Saturday, March 5, 2011

The poet, the mystic, and the cat

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

The Italian Catholic Church has presented throughout its history a fruitful contradiction. On one side is the strong presence of the Vatican, representing the official Church with its mass of faithful kept under a watchful social control by the doctrines and especially by family and sexual morality. On the other is the presence of Christians, lay people, non-aligned, resisting against the monarchical and implacable power of the bureaucracy of the Roman Curia, but open to the gospel and Christian values, without breaking with the papacy, although critical of its practices and the support it gives to conservative and even authoritarian regimes.

Thus we have in the nineteenth century the figure of Antonio Rosmini, a fine philosopher and critic of the anti-modernism of the popes. In recent times, we identify figures like Mazzolari, Raniero La Valle, Arturo Paoli, the hermit Maria Campello. Among them, Adriana Zarri, a hermit, theologian, poet and eminent writer, stands out. In addition to several books, she wrote weekly in the newspaper Il Manifesto and fortnightly in the culture magazine Rocca.

She was very harsh with respect to the current course of the Church under the Popes Wojtyla and Ratzinger, who she directly accused of betraying the reform efforts adopted by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and returning to a medieval model of exercising power and presence of the Church in society. She died on November 18, 2010 at 90 plus years of age.

I visited her a few times at her hermitage near Strambino in northern Italy. She lived alone in a huge, dilapidated mansion, full of roses and with her beloved cat Archibalda. She had a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament exposed where she recollected several hours a day in prayer and deep meditation.

In our conversations, she wanted to know everything about basic Christian communities, the Church's commitment to the cause of the poor, black and indigenous people. She had a special affection for the liberation theologians, seeing the persecution they endured from the Vatican officials who treated them, as she says, "with thrashings", while they used kid gloves with the followers of schismatic Archbishop Lefebvre .

Her last article, published three days before her death, was dedicated to her dear Archibalda. As I was able to witness personally, she had a loving relationship with her, like intimate friends. What our great Jungian psychoanalyst Nise da Silveira described in her book Gatos, A Emoção de Lidar ["Cats: the emotion of getting along"], Zarri confirmed: "The cat has the ability to capture our mood; if she sees me crying, she immediately comes to lick my tears." They say that the cat was beside her while she expired. When she saw the friends arrive for the wake, she rolled herself up, nervous, in the curtains of the room. Shortly before they closed the coffin, as if she knew the time, she went quietly into the chapel.

Someone, knowing the love of the cat for Adriana Zarri, grabbed her neck and brought her near to the face of the deceased. She looked at her a long time; it seemed like she was crying. Then she sat under her coffin and stayed there in absolute stillness.

This reminds me of our cat, Branquinha. She looks like a fragile and elegant girl. She is so stuck on my companion, Márcia, that she always accompanies her and sleeps at her feet, especially when she has had a disappointment. She picks up on her mood and tries to comfort her, rubbing against her and meowing gently.

Adriana Zarri left her written epitaph, which is worth reproducing: "Don't dress me in black; it's sad and mournful. Or white, because it's arrogant and rhetorical. Dress me in yellow and red flowers, and the wings of birds. And You, Lord, behold my hands. Maybe they have put a rosary or a cross on me. But they were wrong. In my hands, I have green leaves, and on the cross, your resurrection. Do not put a piece of cold marble over my tomb, with the usual lies to comfort the living. Let the earth write, in the spring, an epitaph of herbs. There, it will be said that I lived and am waiting. Then, Lord, you will write your name and mine together like two poppy petals."

The writer and open-eyed mystic, Adriana Zarri, showed us how to live and die beautifully and sweetly.

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