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The Church will have a new Saint

Blessed Elena Guerra is the great mystic of the Holy Spirit, who called the Latin Church to give more space to the Spirit

The Church will have a new saint: Blessed Elena Guerra, who was born in Lucca on June 23, 1835 and died there on April 11, 1914. Pope Francis, on April 13, receiving in audience Card. Marcello Semeraro, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, authorized the promulgation of several Decrees including the recognition of the “miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Elena, Foundress of the Congregation of the Oblates of the Holy Spirit.

Blessed Elena Guerra grew up in a very religious family, her brother was a priest, a canon of the cathedral and a writer, and she devoted herself, while still very young in caring for the sick during a cholera epidemic, which had affected some areas of Tuscany. Self-taught, although he did not know Latin, he devoted himself to the study of the Word of God and the Church Fathers.

In 1882 in Lucca she founded a women’s community for the education of girls

Among her pupils she had the future Saint Gemma Galgani, a great mystic of the Passion. In 1897, after meeting with Leo XIII Sister Elena would have the consent to name the Community she founded: Congregation of the Oblates of the Holy Spirit, although popularly they are still called “Zitine Sisters,” after the name of the Lucchese Saint: Zita, under whose protection they were placed, from the first hour of the foundation.

Elena was a strong, determined, courageous woman who succeeded, despite many difficulties to make a breach in the heart of Leo XIII. It was unthinkable in those days to be able to meet with the Pope, especially for a woman, who claimed to make suggestions of a theological and pastoral nature. But with her letters and tenacity she succeeded in convincing the Pope to promulgate some important documents, “Provida Matris Charitate” (1895), “Divinum illud munus” (1897) “Ad fovendum in christiano populo” (1902), which initiated in the Latin Church the “rediscovery” of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and the Church, and to a celebration of Pentecost, preceded by a Novena. “The faithful,” he wrote, “no longer think of invoking the Divine Spirit: and devotion to the same, already effectively cultivated by the first believers, is all but forgotten! Yet we must return to the Holy Spirit, that the Holy Spirit may return to us.”

John XXIII receiving in audience the Diocese of Lucca, on the occasion of the Beatification (1959), called Blessed Elena Guerra “Apostle of the Holy Spirit” and likened the Blessed’s mission to that of St. Margaret M. Alcoque “humble instrument,” said John XXIII, “which God used to propagate the cult to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the same can be said of B. Elena Guerra in regard to devotion to the Holy Spirit.” But even more so, the Pope compared her to “Magdalene who was the Apostle of the Lord’s Resurrection to the Prince of the Apostles, so she,” John XIII continued, “from her native Lucca wrote filially to our Predecessor Leo XIII, to expound her plans. Precisely by giving space to the Spirit, Blessed Elena felt very strongly a missionary vocation.

But Sister Helen was never able to go on mission, both for reasons of health and because of the lack of openness of her superiors, who never wanted to let her leave the City of Lucca. Despite these limitations she infused her congregation with a missionary spirit; in the Rules she would order, “Cultivate and spread devotion to the Holy Spirit throughout the world. Cultivate the work dearest to the same Divine Paraclete, which is the preservation and propagation of the Faith.” Elena learned from an early age to cultivate this missionary tension; with her mother she read the bulletins and the “Annals of the Propaganda of the Faith,” founded by Lucchese St. John Leonardi (1541-1609). To the theme of the mission he dedicated one of his many pamphlets, with the title, “Perpetual Apostolate” (1865).

For the Missions he did not fail to make people pray

She did not limit her intervention in favor of the Missions, with the publication of a pamphlet, she sent, money financial aid to the orphanage in Bethlehem; and books, medicines, toys, money in aid to the Missions in China, through the Apostolic Vicar Msgr. Pagnucci. Moved by this zeal, she also became a questor in her City, going from door to door, to subsidize the needs of the Missions. She helped Missions in India, Benghazi in Derna and many institutes of apostolic life that sprang up in those years.

Feeling his death approaching, he wrote in his will, “I beg my good daughters, who are the Sisters of St. Zita, that when I am dead they will have a Mass celebrated for my soul, one Mass only, and that they will send to the Most Holy Work of the Propaganda of the Faith, that money which they should have spent on my funeral.” In the local newspaper, Esare will have a letter published to the people of Lucca, recommending that they be generous with the Missions and will have the book, “The Fire that Brought Jesus to Earth,” published, saying, “Little I have been able to work, very little to do, during my life. Let me be allowed a word after death.” Blessed Elena had this open gaze on the world, and felt the urgency of evangelization, because her heart was inhabited by the Holy Spirit, the author of the Church’s mission, the support and inspiration of the proclamation of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit, “the great unknown,” as Sister Elena said, asks to be “known,” invoked. “What was it,” Sister Elena wondered, “that force so great that from nothingness called you into existence? It was the Love of Him who always works in love and through love.”

Every authentic Christian life, is a life in the Spirit

The secret of mission, brotherly love, a more supportive society and hope for the future lie in letting the Spirit work in the hearts of men. “Only the animating breath of the Holy Spirit,” said Pope John, “can inflame souls to virtue and preserve them from the contagion of guilt. […] Only the vigor of the Holy Spirit can sustain Christians in struggles and make them happily overcome contradictions and difficulties.” To this the prophecy of Blessed Elena Guerra and her solemn canonization invites us; an act of the Church, which adds nothing to the glory of our Blessed, but rather, calls to responsibility our being Church in the contemporary world.


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