By Nora V. Clemente-Arnaldo
It is vacation time as I write these words and I know many people seek to unwind and relax here or abroad. For those who plan to go to Europe, may I suggest that you include in your itinerary Bologna, that famous city of Italy, home of Europe’s oldest university, the Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna.
Bologna is also rich in spiritual treasures being the resting place of many saints like St. Dominic de Guzman, founder of the Dominican Order; St. Catherine of Bologna, whose incorrupt body is displayed – in a sitting position! – for veneration in her convent of Corpus Domini; and Blessed Imelda Lambertini, a very special little girl whose incorrupt body can be venerated at the little parish church of St. Sigismondo near the university.
From the account of her life by Bob and Penny Lord, Imelda was born in 1322 in Bologna, the only child of a rich aristocratic couple – Count Egano Lambertini and Donna Castora Galuzzi. Her parents were devout Catholics and were known for their generosity to the underprivileged of Bologna. After Imelda was born, it is noted that her mother had a dream and was convinced that there was a message in it about her child. The dream was set in Bologna where she saw St. Dominic walking through the streets towards her. She noticed that he had a light radiating above his forehead like a star and just before he went into the Dominican Convent, he raised his hand in a fatherly blessing towards her.
At the age of five, Imelda would join her mother and help in feeding the sick and poor of their city. Young as she was, she came to realize that everyone was a tabernacle where God resides. It was during this time that she began to desire Jesus in Holy Communion. But then she could not receive the Lord until the age of reason, set at 12 by the Catholic Church then. Girls at this age love to play with dolls but pretty Imelda did not show any interest. She took St. Agnes and St. Tarsicius as her heavenly friends with whom she talked and prayed to often to help her love God more fully. Being very prayerful, she would be seen praying undisturbed in various corners of their house.
When Imelda was nine years old, she made an unusual request to her family. She asked permission to enter the religious life. Her very pious parents did not hesitate. They knew pretty well that their daughter loved Jesus very much from the way she conducted herself. So even at a young age, they placed her in the Dominican Convent of Santa Maria Maddalena in Valdipietra. Being the youngest, she was very much loved by the sisters in the convent. They treated her as a very special gift from the Lord. Imelda was very happy with the sisters and she even became the model of some older nuns.
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God is omniscient indeed. He knew how deep was Imelda’s longing to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. On a significant day, the Feast of the Ascension in 1333, the whole community was at Mass. Imelda was observed as fervently praying. When the Mass ended, the sisters proceeded to leave the church. Imelda stayed behind and continued praying. Very much engrossed in prayer, the sisters took turns in calling her. Then what greeted the Sisters was an astonishing sight: a bright white host above the head of Imelda appeared and remained suspended in air. Immediately, they called a priest who was himself awed by the spectacle. The priest then took a paten and went to where Imelda was kneeling. The white Host suspended over her head descended into the paten. The priest took it as a sign that Imelda was to be given her first Holy Communion. The priest administered the Eucharistic Lord to her. Imelda swooned and went into ecstasy from which she never recovered. She died that same day! The 12th of May 1333 thus was Imelda’s first Holy Communion, and her last. She was 11 years old. “The pure faith of this child was so strong that the Lord put aside the laws of nature to reward her and instruct us,” commented Bob and Penny Lord. I heartily agree.
Miracles were immediately attributed to Imelda’s intercession, especially the restoration of sight to a blind man from her hometown.
Immediately after her death, devotion to little Imelda began. Many devotional booklets were written about her, especially in connection with the Eucharist. In 1922, a community of Dominicans was instituted called Dominican Sisters of Blessed Imelda. Their charism is to spread the Eucharistic spirit by means of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and to give moral, intellectual and religious aid to young people. This community also does missionary work in Brazil.
Imelda was beatified by Pope Leo XII in 1826; he named her the “Protectress of First Holy Communicants”. Reading the exemplary lives of saints makes our lives richer spiritually but we are doubly blessed when we see and venerate their incorrupt bodies, as that of little Imelda’s in Bologna.
Little Imelda’s purity and love of Jesus in the Eucharist makes us wonder if our young people today still treasure these noble values. Let us count Blessed Imelda as one of the protectors of the young, alongside saints like St. Tarcisius, St. Agnes, and St. Dominic Savio.
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