Rita of Cascia is known and venerated throughout the world. You visit the
cathedral in Budapest, Hungary, and you see a bas relief of Saint Rita;
you go into a church in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and you find a statue of
Saint Rita; you go to Lebanon, and you discover a great devotion to this
woman, Rita. Truly Rita has no boundaries.
Rita was born in the year 1381 in the village of Roccaporena, near Cascia,
Italy. Her parents, Antonio and Amata Lotti, considered her birth a very
special gift from God, because Rita was born to them when they were advanced
in age. As a young girl Rita frequently visited the convent of the Augustinian
nuns in Cascia and dreamed of one day joining their community. Her parents,
however, had promised her in marriage, according to the custom of the day,
to Paolo Mancini, a good man, though of a strong and impetuous character.
Rita accepted her parents’ decision, resolved that this was God’s
will for her.
The young couple were joined in marriage and soon twin boys were born
to them. Rita found herself occupied with the typical concerns of a wife,
mother, and homemaker of Roccaporena, while Paolo was employed as a watchman
for the town. In Cascia, as elsewhere, a great rivalry existed between two
popular political factions, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. As a minor
official of the town, Paolo often found himself drawn into the conflict,
and the strain which this caused probably accounts for the tension that
he sometimes brought into the Mancini household. By her prayers, patience,
and affection, however, Rita was able to ease the stress and worry her husband
experienced, but she was not able to shield him altogether from the dangers
to which society exposed him.
One day as Paolo was returning home from work he was ambushed and killed.
The pain which this unexpected and violent death inflicted upon Rita was
only compounded by the fear that her two teenage sons, moved by the unwritten
law of the “vendetta,” would seek to avenge their father's death.
Rita's only recourse was to prayer and persuasion. As it happened, the death
of both boys from natural causes a short time later removed them from spiritual
danger. Despite her great burden she could still thank God that they had
died in peace, free of the poison of murder to which hatred and revenge
might have otherwise drawn them.
Now alone in the world and without family responsibilities, Rita once
more turned her thoughts to the desired vocation of her youth, that of joining
the Augustinian nuns of Saint Mary Magdalene Monastery. Some of the religious
of the community, however, were relatives of the members of the political
faction considered responsible for Paolo’s death, and so as not to
tempt the harmony of the convent, Rita's request for admission was denied.
Fortunately, she was not to be easily dissuaded from following what she
knew to be God’s plan for her. She implored her three patron saints
John the Baptist, Augustine, and Nicholas of Tolentino to assist her, and
she set about the task of establishing peace between the hostile parties
of Cascia with such success that her entry into the monastery was assured.
At the age of thirty-six Rita pledged to follow the ancient Rule of Saint
Augustine. For the next forty years she gave herself wholeheartedly to prayer
and works of charity, striving especially to preserve peace and harmony
among the citizens of Cascia. With a pure love she wanted more and more
to be intimately joined to the redemptive suffering of Jesus, and this desire
of hers was satisfied in an extraordinary way. One day, when she was about
sixty years of age, she was meditating before an image of Christ crucified
as she was long accustomed to doing. Suddenly a small wound appeared on
her forehead, as though a thorn from the crown that encircled Christ's head
had loosed itself and penetrated her own flesh. For the next fifteen years
she bore this external sign of stigmatization and union with the Lord. In
spite of the pain she constantly experienced, she offered herself courageously
for the physical and spiritual well-being of others.
During the last four years of her life Rita was confined to bed and was
able to eat so little that she was practically sustained on the eucharist
alone. She was, nevertheless, an inspiration to her sisters in religion
and to all who came to visit her, by her patience and joyful disposition
despite her great suffering.
One of those who visited her some few months before her death, a relative
from her hometown of Roccaporena, was privileged to witness firsthand the
extraordinary things wrought by Rita’s requests. When asked whether
she had any special desires, Rita asked only for a rose from the garden
of her parents’ home. It was a small favor to ask, but quite an impossible
one to grant in the month of January. Nevertheless, on returning home the
woman discovered, to her amazement, a single brightly-colored blossom on
the bush where the nun said it would be. Picking it, she returned immediately
to the monastery and presented it to Rita who gave thanks to God for this
sign of love. Thus the saint of the thorn became the saint of the rose,
and she, whose impossible requests were granted her, became the advocate
of all those whose own requests seem impossible. As she breathed her last,
Rita’s final words to the sisters who gathered around her were, “Remain
in the holy love of Jesus. Remain in obedience to the holy Roman Church.
Remain in peace and fraternal charity.”
Having faithfully and lovingly responded to God’s many invitations
to her in the course of her seventy-six years, Rita returned to God in peace
on 22 May 1457. Her body, which has remained incorrupt over the centuries,
is venerated today in the shrine at Cascia which bears her name.
The universal Church celebrates her feast on the anniversary of her death,