During our summer message series, Wonder Women: Female Heroes of the Bible, we highlight saints who exemplify the qualities of our biblical heroine for the week. This week’s heroine is Abigail. Listen to her complete story on the messages page of our website. Her companion saint is Rita of Cascia.
The ground in the city of Cascia was tinged with blood, and murder was in the air. Rival noble clans in this medieval town located in the Umbrian region of Italy had been clashing with one another for centuries, and no one seemed to be able to stop the bloodshed. Even the Church turned a blind eye to the law of vendetta, as families raged against one another and killed each other’s sons out of revenge, bringing endless misery to one another. Into this chaos stepped a determined woman who single-handedly ended the warfare.
Saint Rita of Cascia, born Margherita Lotti in 1381, had wanted to become a nun most of her life. Her favorite haunt as a child was the local Augustinian convent of Santa Maria Magdalena, where she helped the sisters care for the sick and those who were injured in battles and local brawls. Her parents insisted, however, that she marry a local boy named Paolo, one of the sons of the infamous and noble Mancini family.
The Mancini’s had long nursed a grudge against several of the rival clans in the area, and Rita sadly found herself a widow at the age of 32, after Paolo was murdered in cold blood. Most likely the attack was linked to the longstanding Mancini feud with other local families. Enraged by the injustice, Rita’s two young sons saw red. As was expected of them in those days, they wanted payback and plotted an “honor killing” against the offending clan in order to avenge their father’s death. Perhaps in response to Rita’s fervent prayer to spare her children from the violence, they both died of natural causes before they could carry out their murderous plans.
Alone in the world, Rita went back to the convent she had loved as a child, but was rejected repeatedly because the nuns and local bishop feared that the carnage of the Mancini dispute somehow would follow her even to the nunnery, endangering the lives of the nuns and those in their care. Resolved to end the mayhem in order to pave the way to a life of peace in the monastery, Rita undertook the seemingly impossible task of negotiating peace among Cascia’s warring families.
After a year of diplomacy and persistent prayer, Rita finally accomplished her mission. A peace compact was signed in 1417, which won the nuns’ hearts and opened the doors of the convent for her. Rita lived and worked happily as an Augustinian nun until the end of her life in 1457.
Like Abigail, Rita was unwavering in her pursuit of peace. At times when testosterone seemed to flow like water and the only option to address injuries brutal retaliation, the cooler heads of Abigail and Saint Rita prevailed. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
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