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April 8, 2008|
The only daughter of two Florentines, Maria Luisa Corsini was born on June 24, 1884 in Florence. Her father, an officer, was short-tempered, and her mother was lively and domineering. From her earliest years, Maria Luisa, a child with a shy and sensitive temperament, would, when she set the table, place a small olive leaf under her parents' napkins, to express her desire for peace. One day, she said to her father: «You know, Papa, I would never have married you like Mama did, with your bad temper!» Nevertheless the Corsinis loved their daughter very much. In 1893, the family moved to Rome. There, Maria Luisa enrolled at a business school where she learned accounting as well as French and English. Her personal tastes drew her to literature, in which she acquired a vast knowledge. Maria also developed her talent for music in playing the piano.
Luigi Beltrame was born on January 12, 1880, in Catania, Sicily, his parents' third child. He added to his father's name that of his uncle Quattrocchi who, unable to have children of his own, adopted him. In 1891, he moved to Rome with his aunt and uncle. After studying law, Luigi began a career as a lawyer. He loved the great literary classics, as well as music, theater, the beauty of nature, and travel. A friendship between the Corsini and Quattrocchi families provided the opportunity for Maria and Luigi to meet. At the end of 1904, Luigi fell gravely ill; this caused Maria great distress, and she sent him a picture of the Madonna of Pompeii. This episode revealed to the two young friends the depth of their love for one another. On November 25, 1905, they were married at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome, and then moved into the Corsini family home. There they were very cramped for room, since Maria's parents and grandparents also lived there. Nevertheless, Luigi showed great deference towards his in-laws. Every night, the newly-weds joyfully met and relaxed together with the family. Each was interested in the other's work. Luigi often had to travel away from Rome for his work. This was a source of suffering for the couple, but they wrote to each other extensively.
Maria's first pregnancy brought them unspeakable happiness, which was soon replaced by the anguish the future mother felt at the thought of childbirth. But they were overwhelmed with joy at the birth of Filippo on October 15, 1906. In motherhood, the young mother experimented with the degree of selflessness needed: «Certainly, for her, who was used to being up-to-date with the latest in theater, music, and literature, it was no small renunciation to reduce her reading to almost nothing, and to attend no theater or concerts at all«», one of her daughters would write. In September 1907, Maria was pregnant again. She was overwhelmed with a feeling of confusion and loneliness, even more so since Luigi was in Sicily for several days. She wrote to him: «Who will give me the strength to think of two children? To endure the physical and physiological exhaustion of pregnancy and the rest? Believe me, I am truly in despair.» Bit by bit, thanks to prayer, peace returned to Maria's soul, along with acceptance of the will of God. On March 9, 1908, a little girl was born, whom they named Stefania.
A categorical «no»
«Apostolate of the pen»
Luigi, who had received first prize in the Treasury Department's national competitive bar exam in 1909, went on to positions of great responsibility in various ministries, as a result of his extensive legal and administrative knowledge. In 1943, he would be chosen by the President of the Council of Ministers to become the Counsel General of the Italian State. «An eminent personality in the bar of the State,» one of his friends would say, «he would have been the first of all to be given the supreme responsibility. A surreptitious campaign led by secular and anti-religious members of this same bar blocked him. The servant of God, despite being deeply wounded in his heart by the injustice he had suffered, had no visible reaction.» Luigi can be seen as an example for those who pay for their honesty and adherence to their faith by being marginalized professionally. In 1948, he was invited to step forward as a candidate for a seat in the Senate. With Maria's agreement, he declined this offer, because he did not share certain orientations with those who extended this invitation.
Luigi was a discreet man, naturally endowed with a certain air of distinction and friendliness in his relations with others. More interested in apostolic than professional activities, he was involved in them at the parish and national levels, particularly in programs for the formation of youth and especially scouts, for whom he sacrificed hours that could have been used for rest and relaxation. The responsibilities he took on in the community earned him numerous honorary titles and awards, but once received, they were put away in the bottom of a drawer, and never spoken of again. One of his sons would write of him: «He did not overrate himself in comparison to others, but neither did he systematically devalue himself. « With those who were 'far from faith,' he showed a particular tact that always attracted their friendship. « And as for those who were 'far from morals,' he avoided disturbing them, unless they themselves put the topic on the table.» Luigi wrote, «We must not hide our religious feelings, we must publicly profess them, but, principally and before all else, we must demonstrate them by our works. It is through honesty and the Christian spirit that permeate our conduct in human relations, through unselfishness, love for our neighbor, charity lived and put into practice that we profess to men our religious convictions.» One of Luigi's friends, a non-believer and a Freemason, moved as he stood before Luigi's mortal remains, admitted to one of the sons of the deceased: «You see, during all the years that we worked together, your father never pestered me with sermons. But I want to tell you; it's through his life that I discovered God and that I love the Gospel. Pray for me!»
To pray is not to evade reality
In 1922, the sons Filippo and Cesarino expressed the desire to devote themselves to God. On November 6, 1924, Filippo entered the seminary, and Cesarino the Benedictine abbey of Saint Paul outside the Walls. Cesarino would become Father Paolino. «When the two boys left the house, it left a huge emptiness,» stated their sister Stefania. «Papa was the one who felt it the most, to the point of physical illness.» However, these sufferings soon passed. Maria would write to her sons: «Thinking of you is for me, after the Mass and Communion, my only rest, the single radiant refuge in my soul blessing the Lord.» At the end of his first year of philosophy, Filippo had to leave the seminary for health reasons. Shortly thereafter, he joined his brother and became a Benedictinehe would become Father Tarcisio.
A costly gift
For the Beltrame family, the home represented the intimate world where love for one another in God reigned. Like every woman, Maria ascribed great importance to the care of the home, down to the smallest details. She made use of her talent for hospitality, establishing for her guests an atmosphere most in keeping with the spirit of the Gospel, in which rancor, resentment, and gossip were banned. In conversation, one kept to the facts without passing judgment on people. Vacations were usually spent in the countryside, which Maria preferred to the sea. In 1928, the Beltrames acquired a piece of land in Serravalle, on which they had a house built. There they set up a little chapel where, by special permission, they reserved the Most Blessed Sacrament.
The return to serenity
Luigi left the management of their finances to his wife, although he would be involved in major decisions. Maria stressed in her writings that, in order for one to become holy, the renunciation of all one's goods was not required. On the other hand, the couple gladly practiced the spirit of solidarity toward those who appealed to them with a thousand requests. In addition to financial assistance, Luigi placed at their service his professional abilities and the prestige he had gained in the most exalted circles. As for Maria, she exercised in her way a sort of «spiritual direction,» not only among her family but also among friends, even among priests and religious, who placed their confidence in her.
Directed for more than twenty years by Franciscan Father Pellegrino Paoli, the Beltrame family belonged to the Franciscan Third Order. Father Mateo also held an important place in the family's spiritual development. In August 1918, Luigi went through a difficult period that one of his sons described thus: «Our father passed through an intense spiritual crisis, linked to the harsh spiritual asceticism that his wife entered into under the apostolic influence of Father Mateo« He succumbed to a moment of discouragement, and ended up developing a 'fear of God,' almost as though a rival who was too attractive to his wife had robbed him of her, so to speak« His wife helped him overcome this obstacle, and helped him allow himself to be drawn by the Spirit as well, in a love that never diminished but was ever increased by the living presence of grace.» Much later, Maria would make a vow to do «whatever was most perfect,» in the presence of the Dominican Father Garrigou-Lagrange, who became her spiritual director after Father Mateo.
The Beltrame Quattrocchi couple had trials in their life, but they did not know certain sufferings that afflict other families, as Pope John Paul II noted in the homily at their beatification: «Married and family life can also experience moments of bewilderment. We know how many families in these cases are tempted to discouragement. I am particularly referring to those who are going through the sad event of separation; I am thinking of those who must face illness and those who are suffering the premature death of their spouse or of a child. In these situations, one can bear a great witness to fidelity in love « I entrust struggling families to the providence of God and to the loving care of Mary « Dear married couples, do not be overcome by hardship: the grace of the Sacrament supports you and helps you constantly to raise your arms to Heaven.»