the logic of the Gospel. The whole life of the Servant of God was lived under the banner of love for the Cross and her existence was definitely a positive response to God’s call to holiness. The virtues of venerable Maria Felicita Fortunata Baseggio O.S.A. were declared heroic by the Church on February 20, 2021.

Postulatio Generalis Ordinis Sancti Augustini

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Anna Clara Giovanna Baseggio nacque a Ferrara il 5 maggio dell’anno 1752. Fin da piccola mostrò una spiccata propensione artistica, lasciando immaginare ai suoi genitori un promettente avvenire. A 12 anni fu affidata allo zio paterno per meglio apprendere l’arte dell’indoratura del legno ma l’incontro con Dio la portò a desiderare un cammino diverso, orientato verso la vita religiosa. Qui a Ferrara, infatti, don Mario Scudellari, abate olivetano di Santa Francesca Romana, cominciò ad istruirla nella dottrina della fede, preparandola a ricevere la prima comunione e proprio la comunicazione sacramentale fu il luogo di questo incontro: “ho conosciuto il mio Dio”, disse al padre olivetano dopo aver ricevuto il Corpo di Cristo. La famiglia, tuttavia, non accolse con favore questa “distrazione” dalla pratica artistica e cominciò ad ostacolarla anche allontanandola dalla guida spirituale con trasferimenti in diverse città: Venezia, Padova, Siena e Senigallia. La giovane subì con rassegnazione ogni provvedimento avverso, ogni maltrattamento dei suoi cari, ogni sofferenza inflitta alla sua crescente vocazione grazie all’amore per il Padre, al quale desiderava ardentemente consacrarsi.

Nel 1776, all’età di diciotto anni, la Serva di Dio rientrò definitivamente a Rovigo, presso i genitori, per nulla persuasa ad allontanarsi dall’intrapreso cammino di fede; anzi, tornò ancor più determinata nel volerlo proseguire, sostenuta dalla direzione spirituale di don Annibale Coltro e, poco dopo, di mons. Giovanni Battista Lachini. Alla scelta di vita religiosa, ormai evidente seppur non manifestata, la famiglia reagì inasprendo l’astio nei suoi confronti con continue mortificazioni e pene, costringendola perfino a pregare di nascosto. Nonostante quest’avversione, primo e non facile ostacolo da superare lungo il cammino vocazionale, Anna non perse la speranza, affidandosi in completo abbandono alla volontà di Dio, trovando sollievo nella preghiera rivolta al Crocifisso, sopportando con rassegnazione, umiltà ed obbedienza le denigrazioni inflitte, non rifiutando i lavori più umili e la fatica nel servire prontamente, mostrando sempre carità. La sua gioia, ogni sua energia fu riservata all’amore verso il Signore, sempre crescente, come fu l’assimilazione dell’insegnamento e dell’esperienza della Croce. Patire per l’amore di Dio e condividere il peso delle sofferenze fu il suo desiderio, tanto da ricevere il dono mistico delle stimmate a forma di croce nel petto, manifestatesi più volte nel corso della sua vita. Non mancarono le lotte spirituali, affrontate con la preghiera, nella consapevolezza che tutto accadeva per permissione di Dio. Giunto l’anno 1782, dopo aver superato numerosi ostacoli e tentazioni, l’intenzione di farsi monaca si rese incontenibile e così la manifestò chiaramente alla famiglia, sostenuta nell’impresa da mons. Lachini.

La reazione fu, come prevedibile, carica di ostilità, soprattutto da parte del fratello Sante; ma la Serva di Dio non perse la fede e la speranza, rivolgendosi con carità, specialmente verso di lui, nonostante l’atteggiamento contrario. Finalmente, come le era stato anticipato in una visione celeste, nei primi giorni di ottobre dell’anno 1783 lasciò la casa per entrare nel tanto desiderato chiostro del convento delle Terziarie di San Francesco di Rovigo, scegliendo per sé, così come fece in spirito, una vita religiosa di “penitenze” e “patimento”, volendo trovare e seguire la via angusta che “mena alla vita”. In questo convento, l’8 novembre dell’anno successivo, come novizia, indossò l’abito e assunse il nome di suor Maria Felicita Fortunata, per poi emettere la professione religiosa il 9 novembre 1785. Da subito mostrò grande dedizione, umiltà e obbedienza ai comandi della superiora e del confessore, mostrandosi esemplare, pur rimanendo umile, nel percorso formativo e di crescita spirituale. La sua stessa maestra, suor Rosa De Paoli, testimonia per iscritto che rimase talmente colpita dall’edificante esempio dellA giovane da ritenersi, persino, indegna al suo cospetto. Ciò nonostante, la Serva di Dio attirò verso di sé l’invidia e le malelingue delle altre religiose, stimolate anche dalla maliziosa curiosità riguardo ai numerosi fenomeni straordinari riferiti alla sua persona e testimoniati da alcune consorelle a lei più vicine. Un atteggiamento avverso, quello riservatole in monastero, che l’accompagnerà per tutta la permanenza in questo luogo, ancor più nel ruolo di superiora, vittima di accuse pretestuose dimostratesi poi del tutto infondate.

A tutto ciò reagì nella rassegnazione al volere di Dio, nella preghiera rivolta alla croce, nell’affidamento devoto alla Vergine Maria e nella gioia ricevuta dalle visite celesti di Gesù Bambino, il “Picanano” o “Bambolo” come era solita chiamarlo, cominciate in occasione della vestizione e manifestatesi fino alla fine della sua vita terrena. In seguito, come previsto dalla Serva di Dio in un’estasi profetica, l’Europa giunse all’impatto con Napoleone e le conseguenze sono ben note; tra queste, quella che qui più interessa è la prima soppressione dei conventi e monasteri decretata l’8 giugno 1805, che coinvolse anche il monastero delle Terziarie di San Francesco. A riguardo, è di rilievo evidenziare che suor Maria Felicita non ebbe nessun timore per gli imminenti sconvolgimenti; infatti, la sua tranquillità trovò fonte nella fiducia e nella contezza dell’amore di Dio per i suoi figli. Felicita Baseggio, insieme ad altre religiose, fu accolta tra le monache eremitane di Sant’Agostino, nel convento della Santissima Trinità di Rovigo dove abbracciò e professò la vita religiosa secondo i principi della Regola Agostiniana: era il 13 dicembre 1805. Già il 13 marzo del 1806, dietro licenza del Vicario Capitolare di Adria, fece la vestizione ed il 28 luglio di questo stesso anno emise i voti.

Anche in questa nuova realtà conventuale, caratterizzata da uno stile di vita austero, per il rigore della clausura e le rigide imposizioni, la Baseggio, obbediente al volere di Dio e dei superiori, fu vittima di numerose angherie da parte di alcune consorelle, per le quali, nonostante tutto, non smise mai di pregare, senza rancore e rimanendo proiettata verso l’amore per il prossimo, cercando di costruire ovunque uno spirito di comunione secondo lo spirito di Agostino. Certamente, come testimoniato, non mancarono fatti straordinari e prodigiosi riferiti alla Venerabile anche tra le mura di questo convento. Nel frattempo, l’Impero francese continuava la sua espansione, imponendo con più forza ogni sua determinazione, tra cui la totale soppressione di tutte le congregazioni religiose, decretata in data 25 aprile 1810. Il convento della Santissima Trinità di Rovigo, dunque, fu definitivamente soppresso e le religiose costrette all’esclaustrazione. La Baseggio passò ad abitare, in un primo momento, in casa del fratello Sante e successivamente in una casa presa a pigione. Seppur nel mondo, la sua vita proseguì secondo i dettami di quella religiosa, come si legge nell’elogio in suo onore: «Cangia domicilio, non cangia sentimenti, né affetti: morta a sé e al mondo, nella sua stanza trova egualmente ritiro dal secolo, la solitudine del cuore, Iddio». Ella, dunque, continuò a vivere ritirata in casa nella preghiera, salvo per raggiungere la vicina chiesa per il nutrimento spirituale, visitata da poche persone, prevalentemente sacerdoti. Nel mondo continuò a vivere come fosse ancora nel monastero agostiniano, con una vita scandita da preghiera, lavoro, instaurando uno spirito comunitario con le persone che la cercavano per ottenere da lei una direzione, una parola consolatrice, un lume di speranza in tempi difficili. La sua casa è stata denominata, da chi ha avuto il privilegio di frequentarla, “casa di beatitudine”, proprio a voler sottolineare l’effetto edificante scaturito della sua esperienza di fede e testimonianza di carità. Inoltre, numeroso fu il ricorso dei fedeli supplicanti la sua intercessione presso il Padre o riconoscenti per le grazie ricevute; circostanza che le creò non poco turbamento dell’animo, ritenendosi indegna di tanta grazia concessa da Dio.

Negli ultimi anni della sua vita, bisognosa di cure, si trasferì presso la casa di un nipote, dove morì in odore di santità l’11 febbraio 1829. Nonostante l’ostilità della famiglia, primo e non facile ostacolo da superare lungo il cammino vocazionale, la Venerabile non perse la speranza, trovando sollievo nella preghiera rivolta al Crocifisso, sopportando con rassegnazione, umiltà ed obbedienza le denigrazioni inflitte, non rifiutando i lavori più umili e la fatica nel servire prontamente, mostrando sempre carità. Patire per l’amore di Dio e condividere il peso delle sofferenze fu il suo desiderio, tanto da ricevere il dono mistico delle stimmate a forma di croce nel petto, manifestatesi più volte nel corso della sua vita. Suor Maria Felicita abbracciò Cristo crocifisso, cogliendo dal Suo cuore la forza di accettare ogni sofferenza, di perdonare il male ricevuto, di trasformare il dolore in dono, di amare secondo la logica del Vangelo.

Tutta la vita della Serva di Dio è stata vissuta all’insegna dell’amore verso la Croce e la sua esistenza, è stata una risposta positiva alla chiamata di Dio alla santità.
Le virtù di Maria Felicita Fortunata Baseggio O.S.A. sono state dichiarate come eroiche dalla Chiesa il 20 febbraio 2021.

Postulatio Generalis Ordinis Sancti Augustini


Tereża Spinelli: mudell għall-bniedem tal-lum[1]

Il-bniedem ta’ kull żmien ifittex mudelli li fuqhom ikun jista’ jispira ruħu. Il-Knisja dan tagħrfu u tippreżentalna mudelli li fuqhom in-nisrani jista’ jfassal il-ħajja evanġelika, bħala għajnuna sabiex jilħaq il-milja tas-sejħa tiegħu: il-qdusija. Madre M.a Tereża Spinelli (Ruma 1789-Frosinone 1850), fundatriċi tas-Sorijiet Agostinjani Servi ta’ Ġesù u Marija (hawn Malta magħrufin bħala s-sorijiet ta’ Santa Monika) ftit taż-żmien ilu ġiet dikjarata mill-Knisja bħala Venerabbli. Dan huwa pass importanti fil-mixja lejn il-beatifikazzjoni ta’ din il-mara ta’ qdusija.


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