sr. Teresa Grigolini

To love to the point of “anathema.”

Paul, in one of his letters wrote that he was ready to be excommunicated if it were necessary for the salvation of his “brothers” (Romans 9:3). Teresa is not known to have said these words, but found herself in a situation where she experienced what Paul meant. She accepted to pass through a similar humiliation out of love for a sister, so that she was not left alone in the hands of “the enemy”.[1]

On that 12th April1884, “the day of mourning” as Mother Costanza Caldera later called it, when her master arrived at the lake side at Rahad, where the Mahdi was camped, she immediately began to hear, like a blow to her heart, whispers spreading through the camp, that a sister had apostatised.

The truth was that Concetta had not apostatised, she would never have done that, but the trap laid for her had been cunningly set, diabolically set, and it had succeeded. Now the sister found herself alone and apart, in the enclosure reserved for the Mahdi himself. Teresa, as sister and as “mother”, felt doubly responsible for her: how could she turn her back on her?

Who will separate us from the love of Christ?

Though the price, to pronounce the formula accepting the Islamic faith, was high, Teresa did not draw back. She only asked that the other sisters, prisoners like herself, not to be left alone, not be scattered, but remain together, united, to make “common cause” right to the end, even in the moments of greatest trial. That chalice though, which none of her companions refused to drink, seemed in the end to be reserved in a special way to her.

Yes, for Teresa, it must have been both a relief and a suffering to see at least two of them manage to flee to liberty, in October 1885, and her desperation must have been limitless when Bettina and Caterina, after Concetta’s death, managed to escape in November 1891, while she was forced to remain in exile forever. Alone, because tied by chains which only death could break.

An unheard of sacrifice, which made her truly a “mother”

“I remember my mother well and tell you, that in my difficulties I call on her as though she were near me. She was a saint in the real sense of the word and I feel her spirit hovers over my house”

That is what her “Beppino” wrote of his mother, some years after her death, which occurred 75 years ago, in October 1931. The only surviving child of those Teresa bore while a prisoner, after her inevitable marriage with Dimitri Cocorempas, Joseph kept a remembrance of his mother which was made up of intense love and intense veneration. She was a saint; he used to say to those who asked him to tell them about her.

Teresa, on her part never hid her deep, intense love for the children she bore. She did even more, she loved her spiritual children, to the end: the unhappy people of Nigrizia, bound and oppressed, with whom she herself had been called to share the harshness of slavery.

Only the grain which falls into the soil, Jesus had said, can be the source of new and authentic life. Undoubtedly Teresa understood both in the moment in which the darkness seemed to increase around her and when what was happening to her seemed to make no sense, that she instead had been loved with a special love, and for this reason was called to live at a profound level, and in close union with Jesus, the mystery of the Cross.

She was a true missionary, a faithful witness, therefore to God in Jesus Christ: a humiliated God, mocked, beaten and at the last, placed in a tomb and forgotten. But that was only the night which came before the dawn of the Resurrection for Jesus! 

[1] Naturally, in order to understand a little of the story of Teresa Grigolini, we must remember/keep in mind at least: “All knew that she had been a sister”, edited by Daniela Maccari in 1988 and reprinted in 1996. It will be published in issue 12 of Archivio Madri Nigrizia, with all that we have written by Teresa.