"Work Out Your Own Salvation" (Phil 2:12)

Author: ks. Mieczysław Piotrowski TChr

Our time on earth is brief. It is now that we decide our eternity: either we choose the unimaginable happiness of everlasting love in Christ or we choose the horrific pain of eternal loathing. God reminds us of this truth through extraordinary signs and miracles in the lives of great mystics such as Natuzza Evolo of Calabria, Italy, who died on November 1, 2009.

Fifty thousand members of the faithful, five bishops, and several hundred priests attended Natuzza’s funeral Mass, which took place on November 5, 2009. Spontaneous cries of “Santa subito!” could be heard arising from the assembled throng. In his homily, the Bishop Ordinary, Luigi Renzo, promised to launch the process of the holy woman’s beatification. The presence of so many of bishops and priests was a clear sign of the Church’s endorsement of the holiness and extraordinary gifts of this greatest of mystics of our times. Jesus had called this simple illiterate woman to a special mission: to share in His suffering through the charism of the stigmata and partake in the mystery of His Passion and Death for the salvation of humanity. Through her direct contact with the souls of the dead, she reminded the world of the reality of life after death: of the real existence of heaven, purgatory, and hell.

Childhood

On August 23, 1924, in the little town of Paravati in Calabria, nineteen-year-old Filomena Maria Angela Evolo gave birth to her first-born child, a girl, whom she named Natuzza. A month earlier, her husband, Fortunato Evolo, had left for Argentina in search of work and never contacted the family again. Over the next seven years, Natuzza’s mother bore five more children: Domenico, Antonio, Francesco, Vicente, and Pasquale. The identity of their father was unknown, but they all carried the surname Evolo. The circumstance gave the inhabitants of Paravati cause for malicious gossip and scornful remarks about Maria Angela and her “bastard” children.

Natuzza grew up in conditions of extreme hardship and want. As a five-year-old child, she would go to the bakery and stand there mutely until someone took pity on her. On receiving a few bread rolls, she would immediately take them home to share with her little brothers.

Poverty prevented Natuzza from going to school, and so she remained illiterate all her life. Despite extreme want, she was a happy child who cared for her brothers and fellow children in Paravati. Faced with all manner of hardships and troubles, she never lost heart or became despondent; rather, she overcame these difficulties with all the greater force of will, while remaining open to the needs of others and helping them wherever possible. She was a serene child, though profoundly marked by the suffering caused by her poverty and her mother’s moral turpitude. Natuzza prayed fervently to the Blessed Virgin for her conversion.

By the age of six, she had received the exceptional gift of seeing Jesus, His Blessed Mother, the angels, and the saints. When Our Lady first appeared to her, the girl did not know who she was. All this she kept to herself in accordance with her pastor’s advice.

In 1934, Maria Angela, Natuzza’s mother, was imprisoned for stealing a chicken, which she killed and cooked for her starving children. While the woman was in prison, the landlady mercilessly cast the children out of the house, since the rent was unpaid. Natuzza and her brothers found themselves on the street and had to sleep outside on the steps of buildings.

These were very painful days for Natuzza. She prayed fervently to the Madonna for help. One day, while so praying, she heard a voice: “Courage! I will find you a place to live.” Indeed, a few days later, a place was found for the orphans in a newly built communal dwelling. St. Francis da Paola appeared to Natuzza assuring her that her mother would soon come home and that she herself would be able to help her family. Three days later, Maria Angela was released from prison and came home. Natuzza was offered a maid’s position in the house of a lawyer by the name of Colloca. From then on she was able to support her family with her meager monthly earnings.

Meeting the souls of the dead

All this time, Natuzza held frequent conversations with Jesus and His Blessed Mother. In addition, invisible stigmata appeared on her body, inflicting great suffering upon her every Friday and throughout the season of Lent.

In the summer of 1939, God imparted to Natuzza the gift of meeting the souls of deceased persons. At first she had difficulty in distinguishing them from living people. In time she became used to their presence and ceased to fear them. She treated them as one would close and intimate friends. Through Natuzza, God allowed these souls to persuade their relatives of the existence of life after death—of the real existence of heaven, purgatory, and hell. They called their kin to repentance, to a life lived in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church, to daily persevering prayer and frequent reception of the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist.

The first addressees of these messages were Silvio and Alba Colloca at whose house Natuzza worked. At first, the couple had their doubts and would not believe the girl, since she was having these mysterious experiences every day. In the end, they decided to inform the church authorities who decided that the fifteen-year-old Natuzza should undergo the rite of exorcism. This was a painful humiliation for her, but she submitted to the procedure with docility. During the exorcism, she said to the priests: “You pray to God to release me from demons, but I do not see them here, only a host of angels.”

The exorcisms revealed without a shadow of doubt that Natuzza was not under the influence of unclean spirits. That evening, on her way home from her mortifying experience, she met a monk in a Dominican habit. He blessed her and identified himself as St. Thomas Aquinas. He told her that from that day forth she would be meeting souls from purgatory during the day and at night. St. Thomas’s blessing strengthened Natuzza in the conviction that her encounters with the souls of the dead were the initiative and will of God Himself. Before long, the local church authorities would acknowledge their authenticity.

First stigmata and bilocations

In 1938, a strange phenomenon occurred. Every day, blood would flow from the parts of Natuzza’s body where Jesus bore His wounds. Medical tests revealed that she was in good health and had no wounds; yet despite this, blood seeped through her skin. Moreover, on the bandages and dressings used to wipe Natuzza’s blood, there appeared images of Jesus, Mary, the saints, and, stranger still, inscriptions with prayers in Latin, French, English, German, Greek, and Aramaic—that is, in tongues which the girl could not possibly have known.

Doctors first scientifically documented these strange phenomena in 1939. Upon applying and removing Natuzza’s dressing, Dr. Domenico Naccari witnessed part of the text of the prayer to the Infant Jesus appearing on it. When he applied the next bandage, the rest of the prayer appeared. The doctors were astounded, especially since they had applied the dressings themselves and verified that no one had previously written these texts. The bandages bearing these inscriptions and sacred symbols have been preserved to this day. Natuzza tried hard to hide her mysterious hemorrhages from others; but this proved impossible. The hemorrhages and inscriptions appeared independently of her will.

In 1939, people began to talk of instances of bilocation. In this manner, the girl was able to visit various individuals requiring spiritual assistance. Often she appeared in the company of angels and deceased persons. Word of these extraordinary charisms quickly spread throughout the town. Not only laypeople, but also members of the clergy, priests and bishops, began to pay her visits.

The Episcopal curia discreetly observed Natuzza. Appointed for this purpose was the rector of Mileto Cathedral, Msgr. F. Pititto, who held talks with the girl, described the various extraordinary experiences occurring in her life, and furnished corroborating medical documents. The medical examinations conducted under Dr. Naccari’s supervision ruled out any possibility that Natuzza’s hemorrhages were of hysterical origin. Psychiatrists confirmed that the girl was mentally sound; everything pointed to the authenticity of her supernatural visions, ecstasies, and conversations with the dead. The church authorities were inclined to believe that Natuzza’s experiences came from God and not through the intervention of unclean spirits.

The skepticism of Bishop Albera and Dr. Gemelli

In December of 1939, Paolo Albera, Bishop of the Diocese of Mileto, sought the opinion of the famous convert Dr. Agostino Gemelli, rector of the Catholic University of Milan (the same one who attributed St. Padre Pio’s stigmata to psychopathological and hysterical causes). In his reply, Dr. Gemelli cast doubt on the medical examinations conducted on Natuzza. He took Dr. Naccari severely to task and stated his opinion that all these extraordinary phenomena were of hysterical origin. He urged the church authorities to stop paying attention to them and things would soon quiet down.

Bishop Albera decided to follow Dr. Gemelli’s advice. Bowing to Dr. Gemelli’s criticism, Dr. Naccari changed his opinion regarding Natuzza and inclined to the view that her extraordinary experiences were of hysterical origin.

But with Natuzza there was no quieting down. In June 29, 1940, Bishop Albera came to Paravati to administer the sacrament of confirmation. When he anointed Natuzza’s forehead with chrism, the girl suddenly felt an agonizing pain in her back. After a while, there appeared on it a large bloody wound in the shape of a cross. Everyone present saw it clearly imprinted on the girl’s white blouse. Thus, by degrees, Jesus was leading Natuzza into the mystery of sharing in His suffering for the salvation of mankind.

In 1967, Jesus spoke to Natuzza: “I asked you in 1938, ‘May I lean on you with one finger?’ You replied, ‘Yes.’ Another time, in 1944, I asked you, ‘May I lean on you with one hand?’ You replied, ‘Yes.’ Then, in 1966, I asked you: ‘May I lean on you with both my arms?’ And you answered with joy in your heart, “Yes, love me and lead me with your crosses.’”

A few days after the confirmation, Our Lady appeared to Natuzza informing her that on July 26, 1940 she would experience an apparent death. Natuzza did not understand what she meant by “apparent death.” She took it to mean that she would die on July 26. News of this traversed the whole of Italy like a lightning bolt, arousing great interest among the journalists. On the day of the predicted death, large throngs of people gathered outside the Colloca house, among them journalists reporting for the biggest newspapers and also doctors who were prepared to render medical assistance.

In the evening of July 26, Natuzza fell into a state of torpor. She lost all contact with the outside world, and her body began to stiffen. She remained in this state of torpidity for seven hours. The doctors administered numerous injections to rouse her, but all to no purpose. After seven hours, Natuzza suddenly regained consciousness as if nothing had happened. During those seven hours of apparent death, Natuzza experienced visions, including one of a church and accompanying buildings that would be built in Paravati in the future. The crowd outside was surprised that the prediction of death had not come true, and so they began to doubt everything Natuzza had told them.

After this, the bishop ordered Natuzza to undergo immediate treatment at the psychiatric hospital in Reggio di Calabria. In the summer of 2009, she would recall her stay in the hospital as follows: “They sent me to a madhouse. They said I was a crazy hysteric and had to undergo treatment. I went there with my head held high. I knew this was the will of God, since I was also able to help everybody who needed it, by serving them in that place.”

During her stay in the hospital, Natuzza’s one solace were the comforting apparitions of Our Lady. Mary told her that she was a child of God; she urged her to stop crying, since she had chosen obedience to God by bowing to the bishop’s decision.

During her two-month stay in the psychiatric hospital, Natuzza talked with the inmates, prayed with and for them, consoled them by speaking of God and His great mercy. She used to say: “In every sick person one must see Jesus. One must love them as if they were Jesus Himself.”

In the hospital, during the day and at night, Natuzza enjoyed frequent visits by souls from purgatory. She also experienced mystical ecstasies. The doctors marveled at the blood seeping through her healthy skin. On wiping the blood, they would find sacred symbols, inscriptions, and the texts of prayers on the bandages and dressings. The hospital director had Natuzza undergo the Rorschach test, which was used to diagnose psychological anomalies. The results to these tests were unequivocal: Natuzza showed no sign of mental illness. Autosuggestion was ruled out, and the phenomena observed on the girl could not be explained in terms of existing knowledge. Only parapsychology, some hoped, would provide an answer.

The hospital director, Doctor Puca, was of the opinion that marriage, childbearing, and mothering were the best remedy for Natuzza. But Natuzza was so in love with Jesus that she had no thought of getting married. In 2001, she would observe to Fr. Cordioni: “When I first saw Jesus, I was a little girl. I fell in love with Him, and so I said, ‘I will never get married. I want to be a nun.’ Today I am even more in love with Him.” Natuzza asked to join the community of sisters that worked at the hospital. But they would not accept an illiterate woman.

Over the course of her two months in hospital, Natuzza underwent every possible medical test; in the end, there was no reason to keep her hospitalized any longer. The girl returned home just before Christmas.

Early married life

The doctors reckoned that early marriage was the best remedy for Natuzza. When she was discharged from the hospital, Giuseppina and Antonio, her maternal grandparents, accepted her lovingly into their home. Natuzza was one of the most beautiful girls in Paravati. The local youths began to be interested in her, especially Pasquale Nicolace. Everyone, including the parish priest, urged Natuzza to take him for a husband. The girl would not have dreamed of taking this step if she had not received direct indications from Jesus and Mary that she should enter into the sacrament of matrimony and learn to be a loving wife and mother.

Natuzza’s betrothal to Pasquale took place in the presence of the parish priest. The Second World War being then in progress, Pasquale was enlisted into the army and sent to the front. The church authorities decided to hasten the wedding, which took place on August 14, 1943 in the Cathedral of Mileto—per procura, i.e. in the absence of the groom. When Pasquale returned on January 14, 1944, the couple received a matrimonial blessing from the parish priest and took up residence in a shabby dwelling in the center of Paravati. Pasquale worked as a carpenter.

Despite the predictions of the doctors, the young bride’s mystical experiences continued unabated. The mysterious hemorrhages, the stigmata, the apparitions of Jesus and Mary, and the encounters with the souls of purgatory never left off. People flocked to her house with requests for prayer.

Natuzza would recall that period in 1989: “Jesus always came to me with His help. I was always able to reconcile what I had to do for the family with what I had to do for the people. I rose early every morning and went to bed late. I always managed to carry out my household duties. I never let my children go hungry or failed to iron their shirts.

“When I got married, I lived in a poor, ugly house. My neighbors asked me, ‘Natuzza, do you need any furniture?’ I would say to them, ‘I have everything I need.’ And yet we had only three bed sheets. I was happy and I was thankful to God. ‘At least I have three bed sheets,’ I thought. There were those who did not even have a bed to sleep in. One must always be grateful, since everything is a gift and a grace.”

On January 17, 1944, three days into their marriage, Natuzza was experiencing doubts as to whether married life lived to its fullest was really what Jesus wanted of her. Suddenly, the room became filled with a heavenly light, and Our Lady appeared to her. Natuzza tearfully apologized to her for receiving her in so ugly a house. Mary told her not to worry, as there would arise a new house, which would be called the Immaculate Heart of Mary Refuge of Souls. Thus the Blessed Mother prophesied that Paravati would have a new church with a Marian shrine—the very one Natuzza had seen in the minutest detail in her vision of July 26, 1940, while in her state of “apparent death.” The shrine was to be a refuge for sinners and also for the souls of purgatory, since human souls never die.

Our Lady asked Natuzza not to reveal this plan to anyone until she received clear instructions on the matter. This would occur forty years later, when, after a conversation with the parish priest, the Association of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Refuge of Souls was formed, and later became a foundation.

On January 17, 1944, Jesus appeared to Natuzza in the company of the Apostle John, who said nothing but only smiled. Natuzza tearfully complained to Jesus that ever since her marriage she had not felt worthy of His love. “I love you always—Jesus replied—even more so when you earnestly carry out your duties as wife and mother.” And He added: “I am giving you fresh, fragrant flowers; woe to you if you do not watch over them.” Three days later, Our Lady explained to Natuzza that the flowers Jesus had spoken of were people who would come to her, and that Natuzza’s task was to lead them to conversion. During the apparition of January 17, 1944, there could be heard within a radius of 100 meters of the house the sound of a heavenly choir so sublime that the local inhabitants and passers-by listened to it with rapture and enchantment. Here was a clear sign to the inhabitants of Paravati that God had chosen Natuzza to carry out an important mission. From then on, every time Natuzza was in one of her mystical states, the people gathered in her house would hear this wondrous music issuing from the breast of the mystic rapt in an ecstasy.

First years of ministry

Throngs of people began flocking to the Evolo house. They sought Natuzza’s advice, begged for prayers, information about their dead, about soldiers killed or missing. Natuzza received them all and answered their questions. She seemed to have a preternatural knowledge of their affairs. With complete sincerity she would say that she did nothing more than repeat aloud what these peoples’ guardian angels were saying to her. Natuzza saw the dead who accompanied the people coming to her for help. At first, she could not tell living and dead people apart; and so she would ask each person if he was dead or not.

God bestowed on Natuzza the gift of seeing angels in beautiful, shining human-like bodies. Angels are pure spirits, whose task is to accompany each human being, to help them overcome temptations, guide them through the difficult experiences of earthly life, and strengthen them in their purgatorial suffering. After death, these angels leave only those who have condemned themselves to the eternity of hell by their sins.

During one of these meetings with her guardian angel, Natuzza expressed regret that she was unable to help the poor materially, since she herself lived in great material poverty. By way of a reply, she heard the words: “It is better to be poor in earthly goods than to be poor in spirit and faith. The best assistance you can render these people is to pray for them. Praying for others is the greatest expression of love.”

Through Natuzza, the guardian angel conveyed a very important message: “There is nothing more beautiful on earth than to love God with all your heart. At the moment of death, man’s greatest regret will be the fact that he did not become a saint. From one minute to the next, you should do everything for the sake of love, and you will become saints.”

All those who met Natuzza, even those who came out of idle curiosity, felt a calling to live their life with a strong faith without compromise—a faith expressed in daily persevering prayer.

In time, the church authorities began to soften their attitude toward Natuzza. The new bishop, Enrico Nicodemo, was of the opinion that they had to wait patiently and avoid making premature and definitive pronouncements. Many priests radically changed their opinion of Natuzza. They moved from a position of complete skepticism to one of wonder at her humility and depth and simplicity of faith, and finally to one of full acceptance of her supernatural gifts.

Beside each person who came to visit her, Natuzza saw an angel in the form of the most beautiful child. It would always stand on the right side of a layperson, and on the left of a priest. Thus Natuzza was instantly able to recognize a priest who tried to conceal his identity by wearing non-clerical dress.

Like St. Padre Pio’s, Natuzza’s body gave off a beautiful scent of flowers. The same fragrance emanated from the rosaries, crucifixes, and holy images she touched. Thousands of people detected this fragrance even at great distances; it served them as a sign of Natuzza’s spiritual presence. Here then was a special sign bestowed upon her by God attesting to her sanctity.

In one of her apparitions, Our Lady said to Natuzza: “Our Savior has charged you with a very important, painful, and difficult task. Do not lose courage. He aids and accompanies you. Through His sufferings you will save many souls.”

On her body, Natuzza bore the stigmata—the wounds that were inflicted on Jesus during His Passion. Great suffering marked her entire life. Thanks to her prayers, hundreds of thousands of people experienced special graces, spiritual rebirth, conversion, and healing from all kinds of incurable illnesses.

Natuzza’s deeds and words were proof of her great humility. About herself, Natuzza would say: “I am nothing. I am a worm. I do not know what to say. I am not a seer. I do not work miracles. All I do is pray, and Jesus works the miracles. Jesus and the Mother of God give me strength to impart great joy and serenity of heart to others, to those of high rank and to the simple—to all without exception.”

Another time she said: “I have been seeing the dead since I was a child. The first time it happened I was ten years old. It is as normal for me as seeing living people; in fact, I am on more intimate terms with them than with the living. The only time I do not see them is on Fridays and during Lent. As for the other days, I meet them constantly. Sometimes I see the saints, but not always. The Mother of God and Jesus appear to me during Lent, on Holy Thursday, and Good Friday. Jesus and Mary tell me to be good, meek, and merciful. They tell me the world is not the light, but darkness. Jesus suffers, for the whole world renews His crucifixion. The Mother of God tells us we should pray much and say the rosary. I recognize many situations thanks to my informers who are the angels. I see them as ten-year-old children, without wings—not as they are represented in images, but as beautiful shining children who always impart good counsel. Every one of us has a guardian angel at his side. I see them beside living people, but not beside the dead. Angels suggest many things to people living on earth. I see angels standing on the right side of laypeople and on the left of priests. It happens sometimes that a priest comes to me dressed like a layperson. Right away I see he is a priest, since I see his guardian angel at his left side. I kiss his hand, and he says to me, ‘How did you know?’ I answer, ‘I see your guardian angel at your left side.” (To be continued)

Fr. Mieczysław Piotrowski SChr

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