A devout childhood
As a little girl growing up in 1850s Bologna, Clelia Barbieri asked: “Mother, how can I become a saint?” Mrs Barbieri’s reply is not recorded, but Clelia’s life would provide its own answer.
As well as working hard, particularly at weaving hemp (the local trade), Clelia would often be seen at her prayers or studying doctrine. At 15, she joined a catechists’ association.
Vocation and friendship
Several young men proposed to Clelia, but she had a sense of a religious vocation. Later in her teens, she would take private vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. She prayed for God to send some special friend who would help her to live out the Christian life. God sent Theodora Beraldi, six years older than Clelia.
In 1867, the year Clelia turned 20, she, Theodora and several others moved into a house together and began to live a community life devoted to prayer, catechesis, manual labour and helping the poor. They were to become known as the Little Sisters of the Mother of Sorrows.
The community was blessed with a succession of miracles. When they ran out of food, Clelia led prayers to St Francis of Paola, and the shelves were supernaturally replenished.
Visions and voices
Clelia prophesied that the little congregation would expand widely (as indeed it did: today there are 36 communities).
At 23, tuberculosis took her life. Her last words, addressed to her companions, were: “Be brave, because I am going to paradise. But I shall always remain with you, too. I shall never abandon you!”
Strangely enough, the communities – which now exist in Tanzania and India as well as Italy –have frequently reported that their singing is sometimes joined by an extra voice, almost unendurably beautiful. It is, they say, a foretaste of heaven.
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