Saint of the Day – 23 January – Blessed Benedetta Bianchi Porro (1936-1964) Laywoman – born on 8 August 1936 at Dovádola, Forli, Italy and died on 23 January 1964 at Sirmione, Italy of complications resulting from her Recklinghausen DiseaseNeuro-Fibromatosis.
Benedetta Bianchi Porro was born at Dovadola as the second of six children to Guido Bianchi Porro and Elsa Giammarchi. She was baptised “in necessity” at the request of her mother with water from Lourdes, she received formal baptism on the following 13 August with the name of “Benedetta Bianca Maria”. Three months after her birth she fell ill with polio and required a brace on her left leg and an orthopedic shoe in order to prevent her spine from deforming. From March to May 1937 she suffered repeated bouts of bronchitis.
From the age of five she began to keep a journal in which to record experiences, one such entry was at the age of seven: “The universe is enchanting! It is great to be alive!” Porro attended school at a Convent school run by the Ursulines Benedetta was always very homesick while away at school. In 1942, the family moved to Sirmione.
During her childhood on one particular occasion, her brother Gabriele was involved in a brawl with a boy who mockingly called Porro a cripple and while the mothers of both boys separated them, she said: “He called me ‘the cripple’ – what is wrong with that? It’s the truth!”
In May 1944 she received her First Communion in the Church of the Annunciation where she received a Rosary that she would always keep with her. A fortnight later she was Confirmed by the Bishop of Modigliana, Maximilian Massimiliani. For the 1950 Holy Year convoked by Pope Pius XII, she and her aunt Carmen travelled on pilgrimages to Assisi, Rome and Loreto.
At the age of thirteen she began to lose her hearing. She first noticed this on 15 February 1953 when questioned by a teacher in Latin class as she was unable to hear all the questions put to her. At this time, Benedetta also began to stagger and required the use of a cane in order to walk.
In October 1953 – at the age of seventeen – she travelled to Milan where she went to enroll in a physics course in order to appease her father but she instead discovered that her true calling was to medicine. Here also, she realised that her true vocation was to engage with others as a doctor, to help those who needed aid the most. Some of her teachers opposed having a pre-medical student who was partially deaf but she proved to be a brilliant student.
Her illness progressed to the point where she was admitted into a nursing home on 12 July 1955 for a femur condition and for the subsequent rehabilitation. On the following 26 October, she asked for permission to enroll in clinical medicine and pathology courses. In November 1955, she was permitted to retake an oral examination from the previous summer but she did so in writing instead and passed with excellent results.
In 1957 her studies reached the point where she could diagnose herself – it was soon discovered that she had fallen victim to the rare Von Recklinghausen’s disease, which would leave her blind and deaf. Due to her illness, she was forced to leave medical school. Confined to her home, she began to evangelise others through correspondences in which she discussed faith and love of God. Friends from medical school visited her on a frequent basis.
Benedetta underwent several operations on her head in the next few years. Before the last of these, on 27 February 1963, Benedetta admitted her fear to Maria Grazia, who reminded her of this passage from Diary of a Country Priest, a novel by Georges Bernanos: “If I am afraid, I will say without shame, ‘I’m afraid’ and the Lord will give me the strength.” For a long time, Benedetta softly repeated this phrase and bit by bit, peace took hold of her. She thanked her friend effusively. The day after the operation, she announced that she was now blind but she asked that no- one tell the surgeon, so as not to sadden him. She accepted this cross of blindness that in 1955 had terrified her and her soul was at peace: “There is nothing to do but trust in God, with eyes closed. I am in the process of living simplicity, that is, the stripping of the soul. How beautiful it is! One becomes so light and free!”
Although, towards the end, she lost all the senses – the last were taste and sight – Benedetta continued to serve and heal others. Assisted at home by her mother, she communicated through sign language (with one hand) and transmitted to the world her messages. Although blind, she was able to see into the soul of those who came to visit her, understanding, even before they themselves, what they needed. She discovered that silence is the means by which God speaks to the soul and in that total silence of her senses, she grew in intimacy with Jesus. “We need to give God to others, without love, nothing matters,” she wrote in the diary.
In May 1962 she undertook a pilgrimage to Lourdes. There, she met 22-year-old Maria who was sobbing beside her. Porro took her hand and urged her to beseech the Blessed Virgin Mary for her intercession, at which point Maria was healed.
At the end of a pilgrimage to Lourdes said, “I don’t need a cure. I have faith and that is enough. I came for others.” And that statement fuelled her intention to be little and to give extraordinary love in the everyday things of each day. “Whoever comes closer to Jesus through suffering – she suggested to a young visitor – will become kinder, whoever distances himself becomes more cruel without even realising.”
From that point on, for nearly a year, Benedetta was like an inaccessible castle, with neither doors nor windows. Nevertheless, two little ‘peepholes’ remained open to the outside world—a weak voice to make herself heard and her left hand, which ‘miraculously’ remained functional. With the fingers of this functioning hand, her loved ones traced on her face the letters of the Italian alphabet for the deaf, which she did not see but could feel (for example, the «b» was formed with the tips of the index finger and middle finger pressing together, resting on the cheek). She could thus communicate! Her room was besieged by visitors who came to encourage her but also to ask for her help.
Benedetta had the gift of spreading joy around her. She gave advice and showed everyone the ‘narrow way’ that leads to God. She told her best friend, who could not bear to see her physically suffering so much: “We must accept the mystery, Maria Grazia. What fills us with anguish is asking ourselves ‘why’. The Lord gives us as much suffering as we can bear—not more, not less.” Her friend would later testify, “I then unexpectedly noticed something that had changed in her since becoming blind. A great peace enveloped her, as though she felt completely freed from fear and anxiety.” Don Gabriele, a priest who often brought her Holy Communion, would receive this confidence: “If for a brief instant, temptations arise, I call on Him and even if I am pale with fear, I immediately feel the presence of the Lord, who consoles me.”
On 21 January 1964, feeling that the definitive meeting with Jesus her Spouse was very near, Benedetta made her Confession and received Communion. During the night of the 22nd, she asked her nurse to remain close by, because Satan was tempting her: “Emilia, tomorrow I will die. I feel very ill.” In the morning, her mother noticed that a white rose had opened in the garden. A rose in bloom, in January! She announced her discovery to Benedetta, who replied, “This is the sign I was waiting for!” She then reminded her of a dream she had had on the previous All Saints’ Day – she went into the family burial vault and saw it decorated with a white rose dazzling with light. A little later, stricken by a hemorrhage, she died at the age of twenty-seven, murmuring, “Thank you.”
Declared venerable by St Pope John Paul II, Benedetta Bianchi Porro was laid to rest in a Sarcophagus in the Abbey of Saint Andrew, in Dovadola near Forlì.
Pope Francis confirmed a miracle attributed to her intercession in a decree on 7 November 2018. She was Beatified on 14 September 2019. The Beatification recognition was celebrated at the Cathedral of Santa Croce in Forlì, Italy, presided by Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu.
The current Postulator of the cause is Father Guglielmo Camera.