It was Palm Sunday 2013. Pope Francis was speaking to young people, who were gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the annual World Youth Day celebration. He said: “You are not ashamed of his Cross! On the contrary, you embrace it, because you have understood that it is in giving ourselves, in giving ourselves, in emerging from ourselves that we have true joy and that, with his love, God conquered evil.”
Carlotta Nobile was following the celebration on television at her home in Benevento, Italy. She heard Pope Francis’ words and, at that moment, everything suddenly made sense: her illness, her suffering and her life which, at age 22, was already reaching its end.
A precocious and highly talented violinist; a renowned concert performer, despite her young age; a student of art history at La Sapienza and Luiss in Rome, as well as the University of Cambridge and at Sotheby’s Institute in New York and author of two books — up to that point Carlotta Nobile had raced through life, the wind blowing through the long blonde hair that made her look almost Scandinavian.
“I am like a river,” she wrote in 2007, “that, in order to flow into the sea, always chooses the longest, most torturous road. The most difficult. Perhaps it’s because, deep down, I believe that winning easily is like losing, and that losing to the impossible is like having won, for the sole fact of having tried. This is how my life has been: a challenge. And I think this is the way it will always be.”
In fact, when Carlotta learned she had cancer, she took on the illness as a challenge to be overcome. In April 2012 she opened a Facebook page, titled “Cancer, and then …” on which she posted her thoughts and reflections, sharing them with the many people who were fighting the same battle, offering them help and moral support. She shared with her “second family” on social media the “extraordinary thing” that happened to her after a hospitalization in Milan, “and after the news of the new brain metastases, in addition to those in the lungs and liver.”
She wrote: “I found the faith and surrender, to believe that the cross of this terrible cancer is an incredible OPPORTUNITY FOR GROWTH for me, although sometimes all of us who have cancer know how hard it is to live with it. … The way I live with this cancer (right now, when it is acting most aggressive with me!!!) has become a unique serenity and trust. … And all this thanks to FAITH and our extraordinary Pope Francis … who says that young people should carry the cross with joy.”
Everyone close to Carlotta — her parents, her beloved brother, Matteo, her fiancé, Alessandro, her friends — have become witnesses of her extraordinary trust, of her unconditional surrender to God, which she expressed in her continual recitation of the Our Father.
To her mother, the violin teacher who handed on the passion for the instrument, Carlotta would write short messages such as: “Mamma … cancer is the best thing that has happened to me …”
“But it’s true!!!”
“That is, I would have lost the best part of myself.”
“I’m very sorry not to be able to shout it from the rooftops to everyone. Because truly it’s the thing I’m most proud of in my life.”
“More than all I’ve done in 24 years, more than all the hard work I’ve done!”
Is she a saint? Or “a little crazy,” as her mother affectionately responded, torn apart by the worst suffering a parent can face. “But wonderful … capable of showing a love for life beyond limits … there is an extraordinary spirituality in all of this. … Incredible. … That is why you are and will be helped.”
In Rome’s Church of St. James, Carlotta met the parish priest, Don Giuseppe Trappolini. She told him her story, describing her battle with melanoma and the joy she experienced in hearing the words of Pope Francis. Fr. Trappolini decided to write to the pope, to tell him Carlotta’s story.
When Pope Francis received the letter, with typical spontaneity he called the parish priest to thank him and to assure Carlotta of his prayers. Carlotta also wrote to the pope to tell him about her trust in life and her encounter with God: “I know that cancer has healed my soul by loosening all my interior knots and giving me faith, trust, surrender and an immense serenity right at the time when my illness was most severe.”
Can someone become a saint in just a few months? As for being raised to the altars — i.e., the official recognition of the Church of a person’s sanctity, as in the case of St. Dominico Savio, St. Therese of Lisieux or Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati — only God knows if and when it will happen, Fr. Trappolini says.
Nevertheless, he adds, “Carolotta’s holiness as a person who was able to encounter God in this life and in the next, for me, is sure. I am certain that she sanctified the final months of her life in the most canonical way we know: a life of deep faith, prayer, and suffering. She united her life to Christ Crucified. This is holiness. I really believe that holiness is an encounter with the Lord. We are the ones who think about time.”
Carlotta Nobile died on July 16, 2013, at the age of 24. Her desire to meet Pope Francis, who had made himself available, would not be realized. Nor was Carlotta able to participate in the three concerts organized in collaboration with the “Givers of Music Association” (l’Associazione Donatori di Musica), which brings together musicians to play in hospital cancer wards to assist medical treatment.
After Carlotta’s death, concerts, art exhibitions, events and awards were established in her memory. In 2015 the “Carlotta Nobile Study Center Association” (l’Associazione Centro Studi Carlotta Nobile) was founded with the goal of promoting activities and initiatives “connected to her cultural research, her passion and her immense love for life.”
(Translation from the Italian by Diane Montagna of Aleteia’s English edition. This appeared in aleteia.org on April 27, 2016.)