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Pope Francis visits cell of American recluse

(Vatican Radio) An American recluse and mystic lived within the walls of the Camaldolese monastery, which Pope Francis visited on Thursday to mark the Day for the Contemplative Life, an event of the Year of Faith.

Sr Nazarena of Jesus, nee Julia Crotta on 5 October 1907, in Glastonbury, Connecticut, followed her vocation to Rome to live a hidden life in a cell at the Sant’Antonio Abate Monastery, located at the foot of the Aventine Hill, for 45 years.

Pope Francis visited Sr Nazarena’s cell during his time at the monastery. He was also to receive one of her letters during his private meeting with the Camaldolese nuns in their Chapter Room.

Fr. Thomas Matus, an American Camaldolese monk and author of Nazarena: An American anchoress, spoke with Vatican Radio about Sr Nazarena’s vocation story, her spiritual writings and the witness she offers today.

Sr Nazarena’s journey toward life as an anchoress was not a smooth one and it testifies to her perseverance in her call, he conceded.

After various attempts at religious life over 11 years, she entered the Camaldolese monastery on 21 November 1945, as a laywoman committed to a “desert life”, upon permission of Pope Pius XII. She later took religious vows.

Sr Nazarena lived a very strict ascetic rule: she slept on a wooden bed that had a wooden cross overlay, fasted on water and bread, spoke only to her confessor and Mother Superior, and received the Eucharist through a grille. In addition to prayer and reading, she spent her days fashioning crosses from palm leaves. She died on 7 February 1990; she was 82.

Her hiddenness, said Matus, was not a rejection of the world but an embrace of the life she was called to live in love and union with the Trinitarian God.

Matus said, to his knowledge, no cause for canonization has been opened for Sr Nazarena nor is there any initiative to promote a particular devotion to her, as it would contradict her very spirituality.

Listen to Laura Ieraci’s full interview with Fr. Thomas Matus: RealAudioMP3