In confirmation of what St. Pius X and Cardinal Gennari say about the capacity of understanding that even very small children can have mysteries of the Spirit, here is the story of Pia, a little 2-year old German girl, narrated by her catechist.
Pia, a two and a half-year-old girl, attended the Prayer Nests regularly since she was a year and a half and, besides her young age, there wasn’t anything else special about her. She still didn’t talk, but she was quiet and attentive and, without our realizing it, in the silence of her heart she was growing in wisdom and grace.
One evening, while I was showing a picture of the hands of a priest at the moment in which he raises the host, I asked the children who were preparing for First Communion what that white disc was. Pia had just turned two years old and she sat quietly as usually, with her watchful eyes, her little feet barely protruding from the chair: «FLESH», she answered clearly although she still had her pacifier in her mouth. It was the first word I heard her say.
There was a buzz of exclamations and surprise and the adults present laid their eyes on that very little girl. Many people started to cry. I had never thought of using that word; it seemed too crude and now, from the mouth of a two-year-old girl, came that extremely theological answer.
I thoroughly understood how innocence allows even very young children to understand the mysteries of Grace.
In the meantime, in the intimacy of family affection, little Pia’s intelligence regarding prayer and faith continued to increase so quickly; she was smarter than her older brothers. She showed interest in spiritual things and understood their relationships in a remarkable manner, always revealing in herself a great inner peace and a trustful abandonment. She tenderly loved the Baby Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary and, when people asked her why Our Lady was crying, she answered sadly: “Because people don’t pray!” Wasn’t it precisely Our Lady of Fatima who said that many souls are lost because no one prays for them?
Christmas 1994 was approaching. In the middle of December I unexpectedly received a letter from Fatima with a copy of the homily which John Paul II gave on August 17. In this homily the Pope – referring to what St. Pius said: «There will be children saints!» justifying the need for First Communion at the first use of reason – confirmed this statement and added a mysterious prophecy: «There will be apostles among the children». Every word of the Holy Father’s homily remained impressed on my soul, as well as the words of his beautiful «The Pope’s letter to the children of the world».
On Christmas morning, during the meeting of our Children’s Prayer Nest, little Pia expressed the desire to lead the prayer by herself and she even announced the mystery: «Let us meditate on Mary’s visit to Elisabeth». Afterwards I told her parents about it and they couldn’t believe it.
In those days we were also making the last preparations for the pilgrimage which the First Communion children were going to make to Annecy, where St. Curé d’Ars and little Anne de Guigné are buried. The trip was scheduled on the day of the feast of the Holy Innocents and I was very surprised when I found out from Pia’s mother that Pia wanted to take part in this pilgrimage too.
I was even more surprised by her behaviour during the long trip: she was calm and good and endured the trip like an adult, always holding a little statue of the Baby Jesus in her arms. Many people noticed it and were touched.
Even Father Umberto H., who led the children’s pilgrimage, noticed Pia’s remarkable maturity and found her well-prepared for First Communion which she insistently asked for.
I understood more and more why St. Pius X wanted children to receive Communion at a young age. I always remembered the episode which took place between himself and a woman who brought her son to be blessed: «How old is your son?» he asked her. «Four, Holiness, and when he is seven he will receive his First Communion». The Holy Father gazed into the child’s lively eyes, gently caressed his head and asked him: «Son, who do you receive in First Communion?» – «Jesus Christ», answered the little boy. «And who is Jesus Christ?» – «Jesus Christ is God». The Holy Father concluded: «Bring this little boy to me tomorrow! I will give him his First Communion myself».
Thanks to Pia I was always more aware of this reality: there are many children who deeply feel this need to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, but no one satisfies their need. I also understood how brief and precious this period of grace is in the child’s life; many parents confirmed they would have liked their children to have received Communion because they asked for it insistently when they were only three or four years old. They said at that age children lived a very tender and sensitive relationship with Heaven which, without the help of Communion however, eventually died out.
But how did Pia receive her First Communion?
Someone gave me – I never found out who – an unusually small First Communion gown. Pia saw it and right away spoke of it as “her” dress: she was absolutely convinced that she would soon receive Jesus. I gave the dress to her mother so that she would put it away, but… how could we let her receive Jesus at two and a half years old?
We started to pray with the whole group of children for this intention. In the meantime, Pia had already learnt the five fundamental truths of faith included in St. Pius X’s decree «Quam singulari». Her preparation at home was touching and she knew everything well; all her answers were even recorded with a tape recorder.
During her preparation she surprised us on many occasions. Original sin upset her very much and she said that she would never be disobedient like Adam and Eve, because she would never do anything «against the will of our Father in Heaven». She was never disobedient; everything her mother told her to do, even just once, was impressed on her mind and on her heart.
She had a very sensitive conscience which made her avoid every occasion of sin: once she told me that her sisters watched television, but she didn’t because it would harm her.
When other children did something wrong she used to say: «Our heavenly Father doesn’t like that!»; but she was full of love towards everyone; she was even willing to take the blame for her sisters. She couldn’t have had a better preparation, but we had to find a priest who was willing to give her First Communion.
And the miracle took place: a priest who had met the little girl and had tested her preparation said he was willing to give Jesus to her, but she had to go to his parish which was 300 km away.
The day of Pia’s First Communion was arranged for February 3, 1995, the first Friday of the month. The evening before, Pia’s uncle had a very bad accident and was in a coma in intensive care; he had internal haemorrhages and needed artificial respiration; he had few hopes of survival. Pia promised to offer her First Communion for him.
She was exactly two and a half years old plus a day. When we went to pick her up it was still dark: she looked out from the door all radiant with joy, wearing her white dress and holding Baby Jesus tight in her arms. She remained in the car for three hours, peaceful and quiet, and said that there weren’t any angels in heaven because at that moment all of them were with her.
She said her confession in a touching manner, then said the act of contrition and waited, on her knees and with her hands joined, for the Mass to begin. Once in awhile during the celebration she gently took Baby Jesus into her arms. I asked myself where she got such strength and ability to resist, as the Mass was very long.
The moment of her Communion was unforgettable. In the picture we can see how she was absorbed in receiving Jesus with her eyes closed, her little hands joined, kneeling before the altar and waiting anxiously with her mouth opened. After Communion she brought her hands in front of her eyes and talked to Jesus in her heart, entrusting her uncle to Him, as she had promised. It was exactly 11:30. She wanted to end her feast with a song dedicated to Our Lady «I always want to love Mary profoundly».
After her Communion she went to the statue of Our Lady of Fatima to caress her «because she is so sad». But she did even more; she was lifted up and gave her a kiss to thank her and to console her Immaculate Heart.
Then she stopped in front of the statue of St. Philomena, looking very tenderly at this great patron saint of children. Many times I have noticed this profound, almost natural relationship children have with the saints; it seems as if there is no distance between them, as if the boundary between heaven and earth existed only in adults’ minds.
The trip back home was another three-hour drive. Pia sang and smiled and only later did she fall asleep in her car seat with a beautiful expression of peace painted on her face.
Suddenly something happened to the wheel of our car; the tire was all slashed. However, our joy was so great that we started to laugh and continued our journey passing by the sanctuary of La Salette, a reproduction of the French one, which is the destination of many pilgrimages. Pia kissed the statue of Our Lady crying with so much love and tenderness. A beautiful picture shows Pia, surrounded by a crown of light, at Our Lady’s feet: this picture says more than a thousand words.
Then we stopped in front of a statue of Padre Pio, a saint particularly dear to Pia. He also urged that children receive their First Communion early and affirmed many times: «Children will save the world!»
When they got home, Pia’s mother, worried about her brother in a coma in intensive care, asked her: «I wonder how your uncle is». – «He’s fine, mommy!». Her mother was surprised at the certainty of her answer and pressed her: «Are you sure!» – «Yes!», the little girl answered without hesitation.
They immediately phoned the hospital and were greatly surprised when they learnt that at 11:30, right when Pia offered her First Communion for her uncle, he had woken up from the coma and had gotten up!
Let this miraculous event, this awakening of Lazarus, strengthen in our hearts the faith in the power of the First Communion of children at their very first use of reason!