· Vatican City ·

Sandra, who did not want
a life full of nothing

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06 November 2021

A girl from today’s world growing up in an ordinary family


“The exceptional in the non-exceptional”. This is how Father Antonio Marrazzo, postulator of the cause for beatification -who examined testimonies, writings and an unexplainable healing-, explains the sanctity of Sandra Sabattini. A modern girl from Rimini, who grew up in a family like many others. Home life, her studies and friends, membership in a Catholic movement, and a boyfriend. This young girl with brown hair and an open smile was hit by a car at the age of 23, while going to a meeting of the Pope John XXIII Community. By the will of Pope Francis, Sandra was blessed last October 24.

The first “engaged saint”, according to a definition by Don Oreste Benzi, who was the first to realize her greatness. Yet, reconstructing her story, it seems that her life was anything but “great”. Born on August 19, 1961 in Riccione, she initially lived in Misano Adriatico, a small town on the Riviera Romagnola, with her parents and younger brother. At the age of three, she moved with her family to the rectory of the parish of San Girolamo, in Rimini, where her maternal uncle, Don Giuseppe, was the parish priest, a stone’s throw from the Grand Hotel, in Rimini, a place of fun and entertainment. The big thing that happened in this small rectory was Sandra learned to call Jesus “You”. Already at the age of 10, unbeknownst to anyone, she entrusted her thoughts to sheets of paper. However, it was at the age of 12 that the encounter of a lifetime took place. Don Benzi, founder of the Pope John XXIII Community, went to her uncle’s parish for a meeting with adolescents there. Sandra was blown away. She began to follow these people. She decided to take part in a vacation with disabled children in Canazei. When she returned home, she told her mother: “We broke our bones, but I will never abandon these people”. And this is how it would be. From here on, Sandra’s life was intertwined with that of these friends. She followed them, sensing that therein lies the answer to the yearning, which she had and was always stronger, for a life full of meaning. Like all adolescents, she went through moments of crisis; but of profound insights too. In the meantime, that “You” she learned to pronounce in her uncle’s church became increasingly familiar.

In 1980, after graduating from high school, she was undecided about what to do. She would have liked to have left for Africa, writing, “Lord, I am waiting for you to show me the definitive concrete choice”. To which she added, “I feel more and more the need for a radical choice, but I do not know in what sense and how to make this choice (what to do, whether to go to university, or not?)”. She confronted Don Oreste who advised her to enroll in Medical school in Bologna. She did so. Though, she understood that the problem was more fundamental; “Now it is about one thing, about choosing. But what?” Continuing, “Yes, Lord, I choose the poorest’ is too easy now, it is useless if when I go out it is all the same as before. No, I say: I choose You and that’s it”. Here was the vital choice, that putting a Person before everything else. “There was, in her”, explains Don Riccardo Battaglia, who is now the parish priest of the church of San Girolamo, “a radicalness in immediately perceiving that which fills the heart is the relationship with Christ. And this was also clear in her service to the lowliest. There was no social commitment on the one hand and community life on the other. The relationship with Jesus was what she looked for in the poor, in the disabled, in being with the young people in the therapeutic community”.

She changed her free time. She spent the summer of 1980 in a foster home. The next, in one of the first communities for drug addicts, in Igea.  As soon as she had a free weekend, she went to them. In the meantime, in 1978, she met Guido, who was two years older than her, who was also part of the Pope John XXIII Community. They became engaged. But even this relationship was linked to everything else. She wrote in her Diary, “Engagement; something integral to a vocation; what I live of availability and love towards others is what I also live for Guido, they are two interpenetrating things”. Guido was an architect. About Sandra, he tells us, “I was struck by her judgments, sometimes sharp, that went to the substance of things. She knew how to dismantle unordered constructions, and she was able to see the good and give thanks even in difficulties. Above all, I was struck by her selfless search for the person of Jesus and the joy she placed in entrusting herself to Him. Her unity and clarity of life always shone through. She was constantly searching for a radical way, understood as fullness of life”. She wrote: “I don’t want to live a life full of nothing”. And she also dragged her fiancé into this search. For example, they had gotten into the habit, on the first day of the year, of getting up early to go to church to pray. “It wasn’t an act of mysticism”, Guido recalled, “but it was nice for me to be involved in a joy that only unity with the Lord can offer”. Another time she took him with her to a family with autistic children. “One evening”, Guido recounted again, “we were out for a walk. On a dark stretch, she said to me, ‘If God didn’t exist I would be desperate’. There, for her, God was as vital as the air she breathed”.

This was Sandra’s secret. “She lived the life of a very normal girl”, Father Marrazzo further explained, “in a kind of daily mysticism, a personal relationship with God. In her there was not only the awareness that Christ was present, but that he was alive, I could talk to him”. The pages of her Diary were all composed with this daily dialogue with a divine You. It was this relationship that changed everything. At a certain point, this was what Stefano Vitali understood, as the protagonist of an inexplicable healing, recognized by the Church as a miracle that occurred through the intercession of Sandra Sabattini. He was a councillor in the municipality of Rimini - later to become president of the Province - and in July 2007, at the height of his life and career, he discovered he had 37 lymph nodes with metastases in his intestine. He was operated on. However, the head physician, after leaving the operating room, told his wife that he only had a few months to live.

At the beginning of September, Don Benzi, whom he too had been following for years, told him to pray to Sandra and asked the entire community to do so. A few months later, trace of and metastasis were absent. Four years later, he was cured. This is a medically unexplainable fact. But it didn’t end there. “When I got well”, he told us, “my life continued normally. Then, after three years, the boyfriends of two of my co-workers died. One of them told me, “He didn’t make it”. Where it was implied, “You did”. When you have the knowledge that you are a survivor, you have a sense of guilt about the time you are wasting. You say to yourself, “If the Lord saved me, it will be for something great. Instead, nothing was happening”. Then, re-reading Sandra’s Diary, he realized. “She was the opposite of me, always saying yes to any proposal made to her. Without looking for something in return, without expecting anything. I understood how I was supposed to live. I, now, do what I am asked to do, in the everyday”. Now he follows the projects abroad of the Pope John community. “To trust, to say yes every day to what is there, this is what Sandra taught me”. Don Battaglia told us: “Someone could say: “Sandra was just a normal girl, a Christian, but nothing special”. Instead this was exactly the news. This means that health was not an exceptionality for a few, but the fabric of the Christian experience, tout court”. Since October, the Church has been reminding everyone of this through Sandra.

by Elisa Calessi