In June I went along to the Catholic youth festival Brightlights. I was very excited about spending an action-packed weekend with lots of other young Catholics who are passionate about their faith. As I looked through the programme and saw all the different speakers, activities and music we had lined-up I knew it was going to be an epic two days. One group of guest speakers were the parents and friends of Blessed Chiara Luce. I was looking forward to hearing their talk but also nervous as I had been asked to interview them afterwards!
About Chiara Luce Badano
I didn’t know an awful lot about Blessed Chiara, but since I was going to be interviewing her parents I thought I ought to do a little bit of research first. I discovered that Chiara had been born in October 1971 in Sassello, a small village in Italy. Her parents, Ruggero and Maria Theresa Badano, had brought her up as a Catholic and she had been passionate about Jesus and had a strong sense of right and wrong from a very early age. When she was a teenager, Chiara had been diagnosed with cancer which turned out to be terminal; she died when she was only 18 years old. I learned that, despite her illness, Chiara had been incredibly joyful and had inspired many people, bringing them to faith. The miraculous healing of a young boy with meningitis was attributed to the intercession of Chiara and the conversion of many people lead to her beatification in 2010.
There can’t be many parents who could claim to have been at their own child’s beatification. I was suddenly keenly aware of what a privilege it would be to meet them – these people who had brought up a child to be a saint. I was also anxious. No doubt these were going to be very great and holy people; I was starting to feel a bit intimidated at the prospect of talking to them.
Meet the parents
Maria and Ruggero turned out to be down to earth and very easy to talk to. Although I hadn’t met them before I felt like I knew them. It was similar to sitting down and having a chat with an aunt and uncle that I hadn’t seen for a while. They spoke in Italian and I in English, so we had an interpreter to help us converse. Surprisingly, this didn’t prove to be a barrier and I was soon engrossed in conversation.
Maria explained how when she and Ruggero had got married they dearly wanted children. They prayed and after waiting 11 years they had Chiara, their “greatest blessing”. Ruggero worked as a truck driver whilst Maria stayed at home and raised their daughter. Maria would tell Chiara that she had two fathers – one who she could see and one (her father in heaven who loved her unconditionally) that she couldn’t see. She use to pray with Chiara and taught her to love and serve those in need. Chiara had a good relationship with her parents; however, they still had family arguments and fell out just like every family.
Maria told me about how Chiara used to give away her snack when she was at nursery to children who didn’t have anything to eat. Chiara’s mother started to give Chiara two snacks so that her daughter would also have something to eat; however, Chiara would then just give away more food.
Maria fondly recalled explaining to Chiara that there were children in the world with very little and suggested that Chiara gave away some of her toys to those who didn’t have any. Chiara refused. However later on in the day when Maria went upstairs she found her daughter dividing her toys into two piles; one pile had old and broken toys, the other consisted of all her new and favourite toys. When her mother asked her what she was doing, Chiara explained that people shouldn’t give poor children broken toys, and she proceeded to give away her good toys to charity. This reminded me vividly of the Parable of the two sons (Mathew 21: 28-33).
Chiara joined the Focolare Movement, an international group founded by Chiara Lubich which promotes unity and universal brother/sisterhood. This group and its founder had a profound impact on Chiara’s life. One of their focuses is on Christ Forsaken, which helped Chiara get through difficulties she encountered. The young people of the movement shared with one another their struggles and joys and helped one another to translate the Gospel into everyday life. At the age of 16, Chiara wrote to the founder asking her for a new name. Chiara Lubich responded, giving her the name ‘Luce’. ‘Chiara’ means ‘clear’ and Luce ‘Light’ so together she was ‘Chiara Luce’ – that is, ‘Clear Light’. Chiara Lubich explained her choice for this name saying in her letter “your luminous face shows your love for Jesus”.
I asked her parents what Chiara enjoyed doing in her spare time, Maria smiled and told me how Chiara had been determined to learn how to skate and would spend hours practicing. She also loved swimming and hiking and would listen to pop music and sing and dance. At School, Chiara worked hard but struggled academically and even failed her first year in secondary school. This upset her greatly but her faith and friends helped her through it. Her close friend, Chicca, recalled staying over at Chiara’s house and eating pizza, dancing along to Duran Duran and sharing their dreams. Chiara had lots of different dreams for the future; she liked the idea of being an air hostess and travelling the world, working in Africa as a paediatrician and having a family with lots of children. As I listened, it struck me how normal Chiara was and how easy she is to relate to.
For you, Jesus
One day Chiara felt a stab of pain whilst playing tennis. Initially, she ignored it but, when the pain persisted, she went to have it checked out and it was discovered that she had a very rare and painful form of bone cancer. Chiara responded to this diagnoses saying “It’s for you Jesus. If you want it, I want it too”. As she began painful treatment she refused morphine and painkillers, saying she wanted to offer up her pain to God and share in his suffering. The diagnosis had come as a complete shock to all of them. Her parents remembered Chiara embracing them and saying “only Jesus can help us in this moment, only he can help us to say yes”; and with great strength they had prayed the rosary together as they prepared to journey together on their road to Calvary.
Maria and Ruggero spoke about how people would come to visit Chiara and she would receive them with great joy, even when she was tired and in pain. The doctors and other patients were drawn to her, and the love she had for people without faith was immense. One of Chiara’s friends who didn’t believe in God said that if there was one thing Chiara had taught him it was that “within every person there is a potential treasure”. She donated all her savings to a friend doing missionary work in Africa, saying she didn’t need money anymore as she had everything. As each strand of her hair fell out during chemotherapy she would offer it up saying “for you Jesus”.
Chiara’s final “Yes”
After many painful treatments, a CAT scan confirmed that Chiara would not recover. When Chiara received this news she asked her mother not to speak to her and she lay down on her bed. Maria said she watched her daughter lying there battling with a terrible anguish. Maria sensed Chiara’s struggle to say her final “Yes” to God. After 25 minutes of looking on, Chiara sat up and turned to her mother with a shining, smiling face and said “Mum you can speak now”. Maria, however, felt there was nothing now to say. Chiara had managed to transform her suffering into love by saying her final “Yes” to God.
Chiara approached her funeral as a wedding. She wanted to be buried in her wedding dress because her death would allow her to become Christ’s bride. She chose the songs, flowers and readings she wanted and told her mother that when she was getting ready to go to the funeral she needed to keep saying to herself “Chiara Luce is now seeing Jesus”. It was to be a cause for celebration. And when Chiara lost the ability to walk she exclaimed “If I had to choose between walking again and going to heaven, I wouldn’t hesitate. I would choose heaven.”
In her last hours Chiara’s house was packed with people who wanted to be near her. Her parents tried to restrict the number of people who visited but Chiara wanted to greet them all. She removed her oxygen mask as she didn’t want to scare anyone and welcomed each person with great joy. Her mother, who had been watching, said “Chiara, you really do love right to the end”. “Of course mum” responded Chiara, “I have nothing left but I still have my heart”. Maria noticed that her daughter seemed to greet the young people differently to others. She asked her daughter about this; Chiara explained, saying “mum, they are the future. I can’t run anymore, but I want to hand on the flame, like they do at the Olympics! Young people only have one life and need to use it well”.
“Be happy, because I am”
Chiara made her final confession, received Holy Communion and had her family and friends pray with her as her time came to a close. Her last words to her mother were “Bye, mum. Be happy, because I am.” Chiara Badano died at 4am on 7 October 1990. Maria remembered feeling that this moment in time was very dangerous; the impact it could potentially have on her faith was huge. She recalls feeling that this could be a breaking point. She turned to her husband and the two of them grasped hands, knelt down at Chiara’s bedside and recited the Creed slowly together.
The town was shut down as thousands flocked to the church to say goodbye to Chiara. She had touched so many people’s lives. Her last act of love was to donate her functioning organs, allowing two young people to regain their sight. Thousands of people gathered again in Rome 20 years later for her beatification. Her feast day is celebrated on 29 October each year.
Taking up the Flame
Fr Damian Cassidy (one of the Carmelite Friars at the Brightlights festival) commented that it was friends and family who helped Chiara become the person she was. They helped shape her and grow in love for God. “How important it is” he proclaimed “that we have community and that we support one another”. Coming away from Brightlights, I couldn’t help but recognise my own desire for community and a need to be supported as well as support others in their journey.
What I love about Chiara is how easy it is to relate to her. She has grown up in the world we know today, encountering the same joys, struggles and challenges that we ourselves encounter – all the while remaining in love with Jesus and passionate about her faith. Over the years, her little acts of kindness accumulated, turning her life into one great witness of love. She leads by example when she encourages us to take up the flame of faith and live life to its fullest.