New Delhi: On September 25, a diocese in central India dedicated the world’s first church after Blessed Chiara Badano, an Italian teenager who died of cancer 25 years ago.
Pope Benedict XVI beatified her in 2010, just 20 years after her death.
The church in her name is at Siroj, a town in Madhya Pradesh state. It comes under Sagar, a Syro-Malabar diocese.
Bishop Anthony Chirayath of Sagar, who was in Europe for more than three decades, said he decided to name a church after the saintly teenager after reading her biography and visiting her native place.
He says he wants young people to become like “little Chiara — ever smiling, cheerful, sportive, singing and dancing, friendly and loving, kind and thoughtful of others, specially the poor and the sick.”
Who was Chiara Luce Badano?
She was born on October 29, 1971 and died on October 7, 1990.
Chiara’s parents had waited and prayed eleven years to have Chiara. They considered her to be their greatest blessing. While her father Ruggero worked as a truck driver, Maria Theresa, her mother, stayed at home to raise Chiara.
Chiara on hospital bedChiara grew up with a strong and healthy relationship with her parents, but she did not always obey them and would occasionally have fights with them.
At age nine she joined the Focolare Movement and its founder Chiara Lubich added the nickname “Luce” to her name.
She was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a painful bone cancer when she 16. Chiara succumbed to the cancer after a two-year battle with the disease.
She was beatified on September 25, 2010 at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Divine Love in Rome. Her feast day is celebrated on October 29.
Chiara was a normal girl. Her mother recounts an incident in Chira’s life.
“One afternoon, Chiara came home with a beautiful red apple. I asked her where it came from. She replied that she had taken it from our neighbor’s orchard without asking her permission. I explained to her that she always had to ask before taking anything and that she had to take it back and apologize to our neighbor.”
“She was reluctant to do this because she was too embarrassed. I told her that it was far more important to own up than to eat an apple. So Chiara took the apple back to our neighbor and explained everything to her. That evening, the woman brought her a whole box of apples saying that on that day Chiara had ‘learnt something very important.'”
Focolare Movement’s founder Chiara Lubich had a profound impact on Chiara’s life. The group focused on the image of the forsaken Christ as a way to make it through difficult times. Chiara later wrote that, “I discovered that Jesus Forsaken is the key to unity with God, and I want to choose him as my only spouse. I want to be ready to welcome him when he comes. To prefer him above all else.”
Chiara struggled in school and even failed her first year of high school. She was often teased in school for her strong beliefs and was given the nickname “Sister.” Chiara often went late to have coffee with her friends. She also enjoyed the normal teenage pastimes such as listening to pop music, dancing, and singing. She was also an avid tennis player; she also enjoyed hiking and swimming.
Chiara had a life-changing experience in Rome with the Focolare Movement when she was 16. She wrote back to her parents, “This is a very important moment for me: it is an encounter with Jesus Forsaken. It hasn’t been easy to embrace this suffering, but this morning Chiara Lubich explained to the children that they have to be the spouse of Jesus Forsaken.”
After this trip she started to correspond regularly with Chiara Lubich. She then asked for her new name as this was going to be the start of a new life for her. Chiara Lubich gave her the name Chiara Luce. This was a kind of play on words since in Italian “Chiara” is a common girl’s name, taken for example from the name of St Clare of Assisi, but it is also an everyday word meaning “clear”.
During summer in 1988, Chiara felt a sting of pain in her shoulder while playing tennis. As the pain persisted, she underwent a series of tests. The doctors then discovered she had osteogenic sarcoma. In response Chiara simply declared, “It’s for you, Jesus; if you want it, I want it, too.”
Throughout the treatment process, Chiara refused to take any morphine so she could stay aware. She felt it was important to know her illness and pain so she could offer up her sufferings. She said, “It reduces my lucidity and there’s only one thing I can do now: to offer my suffering to Jesus because I want to share as much as possible in his sufferings on the cross.”
Blessed Chira ChurchDuring her stays in the hospital, she would take the time to go on walks with another patient who was struggling with depression. These walks were beneficial to the other patient but caused Chiara great pain. Her parents often encouraged her to stay and rest but she would simply reply, “I’ll be able to sleep later on.”
One of the doctors, Dr. Antonio Delogu, said, “Through her smile, and through her eyes full of light, she showed us that death doesn’t exist; only life exists.”
A friend from the Focolare Movement said, “At first we thought we’d visit her to keep her spirits up, but very soon we understood that, in fact, we were the ones who needed her. Her life was like a magnet drawing us to her.”
Chiara kept her spirits up, even when the harsh chemotherapy caused her beloved hair to fall out. When a lock of her hair would fall, Chiara would simply offer it to God saying, “For you, Jesus.” She also donated all of her savings to a friend who was doing mission work in Africa. She wrote to him, “I don’t need this money anymore. I have everything.”
To help prepare her parents for life after she died, Chiara made her parents dinner reservations for Valentine’s Day after they refused to leave her bedside. She also ordered them to not return until after midnight. She also wrote, “Holy Christmas 1990. Thank you for everything. Happy New Year,” on a Christmas card and hid it among some blank ones for her mother to find later.
While undergoing a painful medical procedure, Chiara was visited by a young woman. “When the doctors began to carry out this small, but quite demanding, procedure, a lady with a very beautiful and luminous smile came in. She came up to me and took me by the hand, and her touch filled me with courage. In the same way that she arrived, she disappeared, and I could no longer see her. But my heart was filled with a immerse joy and all fear left me. In that moment I understood that if we’re always ready for everything, God sends us many signs of his love.”
Chiara’s faith and spirit never dwindled even after the cancer left her unable to walk. In response, she simply said, “If I had to choose between walking again and going to heaven, I wouldn’t hesitate. I would choose heaven.”
Chiara on death bedOn July 19, 1989 Chiara almost died of a hemorrhage. Her faith did not falter as she said, “Don’t shed any tears for me. I’m going to Jesus. At my funeral, I don’t want people crying, but singing with all their hearts.”
Cardinal Saldarini heard about Chiara’s illness and visited her at the hospital. He asked her, “The light in your eyes is splendid. Where does it come from?” Chiara simply replied, “I try to love Jesus as much as I can.”
Before she died, she told her mother, “Oh Mamma, young people…young people…they are the future. You see, I can’t run anymore, but how I would like to pass on to them the torch, like in the Olympics! Young people have only one life and it’s worthwhile to spend it well.”
Chira’s parents with Bishop ChirayathWhen Chiara realized that she was not going to get better, she started to plan for her “wedding” (her funeral) with her mother. She chose the music, songs, flowers, and the readings for Mass.
She wanted to be buried in her “wedding dress” a white dress with a pink waist, because her death would allow her to become the bride of Christ. She told her mother, “When you’re getting me ready, Mum, you have to keep saying to yourself, ‘Chiara Luce is now seeing Jesus.'”
During her final hours, Chiara made her final confession and received the Eucharist. She had her family and friends pray with her, “Come Holy Spirit.” Chiara Badano died with her parents at her bedside. Her final words were, “Bye, Mum, Be happy, because I am.” Two thousand people attended her funeral.
Chiara’s cause for sainthood began in 1999. In December 2009, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged the miracle of a young Italian boy whose parents interceded to Chiara to heal him from meningitis that was destroying his organs. His doctors could not medically explain his sudden healing.