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Yesterday a dancer today a poor nun: Veronica tells her story

My subversive choice

 La mia scelta eversiva  DCM-010
05 November 2022

She was a professional dancer sought after by major European companies, a highly respected teacher in her native Cosenza and ready to move to Spain thanks to a scholarship to teach flamenco. A model daughter raised in a simple family, a student of Law and Economics with excellent grades, who had brilliantly completed a degree in utroque iure (in or under both canon and civil law) and was preparing to become a notary.

However, the Lord had other plans for her and, when the calling came, her response came lightning fast, unconditional, and bewildering. She hung up her dancing shoes, put her legal texts on a shelf and took the veil, renaming herself Sister Veronica Maria. Today, at 38 years of age, this young woman, whose name was originally Emanuela Fittante, with her calming smile and unwavering energy that sees her drag her habit halfway around the world to proclaim the word of God is the co-founder with Fra’ Volantino Verde. In addition, she is a general servant of the Little Brothers and Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary, a religious community of 35 (officially approved by the Church in 2019) that has its headquarters in Noto, Sicily, and branches in other parts of Italy, Mexico and the United States. The sisters live under the banner of a peremptory vow: practicing radical poverty to evangelize people through itinerant action. At the same time, they help other poor people, that is, those who find themselves in poverty but not by choice.

In what does your radical poverty consist?

We own nothing and above all, we do not handle money. Not that it is bad to have a relationship with money and things, after all, the Apostles also had a house. Nevertheless, total alienation from material goods helps us to get closer to people more easily.

What do you mean?

Radical poverty was an intuition of Brother Volantine, who in the early days, when he began his evangelization work; he came up against accusations and prejudices. People blamed the Church for its riches. Therefore, in order to open hearts to hear the word of God and bring the lost sheep back to the sacraments, our co-founder made the choice of poverty.

However, who supports you on a daily basis?

We live on Providence, on good deeds, on the help of prayer groups to whom we donate the fruits of our work in full and to whom we can turn in case of need: some of us teach in schools but do not receive remuneration directly.

Where do you live, and how?

We live in the convents of the diocese and maintain a humble style of being; we make do with the essentials. We travel on foot or by hitchhiking, sleeping wherever we can, often under the stars, never knowing when we will arrive and what unforeseen events the journey holds in store for us. The things we use, like computers and mobile phones, are borrowed. The ways of the Lord never cease to surprise us: we do not even have time to ask that people spontaneously help us, supermarkets give us food, when we travel they offer us food and shelter. All this also allows us to help those in need. It is Jesus himself who says, there is more joy in giving than in receiving.

How revolutionary is the choice to own nothing in the age of consumerism? In addition, does everyone understand it?

Poverty has always been a value, ever since the time of Jesus and St Francis who taught us not to attach ourselves to material goods. Today, there are those who understand our choice and those who find it absurd, but it is normal in a society that seeks its security in possessions. It is no coincidence that Monsignor Giuseppe Agostino, who led the Diocese of Cosenza and had been vice-president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, said that our community was a punch in the stomach of materialism.

Who are your models?

We have four saints of reference: St Francis whose poverty and itinerant vocation we take up; Father Pio for the Marian component; St Maximilian Mary Kolbe for the yearning to do apostolate work through communication; and, St Therese of Lisieux for contemplative spirituality. Ours is a semi-active, semi-contemplative community.

Did you encounter hostility, obstacles when you decided to take the veil and be poor?

Certainly not in my family. My parents, brothers and sisters supported me because, by joining a prayer community, they shared my approach in this choice. In the world of dance, however, the announcement that I would be leaving an already established career was a real shock. It was 2005 when I told them and my teacher tried in every way to dissuade me, saying that the religious world did not belong to me and that mine was an “arrogant” choice. Nevertheless, the Lord had called me and the good in me could not exist apart from Him.

What was the hardest renunciation for you?

Just dance, which has always been the great passion to which I have devoted time and energy. I had won a scholarship to Spain; a very important company was ready to hire me. I confess, it was hard to give up. Instead, once I took the veil, I never regretted material possessions. I grew up in a humble family that taught me from an early age to make sacrifices and renunciations. You could say that I had been preparing for poverty for a long time.

How did you overcome the pain of having to give up dancing?

I prayed a lot. Torn between the enthusiasm of embracing the religious life and the sorrow of not being able to dance any more, I asked the Lord to enlighten me. Moreover, I realised that I would only be happy if I did what He had chosen for me. God always came first in my life, which is why I gave up dancing with no regrets.

Why was it that before taking the veil you wanted to be a notary, a profession that would lead you to dealing in material goods, possessions, and earn a good salary?

It was the desire for redemption. Perhaps unconsciously I wanted to provide my family with the wealth that we had lacked.

Is there a difference in the Church between the vow of poverty for men and women?

No, the renunciation of material goods is a value defined in the same way for everyone. The Lord makes no difference. He sees the needs of each one and provides accordingly.

How does poverty manifest itself today?

In many different forms. The first one we think of is the destitution of those who have nothing to eat, to sleep, and to clothe themselves: we see many poor people, even in Noto, and we organize the soup kitchen for them. Our brothers and sisters who work in Mexico are also in contact with extreme poverty and try to help those who live in shantytowns, in the mud, without basic necessities; but travelling the world to evangelize people, we also come into contact with other types of poverty.

Which ones?

That which manifests itself in meanness, envy, greed. It is the intellectual poverty of those who have consecrated their lives to the pursuit of profit and power. Then there is the spiritual poverty of those who thirst for the word of the Lord. We bring it to them and they open themselves to hear it.

Do you do a lot of travelling?

Recently we walked and hitchhiked from Sicily to Portugal. Soon I will travel to the United States and Mexico. As Mother General, I have to go and visit our communities working in those parts of the world, in often very critical situations.

Sister Veronica, why did you choose to deprive yourself of everything?

I became poor in order to need others and, paradoxically, to be able to give others something: the word of God. We do not want to possess anything to be at the disposal of others. Wealth gives us the illusion of being self-sufficient but deprives us of many human relationships. We reclaim them as opportunities to take the Gospel to the world.

Is being poor a transgression today?

Without any doubt. It is much more powerful than many supposed transgressions that the world seems to suggest to us at this moment in history. Poverty is a subversive choice because it goes against the tide.  Moreover, there is no greater transgression than being consistent with one's ideals.