It’s a beatiful and timeless story: how the cure of a mortally ill four year-old lead to an obscure sister’s canonisation.
By Carmen Elena Villa
AGNOSINE, Italy (Zenit) – It was 12.20am, the first hour of October 3, 2001, when Sister Bianca Pasinetti’s telephone rang. “Sister, we all are here. Vasco is leaving us. Do something because we don’t want him to die.”
Those were the words of Ettore Richini. He spoke of his 4-year-old son, one of the students at the school run by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, Sister Pasinetti’s congregation. Vasco had been admitted to the hospital with meningitis. He had been in the hospital since the afternoon of September 29, when his mother Rita had returned to work in the afternoon after seeing that Vasco had a bit of a fever. As the hours had passed, his temperature kept climbing so the family had taken him to the hospital.
“After the child was a quarter of an hour in the hospital, they discovered that he had meningitis,” Rita explained. “They asked us various questions. He fell into a coma; his kidneys were not working.”
The mother went on to recount: “We discovered it was meningitis H. Influenzae, a very aggressive bacteria that one generally doesn’t catch — its one case in a million — [we] still don’t know how he got it.”
When Sister Pasinetti received Ettore’s call, she promised her prayers and those of the community. Meanwhile, doctors encouraged Rita to disconnect Vasco from life support, warning her that if he stayed alive, he would be a “vegetable.”
“Keep him alive as long as possible,” was her answer.
Ettore recalled what he felt in those moments: “A sadness, an impotence at seeing my son who was already going, and you cannot do absolutely anything. I think it is the hardest thing that I have experienced.”
There was “nothing good” in the situation, according to Rita. “He had a bruise on his brain, rapid heart rate […] purple spots all over his body.”
Sister Pasinetti decided to bring a relic of Blessed Gertrude Comensoli (1847-1903), the founder of her congregation, to the child’s room.
She thought, “I won’t make Vasco get better, but at least I will make them see that we are praying,” the religious recounted. She arrived to his hospital room and left the relic under his pillow.
“I stayed with Rita,” she continued. “We prayed. She was truly desperate at seeing the child that way.” Sister Pasinetti called the sisters of her community to urge prayers. They passed the word to call people to pray and people began to arrive to the parish church in the community to intercede for the child.
Gaia, Vasco’s 14-year-old sister, also went to the church to pray, not knowing that the sisters had called people together. “I went to the church to pray on my own — in a moment like that, you don’t know what to cling to. I found the church full of people,” she recalled.
“When the prayer [meeting] ended, the people weren’t going home,” Sister Pasinetti remembered. “They stayed to pray. I’d never seen something like that.”
The woman religious and her sisters started a novena to Mother Gertrude.
Some days later, a doctor arrived to greet Vasco’s parents with exuberance, something which struck them both as odd, since just an hour before, the child’s condition was the same.
“Vasco is out of danger,” the doctor told them.
“It was an unexplainable healing,” Rita assured.
Vasco, who today is 12 years old, says he does not remember anything about being sick, except the moment in which he woke up. “I looked at the sheets, I looked around me and I said, ‘What am I doing here?’ Then I said, “Mom, bring me my clothes because I want to go home.’ She was very happy. She almost cried and she hugged me.”
When the child returned to school, he told the sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and his classmates what had happened: “When I was in the hospital, Mother Gertrude came by without letting herself be seen by the doctors. […] She came in and stood close to my bed.”
Today, Rita continues awestruck by what happened nearly eight years ago. Though she was a woman of faith, she did not often practice her religion. “I do not know how it was possible,” she said. “I ask myself many questions. I do not know why God chose us. What a lesson.”
Sister Pasinetti is sure it was a miracle: “And it is not easy because it asks you to change. In any case, here too the Lord loves everyone. He does not look if one is practicing or not practicing. The Lord has come for everyone.”
This Sunday, Vasco’s family will attend the canonization of Sister Gertrude Comensoli in St. Peter’s Square.
“I lost my mother one year after all of this,” Rita noted. “I think that if she would have died before this happened, I would have experienced it in a different way. Now I am not afraid even of death, because it forms part of life.”