On March 14th we remember the Servant of God Zita of Bourbon-Parma, Dame Grand Cross of Honor and Devotion of the Order of Malta (admitted on April 6th, 1914) widow of Blessed Charles I of Austria.
She was born at Villa Le Piànore, a large property between Pietrasanta and Camaiore, in the Italian province of Lucca, on 9 May 1892, daughter of H.R.H. Robert I, Duke of Parma and Piacenza, and of his second wife Princess Antonia of Braganza. By her deeply Catholic parents, Zita is educated in love for Jesus and the Church, with austere principles of fidelity to God’s Commandments.
When on 21 October 1911 she married Archduke Charles of Austria, they promise each other: “From today, we must help each other to go to Heaven”. He was 24, she was not even 20. He was a saint (John Paul II beatified him on October 3rd, 2005), she was the worthy wife of a saint. After the wedding, they go to the Sanctuary of Mariazell to entrust their life to the Virgin, perhaps foreshadowing the storms that would soon come not only in their home but throughout Europe.
On May 28th, 1914 after the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, her husband Charles becomes the heir to the throne of Austria and Hungary. World War I breaks out and Archduke Charles is among the senior army officers, while Zita dedicates herself to the population, to the wounded, to families most in difficulty, like a sister, a mother.
Because of her ardent faith and her tireless charity, she will be qualified as the “guardian angel of all who suffer” by the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna. On November 21st, 1916 in full conflict the Emperor Franz Joseph died: Charles, who was 29, was crowned Emperor in the midst of the terrible tragedy.
Charles, also through his brother-in-law Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma, is committed with all his strength to promote peace as soon as possible, save the Habsburg monarchy, keep the empire united so as to respond to the poignant call of Benedict XV.
In November 1918 the Empire fell apart and the imperial couple headed for exile. In the midst of these tribulations, with her husband increasingly frail in health, Zita reveals her immense courage: she supports the dying Charles who goes to meet Jesus on April 1st, 1922 at the age of only 35.
Widow at the age of 30, with eight children to raise, Zita is alone, poor, exiled but she retains a solid faith in Divine Providence: her prayer, especially with the Holy Mass and the Rosary, is continuous. Nobody and nothing bends it or derails her from the Catholic Faith.
Since 1926 she is a Benedictine oblate of the Solesmes Abbey where she stays several times thanks to the permission granted by Pius XII. She gets up every day at 5 a.m. and she participates in various Masses because “the Mass is the Sacrifice of Jesus, the Mass is everything”; she meditates on the Passion of Jesus, with the prayers of Saint Bridget, and recites numerous rosaries to Our Lady.
When she was allowed to return to Austria in 1982, she decided to go first to Mariazell to renew the consecration of herself, of her children, of her nation and of Europe to Our Lady. She died in Zizers, Switzerland on March 14, 1989.
On December 10th, 2009 H.E. Msgr.Yves Le Saux, Bishop of Le Mans (France) after obtaining the consent of the Archbishop of Chur and the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, opened the process for the beatification of the Servant of God Zita of Bourbon-Parma, wife and mother .