St Rita - a rose among saints

PUBLISHED: 13:49 28 May 2008 | UPDATED: 21:53 15 June 2010

DEVOUT Catholics from across England, Ireland and even Sierra Leone were in Honiton last week to celebrate St Rita's Day.

DEVOUT Catholics from across England, Ireland and even Sierra Leone were in Honiton last week to celebrate St Rita's Day.Monks, who are part of the Order of Augustinian Recollects, hosted the event in a specially erected marquee at St Rita's Centre, in Ottery Moor Lane.Roses, so closely associated with St Rita, were as numerous as those present during a poignant mid-day mass.Father Gerald Wilson was the principal celebrant, leading the service and entertaining guests with his strong sense of humour.The sermon was given by former parish priest Father Joseph Shonibare, who is back in Honiton while on holiday from his missionary work in Sierra Leone.Father Joseph spoke of St Rita's life in Cascia, Italy, describing her suffering, patience and work for peace.At intervals, he drew comparisons between her suffering and of the daily struggles currently being suffered by those in Sierra Leone, the world's second poorest country.St Rita, he said, had wanted to become a nun but instead gave into her parents' wishes and married young. Her husband, Ferdinando, was "not a calm man", Father Joseph explained. He was cruel but turned to Christ, shortly before he was stabbed to death.In the 1400s it was common practice for Italians to seek revenge for such crimes, but St Rita prayed and educated her two sons to turn the other cheek."An eye for an eye, blood for blood," said Father Joseph. "We would all be blind if we acted with vengeance."St Rita's sons did not kill their father's murderer. However, they, too, were soon to die.She applied to enter a convent, but the Mother Superior said: "Impossible." Some of the convent members were related to her husband's murderer.Although rejected, St Rita did not give up. She prayed and saw visions of St John the Baptist, St Augustine and St Nicholas, who each beckoned her to re-apply.She prayed and worked for peace between warring families, which Father Joseph said is not an easy thing to do, implying those who forgive always sacrifice part of themselves in the process.Eventually, St Rita entered the Augustinian monastery of St Mary Magdalene in Cascia and, after the customary time, made her Solemn Profession.For a brief moment during her time on Earth, she is said to have seen God. She described seeing a ladder reaching into Heaven and she observed God at the very top of the ladder inviting her to ascend.In contemplation, she heard a voice say: "Rita, if you wish to unite yourself with God in Heaven, you must climb this ladder."Fifteen years before her death, St Rita miraculously developed a wound on her forehead. It was painful and foul-smelling, and stayed with her for the rest of her life. It is believed that the wound was caused by a thorn that fell from the Crown of Christ.In January, 1457, as she lay dying, St Rita asked a cousin to bring her a rose. In the snow, in St Rita's own garden, in Roccaporena, the cousin found a rose in bloom. When the flower was given to St Rita, her room filled with the scent of roses.St Rita was baptised Margarita after being born in 1381. She was canonised in 1900 and is known as "the saint of the helpless".Many centuries after her death, Pope Leo XIII referred to her original name, which means pearl or precious stone. He called her "Precious Pearl of Umbria", but she is still affectionately known as Rita.She died on May 22 in 1457 and every year on her feast day celebration roses are blessed in her honour and distributed to the sick.n The Order of Augustinian Recollects, based at St Rita's Centre, is an integral part of Honiton's community, providing pastoral care for Roman Catholics and community facilities, including a conference centre, meeting rooms and sports facilities for the young.

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