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Liturgical Memory Of Blessed Elena Guerra

Elena Guerra, a courageous woman

Today, May 23, the Diocese of Lucca, commemorates Blessed Elena Guerra (1835-1914), who will soon be canonized.

The Church of Lucca between the late 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century was blessed with great mystics, such as Blessed Domenica Brun Barbantini (1789-1868), minister of the sick; St. Gemma Galgani (1878-1903), a mystic of the Passion; Blessed Elena Guerra, an apostle of devotion to the Holy Spirit; and others. An all-female holiness.

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Often men of the Church have struggled to recognize the charisms of these women and, for this reason, exercising excessive power, with scruple and severity, in order to prove the goodness of their charisms, have caused them trials and sufferings.

The difficulties of women’s religious foundations

Msgr. Giulio Arrigoni, a member of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor, archbishop of Lucca from 1849 to 1875, was not at all open to and did not favor the new women’s religious foundations, restricting and limiting their apostolate within the boundaries of the diocese. Arrigoni looked with distrust on women’s institutes. A teacher of dogmatic theology in Rome and Pisa, in 1847 he printed a manual of meditations and suggestions for ascetic life, “Christian Admonitions,” which had nine editions, the last in 1866. Arrigoni educated to a spirituality purified of devotions, strongly oriented in the search for God’s will and a strong ascetic commitment. He did not have a positive view of marriage or even of women’s commitment to church life.

Women’s journey in the Church

Elena is a young woman, gifted with ingenuity, a volcanic writer of numerous devotional works, intended for every category of people, from the young
Peasant Girl, to the Educanda; from the Emigrant to the Pious Seminarian. Generally, the lives of women, their aptitude for study, interests in theology, female mysticism, writings, foundations and works that they were able to think and organize with their faith were not well received by ecclesiastical authority.Guerra_Elena

Igino Tubaldo, in his portrait on Blessed Elena, rightly speaks of Arrigoni and the prelates of the time as having a pronounced “male chauvinist” tendency, which prevented the reception and full support for these exceptional women. Yet, the Gospel brought a strong newness, and gave sufficient input for change.

Jesus, unlike other teachers of the time, did not hesitate to engage in dialogue with women; the first announcement of the Resurrection even entrusts it to Magdalene and other women. Despite this, a misogynistic ideology and attitude developed over the following centuries. However, in many circumstances women were able to overcome the challenges of the time and found within the Christian tradition spaces for emancipation and cultural advancement that were not yet granted in civil society. The emancipation of women in the Church is still a slow process, which is why it is necessary, as Helena suggested, to return to the Upper Room, in order to grasp all the novelties, wonders and prodigies, which the Holy Spirit, “worked at the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel.”

The Holy Spirit source of life in the Church

The days we are living are full of ferment, the “signs of the times” seem to impose a path of renewal, the institutional Church, the communities of ancient tradition, often seem tired, lacking vitality and fearful. A new Pentecost is needed to bring the fire that purifies from traditionalism and opens the doors to the newness of the gospel. The hierarchical Church and the charismatic Church are not two Churches in opposition to each other, but one: the Church of Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit, who is the sole author of charisms and structures.

Today, we are witnessing the pitting of a church of Francis, against a church of Benedict, almost re-proposing “typhoons” as once happened in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:10f. Acts 18:24-28), where some claimed to be linked to Paul, others to Cephas or Apollos. But the only bond that defines membership in the Church is Christ alone, and the Holy Spirit works for the unity and harmony of the charisms poured out for the good of the Church and the building up of the Mystical Body of Christ.

“The Holy Spirit,” Blessed Elena recalls in her work “Always with God,” gives the Church life and increase. – And again she writes – He dwells in the whole Body of the Church with His ineffable Magisterium, with His Enlightenment, with His Gifts, which He unceasingly bestows. He is in the Church to govern, preserve and defend her.” And the “wind” of the Spirit blows with freedom; where He wills and when He wills, making no preference or distinction of persons (Jn. 3:8f; Acts 10:34).

The important figure of Msgr. Nicola Ghilardi

While in Archbishop Msgr. Giulio Arrigoni, Elena did not find much understanding, she managed to enter the heart of successor Monsignor Nicola Ghilardi (1875 – 1904). Full of tenderness was the testimony of the new Archbishop, who invited the Blessed to a private interview, when Elena was a mature woman, she was 47 years old.

Biographer Scavizzi reports, “The almost childlike candor of that young woman, now of mature age; her serene gaze, which from time to time was veiled with tears; her limpid and frank speech, without artifice; her angelic attitude of modesty and humility […] gave me the impression of being before an exceptional soul and I no longer had any doubt about the work she had begun.”

After this interview the way was opened for canonical approval and permission to wear the religious habit.

The body of Blessed Elena Guerra in the Church of St. Augustine in LuccaOn November 4, 1882, Sister Elena Guerra and the first five companions put on the religious habit. “It is the most beautiful day,” Sister Elena notes, “of my life! The recognition of the charism was also possible thanks to the advice of Msgr. Nannini, but above all it was the fruit of her humility and in having borne the thorns of contrarieties and trials.

Humility, he wrote, “is like the cornerstone and the firmest foundation of the kingdom of God within us. If this foundation is lacking, it is useless to hope that the Lord will reign in us, who (he made it clear) – ‘He resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.’ Jas 4:6.” Women’s emancipation does not come from standing on the barricades of protest, or from arrogant rebellion, but from humble and patient silence.



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