The Venerable Antonietta Meo
Life is really full of surprises. Recently, at the Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre, a person gave me a holy image of the Venerable Antonietta Meo. Who was this person?
We are not talking of a grown-up woman, but only of a little girl. In fact, Antonietta Meo, whom many lovingly called her Nennolina, was born in Rome on December 15, 1930. Of her we know that at the age of three years she started attending the nursing school with religious sisters, whereas only at five years of age he became a member in Catholic Action, precisely in the group dedicated to the little ones. The year after, the osteosarcoma malaise forced her to lose her left leg. What amazes us is the fact that, by that time, she harbored a very profound vision of suffering, certainly and heavily aided by God’s wonderful and surprising grace.
This great child of God literally amazed those around her by the holiness of life she led. Let us listen to the witness a religious sister and nurse gave of Nennolina: One morning, while I was helping the nurse who was in charge of ordering the room of the little girl, her father entered. After caressing her, he asked her: “Do you feel much pain?” And Antonietta said: “Daddy, the pain is like fabric, the stronger it is, the more value it has.” The religious sister added: “If I had not heard this with my own ears, I would not have believed it.
Antonietta began to attend elementary school at six years of age, even though bearing the comfortableness of a prosthesis. Notwithstanding this hardship she offered it all to Jesus saying: May each step that I take be a little word of love. Nennolina wanted to celebrate the day of her amputation anniversary with a big lunch as well as a novena to Our Lady of Pompeii. She reasoned that thanks to this event she could offer her suffering to her beloved Jesus.
The Christmas night of 1936 was a special one for Nennolina since he received her First Holy Communion with great fervor. She also received the Sacrament of Confirmation a few months after. Although her leg was amputated it did not manage to halt the tumor which, like a wild fire, spread to the head, hand, foot, throat as well as mouth. Nennolina’s Calvary was big indeed inasmuch as the pain of the illness coupled with the treatments which tried to heal her both of them were so strong.
When her family met a poor person Nennolina was the one who wanted to give the money she had to the person. It was her delight to attend school as well as the catechism class. Once, Nennolina wrote to Jesus: I go enthusiastically, because I learn so many beautiful things about You and Your saints.
Antonietta Meo died on 3 July 1937, amid terrible pains. She did not even complete her seventh birthday. It was Pope Benedict XVI who, on December 17, 2007, declared Nennolina Venerable. Her outstanding holy life has been a persuasively powerful witness of holiness for children who suffer.
In his address to the Children of Italian Catholic Action of December 20, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI had this to say about Nennolina:
I am pleased that you just mentioned Antonia Meo, a little girl known as “Nennolina”. Exactly three days ago, I decreed the recognition of her heroic virtues and I hope that her cause of beatification will soon be successfully concluded. What a shining example this little peer of yours left us! In her very short life – only six and a half years – Nennolina, a Roman child, showed special faith, hope and charity, and likewise the other Christian virtues. Although she was a frail little girl, she managed to give a strong and vigorous Gospel witness and left a deep mark on the diocesan Community of Rome. Nennolina belonged to Catholic Action: today, she would certainly have been enrolled in ACR! Therefore, you can consider her a friend of yours, a model to inspire you. Her life, so simple and at the same time so important, shows that holiness is for all ages: for children and for young people, for adults and for the elderly. Every season of our life can be a good time for deciding to love Jesus seriously and to follow him faithfully. In just a few years, Nennolina reached the peak of Christian perfection that we are all called to scale; she sped down the “highway” that leads to Jesus. Indeed, as you yourselves said, Jesus is the true “road” that leads us to the Father and to his and our definitive home, which is Paradise. You know that Antonia now lives in God and is close to you from Heaven: you feel her present among you, in your groups. Learn to know her and follow her example.
O God, Father of the humble, we thank you because in Antonietta Meo (Nennolina) you gave us a living image of your Love and your Wisdom, revealed to the meek. You, who gave her the grace to be joined to the Cross of the Lord Jesus and to suffer with fortitude and joy, make her glorious also at this time on earth, that she may be for all a shining example of faithfulness to the Gospel. Grant us her same simple love that burned for the Eucharist and the Church; come to us in our poverty and, by her intercession, according to your Holy Will, give us the grace which, with trust, we ask You. Amen. (Pater, Ave, Gloria).
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap