Sandra Sabattini (Riccione, August 19 1961 - Bologna, May 2, 1984)

Sandra's secret

"If I did not know You, not even my breath would have any meaning.” Sandra Sabattini, the girl from Rimini and friend of Fr. Oreste Benzi, will be beatified on 24th October. There was nothing “heroic” about her 23 years of life if not a great love.
Paola Ronconi

"Christian life, therefore holiness, is taking Baptism seriously". These words of Blessed Ildefonso Schuster, Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, describe better than anything else the short life of Sandra Sabattini, who will be proclaimed Blessed on Sunday, October 24. In her 23 years of existence, there were no extraordinary facts, heroic actions, surprising testimonies, only a discreet yet radical faith. One might say that being a saint is within everyone's reach... "It is the easiest and most difficult thing there is", admits Fr. Giuseppe Tognacci, the episcopal delegate for the cause of beatification and canonisation in Sandra’s diocesan phase, and now vice-postulator. Simple because Baptism is enough, difficult because Baptism is enough.

Sandra was born in Riccione on August 19, 1961 into a very religious family. When she was four years old, the Sabattinis moved into the rectory of the parish of San Girolamo in Rimini, where her uncle, Fr. Giuseppe Bonini, was parish priest. It was here that the young girl got to know Fr. Oreste Benzi, leader of the John XXIII Community, founded in 1968.

In the summer of 1974, she took part in a summer camp for teenagers in Alba di Canazei, in the Dolomites, together with disabled children. This was a turning point: "We worked till we dropped but these are people I will never leave," she told her mother upon her return. And so it was; she would never stop caring for those in need. But that was not all: "Fr. Benzi had a very strong personality", says Tognacci. "He announced the following of Christ with great strength. And meeting Fr. Oreste, one came across the John XXIII Community, which proposed prayer, adoration, care for the needy, and many moments of encounter to young people.” Sandra was fascinated. Seized.

Sandra with Fr. Oreste Benzi in 1979 (Photo: Riccardo Ghinelli)

Sandra began writing a diary in 1972.
It was Benzi himself who, after her death, collected and published everything she wrote: diary pages, sentences on flyers, little pieces of paper, notes from John XXIII meetings. Thanks to these pages, we can follow her step by step as she struggles with her character, her shyness, her constant need to be accepted as she is. And it is within these lines, even when she was very young, that we can read about her close relationship with Jesus; initially childish, at times naive, this relationship became more and more conscious: "If I do not pray an hour a day, I do not even remember that I am a Christian. If I want to deepen my understanding of a person I must be with Him, that is, with Christ", she wrote at the age of 14, on November 4, 1975. From a young age, prayer, the sacraments and adoration were faithful and daily companions for Sandra.

Her uncle Fr. Giuseppe later recounted that when Sandra was still very young, he often found her in church early in the morning, in the dark, praying before the Blessed Sacrament.
The diary clearly shows her moments of discouragement, typical of her age, of course, but reveals a soul that was not satisfied with the mediocrity of life and that asked important questions: "I should be happy, I have everything I want but every evening I only find emptiness within myself" (December 7, 1975). "This evening I feel full of nothing" (January 12, 1977). "I am and always will be a question mark. I wish, I would so like to know and be able to praise You even in pain! But I am mean and up to now in my pain I have always forgotten You. Can You forgive me once again?" (February 13, 1977). "I do not know, I do not want to realise that it is You who decides everything and not me". (March 12, 1977).

For Sandra, loving others became the supreme way to give meaning to life, whether it be the drug addicts in the rehabilitation centres set up by John XXIII, the needy person she met on the street or the friend with whom she shared her studies. This was so true that after finishing high school she chose to study medicine in Bologna to become a doctor and depart for Africa. But even helping others loses meaning if it is not done out of love. On February 26, 1978, she wrote: "To say that I choose the poor is too easy, it is no use if when I leave everything is the same as before. No. I choose You and that is enough." This was also the case for Guido, whom Sandra met in 1978 and to whom she became engaged two years later. On a bag of chocolates, Sandra writes to him: "We must stand before God every day, empty-handed, like beggars".

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Her restlessness about faith, about her vocation, took the form of a discreet but certain joy. This is what Sandra was to those who met her. Prayer became more and more essential: "Three things I ask of You every day: to see You more clearly, to love You more deeply, to serve You more closely" (April 11, 1982); "If I did not know You, not even my breath would have any meaning. May my hours be a continuous praise to You" (August 19, 1982). And God became more and more present: "It is not a question of being with the poor, but with the Lord. The intimate relationship with God makes the relationship with others grow more and more" (September 10, 1982).
Fr. Benzi saw in her "an inner freshness and full adherence to following Christ without compromise", says Tognacci, but "the radical nature of Sandra's choice for the Lord emerged more clearly after her death." Benzi proposed Sandra's life as an example to look at, as a living testimony to all the friends of the John XXIII Community: "This was her secret", he said, “a secret that continuously was her life.”

On April 29, 1984, as soon as she arrived in Igea Marina, where she was supposed to attend a John XXIII assembly with a friend, Elio, and her boyfriend, Guido, she was hit by a car. She fell into a coma and died on May 2. The last words in her diary are dated April 27: "This life is not mine, which is evolving rhythmically by a regular breath that is not mine, enlivened by a serene day that is not mine. There is nothing in this world that is yours. Sandra! Be aware of this! It is all a gift that the 'Donor' can act on whenever and however He wants. Take care of the gift you have been given, make it more beautiful and fuller for when the time comes.”

Through her intercession, Stefano Vitali (Fr. Benzi's secretary and former president of the Province of Rimini) was inexplicably cured of a tumour that seemed to have no way out. He wrote a book, Vivo per miracolo (I live by a miracle), in which he recounts that, on learning of his diagnosis, he was plagued by the question: "Why me?". After the miracle, that question did not leave him. On the contrary, it has become more acute.
Thanks to this healing, Sandra will be proclaimed Blessed in Rimini Cathedral on October 24, in the presence of Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. She has outdone her "master" Fr. Oreste, whose cause is currently underway. She will be the first engaged woman to be beatified.