Picture a teenage girl. She spends most weekends with her friends, sometimes going out for a hike on a nice day. She wears t-shirts and shorts to go out and play tennis. She loves to dance and sing. She goes to school. She takes goofy pictures and talks on the phone with friends. She is full of life and is determined to live every moment to the fullest.
Do you see a saint when you picture this girl?
This girl is Chiara Badano, born in 1971 in the Italian village of Savona. Her parents had been praying for a child for years before Chiara entered their lives. As an only child, Chiara was the light of her family’s life. Her typical childhood made Chiara an average kid, but it was her tender heart that set her apart at a very early age.
When her mother encouraged her to donate some of her toys to children of poor families in the community, 4-year-old Chiara pulled together a pile of brand-new toys. Her mother, thinking that the new toys were piled for Chiara to keep for herself, was shocked to find out that Chiara planned to give them away. When asked why she would give away these new toys, Chiara replied, “I can’t give old toys to poor children!”
A light to the world
When Chiara was 9, she got involved with a Catholic movement, Focolare, that completely transformed her understanding of living boldly and cooperating with God. Chiara had a knack for not just telling people of God’s love, but rather showing them this love through her charitable actions, contagious joy, and selfless sensitivity. Her friends found in her a sympathetic listener just as much as they found an adventurous companion. She never failed to use her gifts and talents to point all those around her back to the light of God’s love. Chiara was so vibrant and full of life that she was given the nickname Luce, which means “light.”
The Focolare movement helped Chiara see that the key to unity with God was growing close to those who are suffering, an insight that she’d come to experience intimately.
Suffering with grace
When she was 16, Chiara started experiencing sharp pain in her shoulder. She soon discovered that she had a rare form of bone cancer. Doctors started treatments immediately, but these were excruciatingly painful. Rather than complain about the pain, Chiara used her suffering as an opportunity to pray — to unite herself with the suffering Jesus experienced. Because of the cancer treatments, Chiara began to lose her hair. With each strand that fell out, Chiara would offer it up as a prayer, saying, “For you, Jesus.”
It soon became apparent that she wouldn’t live much longer. Her parents had been keeping vigil at her bedside from the beginning of her journey, and she told them to go out and enjoy a date night in order to get used to life without her. She was constantly thinking of others before herself. She wanted her parents to continue to live their lives to fullest, and wanted them to know that she was going to heaven to be with the One whom her soul loved above all else.
Chiara died on October 7, 1990 after receiving the Eucharist. Her final words to her mother were, “Be happy, because I am.” Her friends and family opened Chiara’s cause for sainthood, and in 2009 Pope Benedict XVI officially attributed a miracle to Chiara’s intercession. A young Italian boy miraculously recovered from an aggressive form of meningitis after doctors gave him 48 hours to live. His parents had asked Chiara Badano to pray for their son’s healing.
Model of light
Chiara is a model of what it means to offer up suffering as a form of prayer — as a way to grow closer to Jesus, who suffered for us in love. This modern-day girl, who lived an extraordinarily ordinary life, is now on her way to sainthood.
Chiara’s eternally positive outlook is one I hope to imitate. She was grateful to God for every blessing in her life, and let that gratefulness lead her. It is a simple way of living that all of us can look to and imitate. In spite of her pain, she kept a smile on her face and strove to bring joy to all.
Her example of holiness and joyfulness in suffering is one that we can all learn from. Perhaps our pain is watching somebody we love suffer from cancer; perhaps it is the pain of having our heart broken; perhaps it is a physical pain in experiencing some medical issue; perhaps it is feeling the disappointment of a setback in our career. No matter how trivial our pain may seem, there is always light to be found and shared in that suffering and pain. It is not meaningless, just as Chiara’s life shows us.
Blessed Chiara Badano is one step away from being declared a saint. Her feast is celebrated October 29. I always feel confident asking her to pray for me because she understands what it is like to be a young person today. I often use a version of this prayer when I ask for her intercession:
O Father, fount of every good, we give you thanks for the example of Blessed Chiara Badano. She believed firmly in your infinite love, and wished to return it with all her strength, surrendering herself in complete trust to your will. We humbly ask for the gift to live with you and for you. If it be your will, please (mention petition). We ask this through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.