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The reputed Italian mystic Luisa Piccarreta has been drawing increased attention of late, with a push to make her a saint amid lingering attempts to discern her unusual and often extraordinary life.

Luisa, who died at the age of 82 in 1947 and is being considered for beatification, was a contemporary of St. Padre Pio and in fact her home was a town called Corato near the monastery at San Giovanni Rotundo where Pio lived. As explained by Frank Rega in an engaging, well-written new book, Life of the Mystic Luisa Piccarreta (Journeys in the Divine Will: the Early Years), Luisa first experienced alleged inner locutions of Jesus by the time of her First Holy Communion.

In subsequent years, the communications, writes Rega, became "full-blown supernatural phenomena," including the invisible stigmata (pains of Crucifixion, but without outward signs) and supernatural knowledge. What Luisa is known best for is the fact that she reputedly subsisted on the Communion Host alone for more than six decades --  unable to keep down normal food as she lived a life of "humility, suffering, and obedience." She was confined to her room and often bed for most of those incredible years.

"The uniqueness of Luisa was evidenced by her nightly mystical encounters with the Lord, His mother, souls in purgatory, angels, saints, and even the Trinity itself," writes Rega. "During these times, while remaining in bed, her body would become completely rigid and immoveable, as if it were petrified. It was necessary for a priest to visit her home every morning, and after receiving the priest, she returned to a normal state. With the permission of Pope Leo XIII, renewed later by Pope St. Pius X, Mass was allowed to be offered in her bedroom daily."

There was a "mystical marriage to Jesus. There was an embracing of the Cross. And there were Luisa's writings -- volumes of these: two small texts entitled the Life of the Blessed Virgin and Hours of the Passion, personal letters, and 36 diary manuscripts on she received mystically and in prayer, much of it to do with living in the "Divine Will" of God.

The miraculous was so prevalent around Luisa and her reputation for obedience and sanctity so widespread that when she died, hundreds swarmed around her casket as it was transported down the streets -- her corpse remaining in a sitting position.

It was during her nightly experiences that she said Jesus instructed her on the Divine Will, which has sparked books, apostolates, and organizations both inside Italy and abroad, including the United States, some of which have been involved in controversy for interpretations of her writings that approached heresy. Her gifts came with persecution. On occasion, "evil influences" were imputed to both her mystical experiences and writings.

"In 1917 a new archbishop of Trani, with jurisdiction over Corato, was appointed, Archbishop Regime," notes Rega. "Apparently influenced by some jealous local clergy who were hostile to Luisa, he was unimpressed by Luisa's reputation for sanctity. Consequently, he determined to sign a decree preventing priests from visiting her room and saying Mass there." It was at this point, says Rega, that the incredible occurred. "As his hand approached the paper to sign it, his arm and part of his body were at once paralyzed. Immediately realizing his mistake, he asked to be taken to Luisa's home. Even before he arrived, Luisa asked a companion who was present to open the door, because the bishop was coming. "Supported by  two priests, he entered her house for the first time. As soon as she saw him, Luisa asked Archbishop Regime for his blessing. At that moment he was able to raise his arm and bless her as if nothing happened. He was instantly cured!"

While a number of her early volumes were reviewed and published a diocesan confessor who would later become a saint -- Annibale de Francia (right) -- three of Luisa's notebooks, which had been annotated and edited by another person (and may have included misinterpretation, faulty translation, and even "contradictions of the Magisterium"), were placed of the Vatican's Index of Forbidden books, and the remainder of her works sequestered until 1994, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) removed them and the process for her beatification began.

On October 29, 2005, Archbishop Giovan Battista Pichierri concluded the Diocesan phase for the Cause, which has now been to the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of the Saints for the Roman phase of the beatification process. Much of what she wrote is under strict control. The archdiocese has allowed some small publishers to exhaust their stocks of the first two books (Life of the Blessed Virgin and Hours of the Passion), but has stated that in the future the archdiocese alone will produce the authorized translations of her writings. "The Postulation is not now granting, or encouraging, publication and promotion of the writings (except as noted above), so as not to create obstacles to the Cause," notes a website. The first 19 volumes of her diaries bear an imprimatur.

"These original handwritten manuscripts remained secreted in the exclusive possession of the Vatican until 1996, when they were allowed to be photocopied by the diocesan tribunal," Rega explains. "The only volumes that had ever been in print were the first nineteen books, and volumes 35 and 36. For a period of almost sixty years, volumes twenty through 34 had never been read except by her confessors and perhaps some privileged acquaintances of Luisa, although some parts of volume twenty had made it to print."

When her writings were suppressed, Luisa responded, he notes, with "complete submission."

As the years progressed, says Rega, Luisa was granted deeper insights into Divine Will, which came in three great phases of "Creation, Redemption, and Sanctification."

Her sufferings, meanwhile, were offered for purgatorial souls, according to Saint Annibale, who wrote that her tears had mitigated a good many of the Divine chastisements described or foretold in her diaries.

Although some were problematic, Luisa's writings were such that when St. Annibale took a copy of her book The Hours of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ to Pius X, during a private meeting, the Holy Father stopped Annibale from reading after a few pages, "saying that Saint Annibale should not be reading it while standing, but while on his knees," since it was Jesus Who was speaking.

At the end of the 1920s Luisa went to live in the convent of an orphanage. She died on March 4, 1947, after battling pneumonia. "Although rigor mortis did not set in even after four days, no one was able to straighten out her body. It seemed as if she were still alive, and it was possible to lift her eyelids to reveal eyes that still shined. A commission of doctors had to be summoned to ascertain that she had really died and was not in her mystical state."

Catatonic states are sometimes reported in reputed mystical events of both holy and deceptive kinds and must be discerned carefully. Seers in Kibeho, Rwanda, also experienced a comatose-like state in which they allegedly experienced Heaven, although only on a few occasions. A special coffin was built to accommodate Luisa in a sitting position!

The entire town turned out for her funeral, along with forty priests.

To this day, the Church encourages faithful to recognize Luisa as a "servant of God and a "gift" from Heaven without going to her writing, except her biographical material. Before her cause advances, the writings are being examined for "theological difficulties." What is in the diaries remains under the strict control of the archdiocese, which has warned that it will take legal action if its ownership and control are violated, leaving us to ponder the mysteries, doubts, and wonders that may be therein.

[Frank Rega can be contacted here]

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