While I was in Italy many years ago, I went to a church named for Saint Cristina of Bolsena. I was intrigued to visit because my name is Christine (I was baptized in the Catholic Church with the name Christina–the Italian spelling of which is Cristina.) By the time I visited Italy in the 90s, I was in my mid-30s, and I had not been attending Mass. I had lived my life up until then in San Francisco, and as a single woman, I was driven primarily by my career. Foolishly, I had left my faith behind.
“But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the wise” – 1 Corinthians 1:27
But God can do miraculous things in the lives of ordinary people, even the most foolish.
My career path at the time included going to school in Italy. I spent many day trips visiting Catholic churches throughout Italy known for their miracles and saints. I love miracles! I now believe even though I hadn’t been fully practicing my Catholic faith, grace was still present, leading me through Italy’s magnificent church marvels. I visited the churches of Padre Pio in Foggia and St. Francis in Assisi, St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, the Duomo in Milan, and a few smaller churches known for their miracles, such as Maria Goretti’s. I visited the Vatican many times. I also happened to join a group in St. Peter’s Square for an audience with Pope John Paul II.
My little travel book included information about the town of Bolsena, and that’s what led me to discover Saint Cristina.
St. Cristina lived in the 3rd century and was born to a prominent pagan family. She converted to Catholicism at age 11 after seeing the faith of the then-persecuted Christians fighting against paganism. She was repeatedly tortured by her father and other leaders in an attempt to force her to worship their pagan idols, but she never did. Finally, as they persisted, she pleaded to God to make her a martyr. She died when an arrow pierced her heart. Many converted because of her tenacious faith.
What could make an 11-year-old girl so consistent in her faith and convictions to stand up against the pagan world that included her own family? She was strong, determined and focused on God. I could relate to her. My family wasn’t pagan–but they could be strict. I never wanted to settle for what other people had planned for me. And in recent years, I’ve come to learn what pagan practices are and to steer clear, as St. Cristina did.
Still quite naïve as an adult, God led me to Bolsena and all the other churches I visited across Italy. I sure didn’t plan on turning my time in Italy into a sort of holy pilgrimage, but God knew what I needed, as He knows all of our hearts. He is the perfect tour guide.
But there is more to the story of Bolsena.
A German priest named Peter of Prague also made the journey to Saint Cristina’s church centuries before I did, in 1263, while on his way to Rome. He was struggling with his belief in Jesus present in the consecrated host, wrestling with the truth that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus through “transubstantiation”.
On his second day at the church, he celebrated Mass at the tomb of Saint Cristina. As soon as he said the consecration, the host began to bleed. Blood ran down his hands and onto the altar. Both he and the parishioners were amazed. He wrapped the host in linen and went to tell the pope who lived in nearby Orvieto. The pope held an investigation, and the event was proven a Eucharistic miracle. One year later, in 1264, the pope started the feast of Corpus Christi. This yearly feast day celebrates the miracle of the Blessed Sacrament.
I was aware of that story of the priest and the Eucharistic miracle while in Bolsena, however, I didn’t know what role it would later play in my own Catholic life.
You see, I chose Saint Cristina as my Confirmation Saint when I was to be confirmed in 2021, over 30 years after my visit to her church. I was confirmed on June 6, 2021, on Corpus Christi Sunday. I chose Saint Cristina during RCIA class because of that visit I had to her church, but I had no way of knowing that I would be confirmed on that feast day. As I was just returning to the Catholic Church after many years away, I didn’t even know what the feast day of Corpus Christi meant, and I didn’t realize the connection until that Sunday.
What finally led me back to the Church all those years later is a whole other story. Or is it all just part of the grand plan of God? Even though to some it looks as though I have meandered in life, I am never lost with God. No, I didn’t marry, or have children. I don’t have a Ph.D. or anything else that might impress the world. I can still appear foolish. But I do have God. And I do still have a purpose, to share His goodness with others.
“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the Lord—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.” Jeremiah 29:11.
So many of us experience miracles daily but few make the effort to recognize them or to give God the credit. Transubstantiation happens to the Eucharist, but when we receive the Bread of Life it is the Eucharist that then changes us, and we become one with God.
My visit to Saint Cristina’s Church back then changed me, and that moment stays with me still. I can’t believe I was so blessed to have visited it. Perhaps I received blessings by just being there. And it’s hard to comprehend how far my faith has come since then, by trusting God and following where He leads, as He transforms me and all of us if we allow Him to be in control.
St. Cristina, pray for us!
More worldwide Eucharistic miracles can be found here.
Image credit: Depositphotos