Benedetta was born in Dovadola (Dovadola; the house where Benedetta was born) , a village in the province of Forli, on 8th August 1936. She is the daughter of Elsa Giammarchi and engineer Guido Bianchi Porro. Benedetta is the second oldest of six children. Struck by poliomyelitis when she was only a few months old, she is left with a crippled leg. The children of the village call her "Limpy", but she is not offended. Her words are meant to defend them, "It's only the truth", she says to her mother. (pictures of Benedetta: 2 years old; a little child;with her mom; 4 years old)  This was the first of many trials that were to blossom into a covenant of love and friendship with God; into a veritable apostolate of suffering.

At the early age of five, she started to write a diary at the request of her mother who saw in this child something over and above the natural qualities of her other children. It is through her diary and her letters that we learn of her suffering and her personal experience in faith; of how she gave God the central place in her life; of how she made Him known to all those who witnessed or learned of her power to accept His designs, which at times were mysterious and incomprehensible even to her.

At the beginning of World War II her family evacuated to Casticciano (picture) , near Bertinoro. (pictures of Benedetta with her family in1941; at primary school).

In 1944, with the arrival of the English- American allies, the German troops retreat, passing through Romagna. The echo of this can be caught in the diaries, that she began to write when she was only 5 years old, at the request of her mother. They are short notes, according to her young age, in which she is speaking very often about her family, nature, games and her feelings. (picture of 7 years old Benedetta)

Benedetta is a sensitive, delicate, intelligent and strong- willed girl. She joyfully plays with her siblings and other friends, but everynow and then she feels the need to withdraw herself in thoughtful silence: these are the moments in which Benedetta stands in awe and wonder before the amazing miracle of life in all things, in the flowers, in the sunny fields, in her little cherry tree that she is watering daily, in the marvellous dawn. It is only then, that she reveals her discoveries. "The universe is enchanting! It is great to be alive!". A happy child, she would run to see the harvesting of the grain, sit spellbound listening to the men singing at their work, mingle with other children frolicking on the threshing floor and then would climb a huge cypress tree, because "up in its branches she had built her little house." .

One is struck by this need that she had to be alone to contemplate the world around her; a world she was learning to love in its simplicity, beauty and majesty; a world which in time was to be forever closed to her, but which would always remain vivid in her fond memories.

At the age of 9, the return of peace has a happy adventure in store for her: Benedetta will move to Forli where she will stay until 1951, except for a short stay in Brescia, as a guest of the Rabotti family.

With parents and siblings she is leading a tranquil life. She skips one class and is studying with the Sisters of St. Dorothy. The years spent in Romagna are happy ones. There she leads a simple life: birthday parties, Sunday school, piano lessons, the Sunday dress. (picture of Benedetta at secondary school)  "Remember, Manuela, how happy we were when we were going with mom to St. Mercuriale and we all wanted to stay close to her, how happy we were then! And we didn't know we were."

She attends middle school and high school in Forli. In 1951 the Bianchi Porro family is moving to Sirmione del Garda. Benedetta is enthusiastically speaking of the villa with view of the lake: "white, with green shutters, a wooden balcony in the front, a small gate on the side, the big and roomy bedrooms give such a feeling of freedom...". Sirmione is beautiful, and the little girl likes to live in the villa among the olive trees and she also enjoys the discussions with the siblings, politics, sport, swimming in the lake, the voices, the laughter, the boats, the people, the things. (14 years old Benedetta)

Benedetta is passionate about everything; she loves to study and spends many hours playing the piano. But her burning joy to live bears a shadow of sadness, an ineffable sign, a hidden excitement:
"at this sight, my soul is full of memories, and has a great need of indefinite, of remote, of silence. A need to be out of the world, far away from everybody, and a need to reveal to someone the sorrows of my life; the need for someone who would comfort me. To get consolation, I only need to raise my thought to God."

To prevent deformation of the spine, she has to wear a brace, which is oppressing and conditioning her. We get a glimpse of her anguish from her diary, wherein she writes: "Dear Diary - I put on my brace for the first time this morning, what tears! It squeezes me way up under my armpits and almost takes my breath away." These are evident signs of discouragement which Benedetta constantly tried to overcome in the conquest of interior serenity.
She is also losing her sense of hearing. Many times because of this she was misunderstood by her teachers and ridiculed by her classmates. On one of those occasions she noted in her diary: "Dear Diary - What a bad impression I make at times, but it doesn't matter. Some day soon, I will hear only the voice of my soul and that is the road I will follow". These hidden fears never lessened her determination.

Day after day the restlessness of her spirit is growing. Thirsty for love, she reveals Anna, her dear friend, her deepest and more delicate feelings: "You are my very first friend and a friend for me is something more than what others mean by it. A friend has to be something of ourselves and you are for me the other half of my soul, the water in which I can reflect."

Anytime she can't enjoy her friend's reassuring presence, Benedetta feels a much deeper interior solitude. Deafness is advancing. Still is the murmor of all things, the feast of life: "...the sky is gray and foggy and all things are getting annoyed and are crying instead of laughing for my soul."
She is now experiencing a life of bare love: how many desires and hopes destined to die! Mourn, loss, fear. The trial is getting harder and harder. Benedetta is trembling: "...I am afraid that everything is an illusion and this illusion is making me tremble more than despair itself".

More than to the pages of her diary, it is to her friend Anna that she is revealing the restlessness of her spirit. " I, too, am thirsty for peace and I wish to abandon the waves of the sea and find refuge in the peace of a haven. But my boat is fragile, my sails are torn apart by lightning, the oars are broken and the current is pulling me far away."

Benedetta knows the cold of scepticism, the blind fear of emptiness and she asks for help: "Anna, if only you would know how much I need your help. I wish the truth, I wish only this, yet nobody knows it."

But the Truth, that she is looking for, is beginning to make itself heard in the voice of her soul. The tempest is slowly coming to an end. This dramatic human experience is preparing her resurrection. Benedetta is discovering the riches of her interior life. She is in the second year of high school "Bagatta" in Desenzano, when she writes in her diary: " I was questioned in Latin; every so often I couldn't understand what the teacher was asking me. What a fool I must look sometimes, but what does it matter? One day maybe I shan't understand anything other people say to me, but I shall always hear the voice of my own soul: and this is the true way that I must follow."

Benedetta chooses a life that finds its meaning and justification in the value of the spirit.

Fall 1953. After skipping the third year of high school, she enrolls at the University in Milan; she is 17 years old. Her father suggests her to enroll in Physics and Benedetta agrees, but only to please him. Soon she realizes that Physics is not for her and she decides to enroll in Medicine. "I undertook these new studies with enthusiasm. I had always dreamed of being a doctor. I want to live, fight and sacrifice myself for all mankind." She is now almost completely deaf. (University record book) . Benedetta is accompanied by her young friend Anna, who responds for her to the call up.

Her life as a University student was also destined to be a trying one, but she never gave in as we shall see later. When she happened to be confined to bed and an exam was due, her indomitable zeal prompted her even to evade the surveillance of her mother. Accompanied by her little maid Anna, who never left her, she would leave her hospital bed, take her exams, then quietly return, pretending that she had never left it.

Now completely deaf and obliged to use a cane because of a new motorial difficulty, she is preparing herself to become a doctor. The difficulties are enormous, but she has decided to persevere with all her strenght: "I would only like to get to practise, even as the least important doctor..."

1955: fundamental exam of the first two-year course of study. Benedetta is waiting for the professor to write for her the questions she can't hear anymore, but her university record book flies against the door. In the room there are students laughing. The professor shouts: "Who ever heard of a deaf doctor!" Benedetta, silently, with tears in her eyes, stands up and picks up the book. Then she approaches the doctor and humbly tells him: "I am sorry, professor, I didn't mean to offend you." To her mother asking about this exam, Benedetta responds: "The professor was good. He didn't spoil my record book with a bad mark." Thanks to the Rector, she can sit the exam again; the result is excellent and she is allowed to continue her study. (Benedetta in 1955)

In the meantime Benedetta's mother, alarmed at her daughter's condition, which no doctor was ever able to diagnose, decided to take her to a psycho-analyst. He was greatly impressed by her; but he too had to admit that he was unable to diagnose her case because all the tests taken were negative.

Christmas 1956: it is the beginning of a serious disease, of which deafness is only one of the signs. After numerous consultations, it is Benedetta herself who will diagnose her deadly disease: diffused neurofibromatosis, Recklinghausen Disease­Neuro-Fibromatosis, a paralysis of the nervous system which gradually invades all the nerve centres; a mysterious sickness which even today is not completely understood (20 years old Benedetta; in Sirmione)

27th June 1957: she has surgery on her head for the first time. They shave her head. Maybe, Benedetta in that moment is experiencing again one event of her infancy: the farmer Natale, who, on a rainy day in September, was shaving the wool from a sheep while the fog is covering the village of Bertinoro: " While they were cutting my hair, I felt like a lamb having its wool cut and I prayed to the Lord to make me strong and small. The Lord, mom, wants great things of us. I've suffered a lot and I've asked Him to make me a little sheep in His hands."

She talks about this surgery in one letter to her good friend Maria Grazia: "On the occasion of the surgery they shaved my hair and now my head looks very much like a brush for clothes... At times I am so terribly depressed... Besides, following the surgery, my left facial nerve is paralyzed, my face is half paralyzed; unfortunately I need to have a plastic surgery. In the meantime I am awaiting better times (but will they ever come?) and I am obliged to stop my study: heaven only knows what this costs me! Well, the important thing is to keep serene."

Her will is so strong that the following year, in the fall, she succeds in positively passing the exams of medical pathology and surgical pathology. And yet she well knew, because one day, coming home victoriously but exhausted after an exam, she says to her mother: "Yes, mom, this too went well, but what use is all this?... In a while...". Indeed, shortly, neurofibromatosis will manifest her tragic signs. (21 years old Benedetta)

29th June 1959: Benedetta doesn't pass her last exam (hygiene). She doesn't overreact on this: "...the professor is all fuss, fuss, fuss and flies off the handle at nothing...well, I'll do it again!"

7th August: the climax of her life of suffering and endurance came when her parents consented, on the advice of several of the best specialists in Milan, to a spinal marrow operation. Benedetta to please her loved ones willingly underwent this new ordeal. The result: paralysis of both legs.
Benedetta was never to walk again, she was to be henceforth confined to her bed or her armchair for over four years. This came as a terrible blow to her parents, but for her, amazingly enough, nothing changed. Just as her trials increased, so did she advance in grace; she completely forgot herself and began to live in others.

At the beginning of her exhausting ascent, Benedetta had written in her diary: "Dear Diary - I long for liberty, but how far from the prison of my life is this reality!" Later, at the peak of her suffering, she said to her mother, who was worried lest the little canary she had given her as a gift, might remind her of her own captivity: "No, Mother, I have never felt as free as I am now".

What a felicitous message far those who suffer, for those who are shut in! What an example for all those who do not know that "God in His goodness makes everything new, and with Him everything is possible", even the most dire suffering and loneliness!

This truth was revealed in the new life that this valiant young apostle of suffering was to build for herself to help others. Her room soon became a "crossroad of  lives", beautiful young lives: the medical students who suddenly realised that she would no longer be with them as they pursued their medical careers; young friends, who suddenly realised how much they loved her and what an example of gentleness, joy, humble gratitude and tireless zeal she had been to them.

Slowly the disease will take away the senses of taste, touch and smell. In these sorrowful years, her friend Maria Grazia is always beside her; silently she is helping her. Benedetta will tell Maria Grazia her daily struggles and the secret joy of some moments too: "I do have many temptations, please pray for me. If I tell things with no meaning, tell Him to close my mouth. I happen to be on the ground at times, under the weight of a heavy cross. Then I call to Him with love, I am at His feet and He sweetly let me lay my head on His lap. Do you know Maria Grazia? Do you know the sweetness of these moments?"

Through Maria Grazia, Nicoletta will be introduced as a new friend to Benedetta and will be of great spiritual support to her.

Many other friends will touch this shore in full communion and this will turn Benedetta's bedroom into a "crossroad of lives". "We would go all together to visit her. Hers was not a bed anymore; beyond every evidence, Benedetta would make us forget that we were visiting a sick person. During the whole day, we would talk to her in turn; there were moments for laughing, yes, we were singing together, praying Vespers together". (From Paola's testimony). Her friends are walking with her on her spiritual journey. Benedetta loves them all deeply, tenderly, and together they are one. When her friends can't visit her, they send her letters, like a gift from God.

"Dear Nicoletta, thank you for your letter. While it was read to me I was thinking that I received a grace and that such a joy was coming down from heaven... St. Augustine says. I tasted you and now I hunger and thirst for you; you touched me and now I am burning with the desire for your peace."

This thirst and hunger are alive in all the letter that Benedetta with much difficulty is writing to her friends and family members: "... as for me, I live my usual life, and yet it seems so complete... it is true, though, that life in itself is a miracle, and I would like to raise a hymn of praise to Him Who gave it to me...At times I am asking myself if it is I one of those to whom much has been given and much will be requested..." (At Easter with her family)

In May '62 Benedetta went to Lourdes by hospital train for the very first time. Great is her abandonment in God, even if she has a project of her own: "I desire to become a nun. I have made a vow"... Coming back from this pilgrimage, she writes: "I went to ask for healing, but God's criteria is higher than our and He acts always for our good". (picture)

Close to her, before the grotto, a paralyzed young woman lays in her stretcher: it is Maria D.B. She is desperate and cries. Benedetta comforts her, then takes her hand and presses it to hers, as gathered into one prayer: " Maria! The Madonna is there, the Madonna is looking at you. Tell the Madonna to help you", and she gathers in a profound silence. After a short time, Maria gets up from her stretcher and starts walking. On her way back, Benedetta writes: "Somebody on our pilgrimage had a miracle: what emotion and what joy! The compassion of God is limitless".

Benedetta starts her difficult walk again, dying to herself more and more: " Lourdes I went through a very dry period, but now I am coming back with much faith and humility. We do need to be humble, to admit that we are poor, so that we may ask for and recognize the truth..."

27th February 1963. Clinic city in Milan. Benedetta is operated on the head for the last time. She is afraid. Maria Grazia writes to her Bernanos' words from the Diary of a country curate. She slightly changes the text so that Benedetta wouldn't find out that the curate is speaking about his death: "If I am afraid, I will say without shame - I am afraid - and the Lord will give me safety and help". Benedetta reads and keeps repeating these words in a low voice, in complete abandonment, and thanks her friend with extraordinary tenderness.

During the hours immediately following the operation, Benedetta was in immeasurable pain. She cried: "What agony, my God, what agony, but I want to give myself willingly with joy - not because I must - but because I want to. I find myself once again in the Garden of Olives. Yes, the Lord is my Shepherd - thank you for reminding me".

28th February 1963. It is the most tragic and yet the greatest day in the life of Benedetta. She becomes blind. The journey toward the mistery of God is slowly coming to an end. She spends some desperate hours: "... she was greatly suffering; she was breathing with much difficulty. She was shaking while the nurse was inserting the intravenous needles on the back of her left hand. Using the other hand, that was left free, we were trying to "talk" to her, telling her to keep still. We were desperately trying, for the first time, to "talk" to her, who was now deaf and blind, with the deaf alphabet that she knew, moving the fingers of her hand to shape every conventional letter. Yet she was not used to this exercise of heroic patience. She was desperate and she was rejecting us. Then, almost all of a sudden, Benedetta became calm and serene. Blindness was for her a horrifying chance until the day before and now it is a reality, a fact, and Benedetta accepts it, as the expression of the will of God"... (from Maria Grazia's testimony)

On March 1st, she was anointed, as death seemed imminent. But, the next day, to everyone’s surprise, a great calm came over her. Her mother noticed "that she seemed completely free from the fear and anguish that had seized her only a few days before. She seemed to accept her blindness as a path to greater joy and brighter light"

Thus began the last stage of her return journey to God, in complete darkness, or as she herself put it, "in isolation and emptiness".

Deaf, completely paralyzed and blind, Benedetta communicates with others through that breath of voice that was left to her and others were "speaking" to her by folding the fingers of her right hand and by pressing them on her body and on her face according a conventional deaf alphabet. In this way they are reading to her letters from friends, book pages, world news, everybody's thoughts. A hand and a breath of voice are her only bridge to the world.

Far from being isolated and lonely, she became more alive to the mystery of God's love for her that had unfolded in such an unexpected manner. "Her bed became the pulpit from which Benedetta 'preached without preaching' lessons of patience, humility, fortitude, resignation to God's will, the value of the Cross endured with Christ and for Christ" (Father F.X. Grasso, S.J.) to people from all walks of life, believers and unbelievers alike. "They'd come and go in groups of ten and fifteen, with her mother as interpreter, she was able to communicate with each one. It seemed as though she could read our innermost souls with extreme clarity, even though she couldn't hear or see us. I will always remember her with her hand extended ready to receive the word of God and her brothers and sisters". (From Maria Grazia's Testimony).

A difficult serenity reflects itself in the letters to her friends, letters that Benedetta dictates to her mom :
To Franci: "...In the sadness of my deafness, and in the darkness of my solitude, I have willingly tried to be serene to let my sorrow bloom; and I willingly and humbly try to be as He wants me to be: very very small, as I truly feel when I succeed in seeing His endless greatness in the dark night of my hard and difficult days".

In the meanwhile, with the coming of the summer, Benedetta is transported to Lourdes for her second and last pilgrimage: "...I am going to draw strength from our heavenly Mother, because I can't get used as I wish to live happily in the dark, awaiting for a light brighter and warmer than the sun". The miracle of Lourdes, is the discovery of her true vocation to the cross: "...and I have realized, more than ever, the riches of my state and I want nothing else but keep it. That was the miracle of Lourdes for me this year".

She had willingly changed from "doing" to "being". Closed in a "mortal wilderness", Benedetta sang the joys of living and never stopped thanking God for the wonderful gift of life. For her, to die was to live. Repeatedly she would utter these phrases and others similar to them: "I know that we must die in order to help others to live"; - "If the grain that falls on the ground doesn't die it will not give bread and peace" - "The resurrection flows from death. It is the Paschal mystery" - "I think that everything is like spring that blossoms, blooms again and smells fragrant after the winter frost"

From Benedetta's own words we can understand how she arrived at the beautiful concept she had of life. "I am happy because I understand that without the shedding of blood there will be no remission". - "The cross in the sign of God in man". - "Life has only one face - LOVE".

"When we 'hunger and thirst' for God, we 'hunger and thirst' for others". - "God gives us His spiritual bread through others. I have experienced it. And others nourish themselves with the Living Bread".

She became "a small empty tent for the repose of her Lord". For her life is "anticipation"; death, "the most sweet call"; encounter, her "feast".

Closed in a desert with no borders, Benedetta sings the joy of living and endlessly thanks God for the most wonderful gift of life. She often repeats this African song:

   At times I feel like a child without mom
   at times I feel like an eagle in the air.
   One luminous and nice morning
   I will lay down my burden, I will open my wings and I will fly,
   you can bury me in the east
   you can bury me in the west
   but that morning
   angels will open their great wings
   and I will hear the holy trumpets sound.

Then the last summer came. The voice of the lake, the splendor and the smell of the flowers are now only the echo of a dream. In the landscape of darkness, Benedetta looks for her God: "...the days are going by, awaiting for Him Whom I love in the air, in the sun that I can't see any more, and yet I can still feel in its warmth when it is entering through my window to warm my hands, in the rain that is coming down from heaven to clean the earth..."

On 1st November '63 her friend Giuliana, coming back from the procession to the cemetery, feels the urge to visit Benedetta, who, as soon as is aware of her friend's presence, is showing herself very anxious to tell her: "I need to tell you something important:...I entered in a cemetery in Romagna, there was only one open tomb, enlightened by a light so bright, that I couldn't keep my eyes open and in the middle of this light I saw a white rose. What do you think?" Giuliana was hesitating to respond and Benedetta adds: "Please do not talk about this with anybody." These words are heard also by her young sister Carmen, without Benedetta knowing about her presence.

Her last Christmas is coming closer, "and Benedetta was telling us to pray because that night, peace could descend upon the world. And she also told us that she asked the Lord for a great grace: she asked Him to let her be born to a new life with Him on that holy night. I brought her a crucifix. Benedetta touched it and said - I, too, like Him, but always in joy" (from Giuliana's testimony)

Since some time Benedetta has been preparing herself for her mystical Christmas: " Now I am walking on the road that leads to Betlehem: to the stable where the Baby is born, mystery of love and of sorrow."

At the end of the year her parents drive her to Milan, it is her last goodbye to her friends who are waiting for her: " It looks like I am desired and wished for: how funny this is, Maria Grazia!" (Benedetta 20 days before her death)

The reality of this advent, of the birth of Christ in her, was anticipated in her letter to father Gabriele on July '63: "In my trails I recommend myself to the Mother, who has lived more difficult and harder trials, so that she may move me and may give birth in my heart to her son so true and alive as He was for Her".

On New Year's day Benedetta has to leave Milan: in Sirmione she finds Roberto's telegram. Her mom, as usual, "transmits" this to her through her hand: "Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor. Exultemus - The love of Christ makes us one. Let us rejoice". These words give her much joy and she tells to her mom: "...Read slowly, mom, my joy is too great, it is the Church speaking to me."

Then it looks like that even the Church is silent, while Benedetta is getting closer to her Getsemane of solitude: "You know, mom, for many Benedetta is already dead. And yet many will remember me; they will mourn for not being close to me during this hour. The end is near, but you will never have to feel lonely, mom; I am leaving you many many children to take care of".

Benedetta is feeling the time of the Meeting coming closer. "In these very last days my health conditions have been worsening; thus, I hope that the "call" doesn't let itself wait for too long...I can tell you that I have already heard the voice of the Groom. I am slow in my prayers, but I offer everything of myself, as I am: may He, who is born in me, guide and lead me to the end". "I can tell you that in these days I often feel in myself the presence of the Holy Spirit". Sirmione (picture) , 23 January 1964 in the morning, day of the wedding of the Virgin. Benedetta asks her mother to "read" to her the closing page of the Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux. This is the page of St. Therese's Oblation. Her mother is close to her and to speak to her is slowly moving her hand because Benedetta seems to be very tired.
A little bird is sitting outside her window; her mom communicates this to Benedetta, who has been left with no voice since several months, and she begins now to sing an old song: "Pilgrim swallow". Her clear and pure voice is impressing all those present. Emilia, the nurse, exclaims with full commotion: "Listen to her voice. This is a voice that comes from heaven. Benedetta is dying!"
These are the last moments of her earthly life. Out of season, a white rose blooms in her garden. Hearing this from her mother, Benedetta tells her, maybe remembering the vision told to Giuliana: "It is a sweet sign"... Many times in her life she had repeated: "For all those who believe, everything is a sign".
Then she asks her mom to "transmit" Lucio's last letter, who, recalling St. Paul, is speaking to her of the exaltation of the cross.
She remembers also the medical student who, in a bitter letter published on the magazine "Epoca" was professing himself unable to love and thus to believe: "Mom,...Epoca...I am dying...tell him...I love him". In a whisper she then adds: " you remember the legend?..." Her mom doesn't understand and remains silent. Only some days after her death her mother will remember the legend by Tagore: "The beggar and the king".

"I had gone a-begging from door to door in the village path, when thy golden chariot appeared in the distance like a gorgeous dream and I wondered who was this King of all kings!
My hopes rose high and methought my evil days were at an end, and I stood waiting for alms to be given unasked and for wealth scattered on all sides in the dust. The chariot stopped where I stood. Thy glance fell on me and thou camest down with a smile. I felt that the luck of my life had come at last.
Then of a sudden thou didst hold out thy right hand and say "What hast thou to give me?" Ah, what a kingly jest was it to open thy palm to a beggar to beg!
I was confused and stood undecided, and then from my wallet I slowly took out the least little grain of corn and gave it to thee.
But how great my surprise when at the day's end I emptied my bag on the floor to find a least little grain of gold among the poor heap.
I bitterly wept and wished that I had had the heart to give thee my all."

(Rabindranath Tagore)

Benedetta gave all of herself.
Her last word was "Thank you".

Thus ended the earthly life of this heroic young woman who shared in the cross of Christ, so that she might share His Love with others. And thus began that marvellous life after death that was "to move the world mysteriously" and was "to live in others".

Benedetta was buried in the cemetery at Sirmione. Her body was later exhumed and taken to her native Dovadola. There she now lies in a very fine sarcophagus in the Benedictine Church of St. Andrew.



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