SERVING TO SIX POPES
Włodzimierz Rędzioch talks with a 100-year-old nun Ariberta Burzio
In the 19th century Leon XIII wanted the long tradition of production of arras to survive in Vatican, therefore he wanted to establish a school of arras. But the pope’s project was realized not earlier than in the year 1915, during the pontificate of Benedict XV when the Vatican school-factory of arras began to function. Then a workshop of conservation of arras was organized, which was entrusted to The Franciscan Nuns the Missionaries of Mary in 1926. In the beginning the nuns worked in their general house at Via Giusti in Rome but according to the will of Pius XI the workshop was moved to Vatican. In summer 1930 the community consisting of seven nuns moved to the building behind the church of St. Anna. The pope wanted to greet the new inhabitants of Vatican personally, so a few months later – on 6 February he visited them and could admire the excellent workshop. During the pontificate of Pius XII, when the pope’s secretary was a dynamic s. Pascalina Lehnert, a young nun – Aribert (Iride Burzio) arrived to the Vatican community of Franciscan nuns. In the beginning s. Ariberta helped in running a private warehouse of the Holy Father, which was on the ground floor of the Apostolic Palace, on the courtyard of Sixtus V. Later she was responsible for the warehouse during the pontificates of the next popes: John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, but mainly John Paul II for whom she worked for 27 years, finally Benedict XVI. When she began to work in Vatican in 1945, she did not think that her mission for popes would last even 62 years – this is a real record! She finished her work during the pontificate of Benedict XVI, in October 2007, when she was 88 years old. For over 25 years I met s. Ariberta at Vatican Via del Pellegrino, in front of the house of the Franciscan nuns – on the same street there is the headquarter of the newspaper ‘L’Osservatore Romano’ for which I worked. The last time I met the sister in Autumn 2007, when she was going to the Franciscan community in Borgo Sacco, on the suburbs of the Rovereto city in Trident. S. Ariberta has been living in Rovereto till today and she has celebrated her 100th birthday there. Her particular jubilee became for me a pretext for an interview about her years spent on serving to six popes.
WŁODZIMIERZ RĘDZIOCH: You were a director of the papal private warehouse for 62 years, from where Holy Father’s gifts are sent to those who are in need all over the world. How did the Vatican mission of Sister began during the pontificate of Pius XII?
S. ARIBERTA BURZIO: - I was only 23 years old, when after my novice in the Convent of the Franciscan Nuns the Missionaries of Mary I was sent to our community in Vatican. It was during the pontificate of Pius XII whose secretary was s. Pascalina Lehnert. I began to work in a private warehouse of the pope, which became a real charity centre thanks to s. Pascalina. And during the war and in the post-war time there were a lot of poor people who were knocking on doors and to the pope’s heart. A lot of donors gave him their donations, knowing that they would get to hands of people really needing help.
- What are Sister’s memories about John XXIII?
- When John XXIII was elected a pope, he met with employees and saw that they earned very little. He raised the pay of those who worked in Vatican, whereas he told us to prepared parcels of food, clothes etc. for the employees’ families who had more than four children.
- Once Sister confessed that Paul VI was your ‘favourite’ pope. Why?
- Because he had been my bishop in Milan when I met him being a young girl. After years I met him and got to know him better when I worked in a warehouse. He was a very good and discreet person. One day he invited me and other people from the warehouse for the Holy Mass in a private chapel to thank for the chasuble which he had got on the 50th anniversary of his priesthood (it was the famous chasuble with the sheep which was later worn by John Paul II in the beginning of his pontificate). Paul VI greeted us cordially and then advised us to think about Lord all the time, not get engaged too much in doing anything. I will never forget his looking at us when he was saying it.
- Were sisters in the warehouse embroidering also chasubles for popes?
- Yes, among our numerous tasks there was also preparing liturgical robes for the Holy Father. We were embroidering them by hands, those were often real masterpieces. I remember, for example, one of projects of a famous sculptor Lello Scorzelli and a lot of chasubles prepared during the pontificate of John Paul II.
- It was 27 years since Sister had served to John Paul II, the pope who travelled a lot and attracted millions of people to Vatican…
- John Paul II welcomed a lot of people and received lots of presents from them every Wednesday, during audiences and on other occasions. He received everything: beginning with drawings of children to vans of cakes for the poor; from blankets for the homeless to valuable presents for Vatican Museums or the papal sacristy. We – the people responsible for the warehouse – together with papal secretaries and the Secretary of State – had to take the presents, segregate and give them away.
- And what was Sister’s role in preparing for the papal journeys?
- Preparing parcels of presents to give away during the Pope’s journeys was one of the most gentle moments of our work. Together with other sisters I prepared boxes for papal journeys. There was a lot of work – depending on where the Pope was travelling, various presents were prepared: rosaries, memorable medals of journeys, valuable chalices, liturgical robes, which the Holy Father gave away in cities visited by him.
- Do Sister remember preparation for a particular journey?
- I will never forget how many parcels we prepared for a papal journey to Cuba. In 1998 the Pope took the whole plane of presents with him!
- In the last years Sister have worked in Vatican for Benedict XVI….
- Yes, Benedict XVI was the last pope whom I met personally. At the end of my work in Vatican, in October 2007, the Pope welcomed me to his private audiences with Polish nuns who had taken care of the private warehouse with me since 2001. I have been in touch with Benedict XVI till today, via his secretary and a nun who helps him.
- This year, now being far away from Vatican, Sister is celebrating your 100th birthday. What feelings do you have on this particular anniversary?
- Mainly the feelings of glory to God, who has always helped me in my life. Now I am only thinking about life with Him.
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 8/2019 (24 II 2019)