vocation stories | RAFFAELLA
You look so happy and peaceful! What’s your secret? I want that too!”
When I pronounced those words at the age of 20 little did I know that I was up for a ride! Sister Susan’s response set the stage for a wonderful journey towards freedom and joy that I didn’t know was possible to achieve.
I was born and raised in Northern Italy, very close to the Swiss border, in a hilly town surrounded by mountains, with parents that treasured their Catholic roots and made it their priority to raise their 5 children to love God. I was very involved in activities in my parish since I was a child, and in my teenage years I taught CCD to younger kids and spent many summers volunteering as a camp counselor for our parish summer vacation.
When I was 18 though I realized that I really didn’t have a personal relationship with God: I used to talk about him but never with him. At school, all my classmates and teachers knew about my strong faith because I always stood up for what I believed in, especially when it came to issues like abortion, death penalty and other moral issues. All these convictions were deeply rooted in me. These truths, however, didn’t receive the necessary nourishment from a life of prayer. I kept trying to give God to others without receiving Him. I was unaware of the needs of my interior life, and I soon began to drift away even from the youth group I used to be so involved in. Then all of a sudden, one summer evening, I received an invitation that changed my life radically: trying out for a soccer team that played in the 3rd National league.
Growing up I had always been fascinated with soccer, and though I never played in any team, I enjoyed playing around with my brothers and some kids in my neighborhood. One day I was invited to play soccer with some other girls at a fundraising event, unaware that some of the women I’d be playing with were part of the professional team. At the end of the game their head coach approached me and invited me to join his team. Wow! I never thought that my skills would one day open that “dream-door” for me.
So I enthusiastically joined the team, though I could sense my parents’ discomfort, because they feared that this would have meant a further distancing of myself from my faith journey. I soon discovered that their concern was real, as the environment surrounding my soccer experience was indeed poisoned with immorality. At times I would find myself torn interiorly between the desire to fit in with the group, and my conscience nagging me. I finally realized that for the past two years I had been living two separate lives: on one hand, I was going to Church every Sunday; on the other hand, I was hanging out with my soccer teammates, exposing myself to temptations of different kinds.
It was at this point that the Lord broke through my life in a very powerful way. It was a Sunday morning like many others: I was playing guitar at Mass, not really paying attention to what was going on, until something got me interested. Four consecrated women, Apostles of the Interior Life, were introduced by the pastor as being missionaries coming from Rome to offer a parish mission with a special focus on the young people. Something was stirred in my heart, so much so that that same afternoon, upon returning from a championship game, I found myself stopping the car in the parking lot of my parish, wondering “How in the world did I get here?” and especially “what in the world am I doing here?”
What followed was a simple encounter with Sr. Susan whose joy was attractive and contagious. I was shocked to hear myself say “Do you have any time to chat with me tomorrow?”
On May 8th, 1995 I sat down to have a conversation with Sr. Susan in which for the first time I opened myself up to someone who was talking about God. It was on that Monday evening that I fell in love with happiness and peace and decided that it was worth giving up everything to find it. That same night I called the coach and the manager of the team telling them that I was done playing soccer, because I wanted to turn my life around, back towards God. Despite the multiple calls I received that were trying to make me change my mind, nothing could compare to what I was finding in my new lifestyle. Daily prayer, spiritual direction and the reception of the Sacraments (that had been very rare during those 2 years) became my guiding star.
Needless to say, that parish mission was a time of special Grace. God touched my heart through the Apostles’ presence, their preaching, and their witness of faith. Up to that moment in my life, I had never thought about a religious vocation. I remember as a child day-dreaming about becoming a missionary, especially when watching the news reports of starving children in Africa. But that was the extent of my thinking about a vocation.
Following that first encounter with Sr. Susan, I began a journey of discernment that made me become aware of my interior thoughts, feelings and desires, of my need to be purified of unhealthy attachments to things and people. Especially, I remember taking time in prayer to ask the Lord to open my heart to discover His will, and to grant me the grace to embrace it once I found it.
The more I went through the discernment process, the more I felt that I was completely free and ready to accept whatever God was calling me to do. He slowly showed me the beauty of giving my life completely to Him in a chaste, poor and obedient life. His love was so overwhelming that I knew it was enough for me; I didn’t need the companionship of another human being to fill my heart. Jesus was able to give me a hundred times what I was looking for.
My spiritual director and I both perceived that God was calling me to a special life of intimacy with Him. I discovered in my heart that my biggest desire was to be an instrument for many other young people to meet the Lord in their lives. I wanted to do for others what the Apostles of the Interior Life had done for me –bring me back to God. So, joyfully, I quit my accounting job and moved to Rome to join the Community. There I studied two years of Philosophy and three of Theology at the Pontifical University of St. John in Lateran. After graduation (June 2001) I received my first assignment: coming to the US to minister on college campuses. The Lord has blessed me with many beautiful experiences, as I was honored to help the students at the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, at Texas A&M University in College Station, and at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. The more my life unravels, the more I see my dream coming true: leading many people to a deeper and more intimate relationship with God.