NENNOLINA (Antonietta Meo)
A very special little girl from Italy named Antonietta Meo, died of bone cancer at the very young age of six and a half in her home in the city of Rome on 3rd July, 1937. She was called by another name, just like the nick names or pet names our parents have for us. This name by which she was affectionately known was Nennolina. Nennolina was from a fairly wealthy family and was very much loved by her parents and her sister Margherita. Her home life was happy and she was a very playful, joyful and quite a mischievous child.
At the age of three, she went to nursery school with religious sisters and she enjoyed it immensely. The sisters told her parents that she was an intelligent child who had a facility for learning. She got on very well with all her fellow school pupils and was very popular with them due to her kindness and her personality. She also had a great sense of humour and her teachers remarked on this fact.
When she was four years old, her parents noticed a slight lump on her left knee, but put it down to her having fallen due to being so playful and active.
However, when the swelling remained they decided to have it investigated. At the age of five, she was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of bone cancer, so the doctors decided the best course of treatment was to amputate her leg. Naturally, her parents were very upset at this as Antonietta was so young.
Nennolina bore the news and the ordeal of the amputation “cheerfully.” She was fitted with a heavy artificial leg so she was back playing with her friends in no time. Through a special grace given to her from God, she understood more than most grown-ups the true value of suffering. A nun who was a nurse at the medical clinic reported the following conversation between her and her Father who asked his darling Nennolina: “Do you feel much pain?” And she answered him thus: “I am very happy that Jesus gave me this problem so that I can be His dearest one,” and she added, “Daddy, the pain is like fabric, the stronger it is, the more value it has.” She meant for her friend Jesus of course as He can save souls through the sufferings of others when they are offered to Him out of love.
This was a happy, though pain-filled time in her life. Just when she turned six she went to school. Her artificial leg, really began to bother her a lot. However, she was overjoyed when, at this same time, her Mother began to teach her the catechism in the evenings in preparation for her First Holy Communion.
It was also now that she began to write extraordinary letters to her friend Jesus. What she couldn’t write herself she dictated to her mother who wrote the letters for her. They were placed under the statue of Jesus in her room so He could read them during the night when she slept. Catholic theologians were astounded at the content and depth of the letters she wrote to Jesus, and went so far as to call the young girl a “mystic” because, what she wrote showed an understanding of love and suffering beyond her years.
In September, 1936, Nennolina was very excited about a letter she wrote to Jesus. She told Him: “Dear Jesus, today I’m going out and I’m going to my nuns to tell them I want to make my First Holy Communion at Christmas. Jesus, come soon into my heart and I’ll hug you very tight and kiss you. O, Jesus, I want you forever in my heart.” Like St. Therese of Lisieux and Little Nellie of Holy God, this little Italian girl constantly told Jesus how much she loved Him, and like them she was concerned to save souls for Him. Here is what she wrote: “My good Jesus, give me only souls, give me a lot of them, I ask you willingly. I ask you so that you can make them become good so that they can come to you in Paradise.”
Nennolina talked to Jesus all the time asking Him to accompany her to school, to help her as well as others to be good, to take her in His arms and above all she begged Him: “Help me with your grace, help me, for without your grace, i can do nothing.” She constantly prayed for her family and for others who needed her prayers.
Most people who heard of Nennolina were intrigued by her. When Cardinal Montini, who later became pope Paul Vl, read her letters, he was so impressed by how God had touched the soul of one so young and remarked on how the Lord had, through the life of this child, shown how he reveals knowledge to little ones, those with the heart of a child, and how He hides it from those who are proud.
One particular and extraordinary example of such knowledge that surely touched the heart of Cardinal Montini is the knowledge and insight into her own soul recounted by her mother. On the eve of her First Holy Communion, Nennolina dictated the following through her mother for Jesus: “Dear Jesus, tomorrow when you are in my heart, pretend that my soul is an apple. Like the pips in the apple, make it that there us a small cupboard in my soul. Since under the black skin of the pips there is a white seed, make it so that in the little cupboard there is your grace which is like the white seed.” Her Mother thought this was silly and was somewhat confused by it. In fact, she wanted to disregard it until her daughter explained it thus: “It’s like this Mommy, let’s say that my soul is an apple. In the apple there are those little black things that are the seeds. Then inside the skin there’s this white thing? Well, think of that as grace.”
Her Mother was dumbfounded at how profound these thoughts of her little girl were and decided the whole idea had come from her teacher in preparation for First Holy Communion. Nennolina insisted “No” that the thought had come from herself and she said: “Jesus is seeing to it that this grace will always, always be with me.”
That Christmas night, December 1936, Antonietta Meo received her first Holy Communion. It was a night of such intense joy for her and, despite her painful leg, she is reported to have spent more than an hour on her knees in prayer in her local Church.
Shortly afterwards she received the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation. After this time, her health deteriorated rapidly and her pain was almost unbearable. Still, however, she suffered it all with remarkable heroism. She never once complained, even after she was confined totally to bed. Despite her discomfort she never failed to pray and the only time she had some calm in her body was when she received Holy Communion which the priest, at her own request, brought to her daily.
By the time she died, in the midst of terrible pain, Nennolina had written over 100 letters to Jesus, God the Father, The Holy Spirit and to the Blessed Mother.
Sadly, many of the letters were lost because her mother did not think to preserve all of them. The Holy Father at the time, Pope Pius Xl, on hearing a report of the holiness of the young girl, sent his Apostolic Blessing to her by special messenger.
Antonietta was able to tell her mother, who was so distraught at her daughter’s terrible suffering, to cheer up she would no longer be there soon. She was able to give her mother the exact date of her death.
The life of this holy little girl has been examined by the Vatican and she is now known as Venerable Antonietta Meo and her cause for sainthood is well under way.