She was a professional dancer fought over by the major European companies, a highly respected teacher in her native Cosenza and ready to move to Spain thanks to a scholarship to teach flamenco. Her model daughter grew up in a simple family, a law and economics student with very high grades, she had brilliantly obtained a degree in utroque iure and was preparing to become a notary.
But the Lord had other plans for her and, when the call came, her response was swift, unconditional, unsettling: she hung up her ballet shoes, put the codes on a shelf, took the veil and renamed herself Sister Veronica Maria . And today, at 38, this young woman, born Emanuela Fittante, with a soothing smile and unshakable energy that leads her to drag her habit across the world to announce the word of God, is the co-founder with Fra ‘Green Flyer. and general servant of the Little Friars and Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary, a religious community of 35 people (officially approved by the Church in 2019) which has its mother house in Noto, Sicily, and branches in other areas of Italy, Mexico , in the United States. Under the banner of an exhaustive vow: to practice radical poverty to evangelize people through itinerant action. At the same time helping the other poor, that is, those who find themselves in poverty but not by choice.
What does your radical poverty consist of?
We do not own anything and above all we do not handle money. Not that it is a bad thing to have a relationship with money and things, after all the Apostles also had a home. But total estrangement from material goods helps us to get closer to people more easily.
What do you mean?
Radical poverty was an intuition of friar Volantino that in the early days, when the work of evangelization began, he was faced with accusations and prejudices. People blamed the Church for her wealth. Thus, to open hearts to listening to the word of God and to bring the lost sheep back to the sacraments, our co-founder made the choice of poverty.
But who supports you in everyday life?
We live on Providence, on good deeds, on the help of prayer groups to which we completely devote the fruit of our work and to which we can turn in case of need: some of us teach in schools but do not receive the remuneration directly.
Where do you live, and how?
We live in the convents of the Diocese and have a sober lifestyle, we are satisfied with the essential. We travel on foot and by hitchhiking sleeping where it happens, often under the stars, never knowing when we will arrive and what unexpected events the journey will bring. The things we use, like computers and mobile phones, are on loan. And the streets of the Lord never cease to surprise us: we don’t even have time to ask people to help us spontaneously, supermarkets give us food, when we travel they offer us food and a bed. All this also allows us to help those in difficulty. 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 era of consumerism? And is it understood by everyone?
Poverty has always been a value, since the times of Jesus and St. Francis who taught us not to get attached 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 certainties in possession. It is no coincidence that Monsignor Giuseppe Agostino, who had led the Diocese of Cosenza and had been vice president of the CEI, 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 again, Padre Pio for the Marian component, St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe for the desire to do apostolate through communication, St. Therese of Lisieux for contemplative spirituality. Ours is a semi-active and semi-contemplative community.
Did you encounter hostility, obstacles when you decided to take the veil and be poor?
Certainly not in the family. My parents, brothers and sisters supported me because, entering a prayer community, they shared my approach to this choice. In the world of dance, however, the announcement that I would leave a career that had already begun was a real shock. It was 2005 and my teacher tried in every way to dissuade me, stating that the religious world did not belong to me and that mine was an “arrogant” choice. But the Lord had called me and my good could not exist far from Him.
What was the heaviest renunciation for you?
Precisely dance, which has always been the great passion to which I have dedicated time and energy. I had won a scholarship for 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 to sacrifice and sacrifice from an early age. It can be said that I had been prepared for poverty for a long time.
And how did she get over the pain of having to give up dancing?
I prayed a lot. Torn between the enthusiasm to embrace the religious life and the regret of not being able to dance anymore, I asked the Lord to enlighten me. And I understood that I would be happy only if I did what He had chosen for me. God has always been first in my life, so I gave up the dance with no regrets.
How come before taking the veil she wanted to be a notary, a profession that would lead her to take care of material goods, possessions, and earn well?
It was the desire for redemption. Perhaps subconsciously I wanted to guarantee my family the well-being that we had lacked.
Is there a difference, in the Church, between the vow of poverty of men and that of 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 of us and provides accordingly.
How does poverty manifest itself today?
In many different forms. The first we think of is the poverty of those who do not have to eat, sleep, or dress: we see many poor people, even in Noto, and we organize the canteen for them. Our brothers and sisters who work in Mexico are then in contact with extreme poverty and try to help those who live in sheet metal slums, in the mud, without basic necessities … but traveling the world to evangelize people, we we also come into contact with other types of poverty.
The one that manifests itself in meanness, in envy, in greed. It is the intellectual poverty of those who have devoted 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 up to listening.
Do you travel a lot?
We recently walked and hitchhiked from Sicily to Portugal. I will soon be traveling to the United States and Mexico. As mother general, I have to go and visit our communities operating in those parts of the world, often in very critical situations.
Sister Veronica, why did you choose to deprive yourself of everything?
I made myself poor for needing others and, paradoxically, being able to give others something: the word of God. We do not want to have anything to be available to others. Wellness gives us the illusion of being self-sufficient but deprives us of many human relationships. We recover them by considering them as opportunities to bring the Gospel to the world.
Is being poor today a transgression?
Without any doubt. Much more powerful than so many alleged transgressions that the world seems to suggest to us in this historical moment. Poverty is a subversive choice because it goes against the tide. And there is no greater transgression than being consistent with one’s ideals.
from Gloria Satta