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enturies ago Lapo Mazzei wrote a letter to Francesco Datini about Saint Birgitta of Sweden. The letter is still preserved in Francesco Datini's merchant house in Prato, now become the city's archives. Later, Philip Mazzei became friends with Thomas Jefferson. This family capacity to look outwards from Florence to the whole of Europe, and even to the New World, was lived by Fioretta Mazzei. She was Florence's Dorothy Day, Florence's Mother Teresa, Florence's St Umiltą of our century, rather than of Dante's, Florence's St Zita, rather than Lucca's.
I met Fioretta Mazzei quite by chance. I was looking for a monastic community, having become a hermit from my Anglican Community of the Holy Family. In particular I sought the Jerusalem Community which I had heard was to be at the Badia in Florence that September. I was a year too soon and found myself in the midst of a Mass for the Poor, for Albanian atheist communist refugees. I was summoned to speak with an elegant learned kind lady and invited to lunch, a total stranger, but with a name so famous I wanted to flee. Bread and money were given out to the poor, then we went to Fioretta's apartment in San Frediano, Florence's poor district, where elderly ladies conversed about the dinner table, sharing a telefonino, conversations occurring all over Florence, a community, a communion. And where Fioretta shared with me the people she helped, refugee upon refugee in need, and her books and pictures, books about Giorgio La Pira, books about Florence. I realized Florence, as in my dream, through Fioretta's eyes, is Jerusalem. I had, not realizing it, found the true Jerusalem Community.
day Fioretta also took me to the meeting of the Amicizia
Ebraica-Cristiana held in a Florentine garden over supper. I
yearned to be a part of Fioretta's work. I went again to the
Mass for the Poor, bringing to Fioretta a book I had made,
then fled in shyness. In my shame I did not want to tell her I
was in need. I went back to find her on other Sundays but she
was not to be found, having become ill. So I would leave,
dodging the free bread and money. Finally, on Sunday at Mass
in Ontignano, Giannozzo Pucci said, 'Come with me to Santa
Maria Nuova'. So I went, not knowing why, nor whom I was to
meet. We arrived to an empty room, so went on to the Chapel.
It was Fioretta, barely recognizable, in a wheelchair, dying
of leukemia, but with that glorious, gracious, radiant, shy
smile I so loved. 'Why have you not come?' It was so difficult
for me to explain, my own depression and despair over the
was depressed, from being ill, about Florence. All I could
suggest I could do if I had the space was to form a library
for illiterates in poverty and for scholars of Princeton's
Institute for Advanced Study. But I did not see how this was
possible. I was living in one unheated room in Montebeni for
four years. But after she died the dream miraculously came
true, a Swiss church asked me to restore their abandoned
cemetery., I accepted the post if I could have the library.
And then the Roma came to whom I taught the alphabet. In
return they restored the cemetery. A medieval scholar also
came from the Institute, and read my entire book on Julian of
Norwich at its table. The miracle happened- We call the
library the Mediatheca Fioretta Mazzei for it is a part of our
websites on women contemplatives, on Dante, on the cemetery,
on the Roma.
I went to visit her often at San Frediano, usually having to come away again without seeing her, and that despairing walk home up my mountain. But when I could see her she was forever giving me books about Giorgio La Pira that I left there, not wanting to take things from a dying person, and asking for prayers, and I was so recent a Catholic and with such bad Italian I felt tremendously clumsy, and always she was on the telephone or dictating letters or signing letters to help refugees, those in need, those outside of power, sharing her power with them. And asking me to ask don Divo Barsotti for prayers for she loved him so. But as the door was usually now shut I found it harder and harder to go, especially since I had been asked by a Dominican to ask her to ask for anointing, and had done so clumsily, so yearning to explain how I have seen anointing in my convent usually bring people back from death, to live rich full lives, but not being given that time. Nevertheless, she responded to this request with saying in English, 'It is a grace'.
Then I saw fra Sergio, my godfather when I became Catholic, on the bus and he told me he was going to Fioretta's funeral at San Frediano. So I came too. The church was full and one saw Florentine nobility kneeling on the bare stone floor in her honour. The Cardinal and the Bishop were there, and the Cardinal spoke of how Fioretta had chosen not to marry, nor to enter a convent, but to give her whole life for Florence, for women, for peace, for the poor, and had asked Giorgio La Pira for just a table and a telephone, choosing to live in the poorest district, San Frediano. And as I listened to his words I remembered Fioretta turning to me from a printed poster of a Chagall, and saying to me shyly in her most beautiful English, 'Chagall gave me that'.
Later, on coming home from Scandinavia, I attended another meeting of the Amicizia Ebraico-Cristiana in that same garden of my memory of the time with her, and there spoke of my dream, of my Anglican mother foundress's dream, of Houses of Study, Houses of Prayer, ecumenical, with libraries, where we could teach each other, the Bible in Hebrew, our shared heritage, our love of God, without boundaries, without prejudices. I had seen in America and in Australia how Italian immigrants lose the religious culture of St Francis of Assisi, Dante Alighieri of Florence, St Catherine of Siena, being forced into 'English Only' and are despised by their children and by Italians in Italy and finally, internalizing all this, by themselves, while Jewish immigrants study both cultures, Hebrew and English, and hence excel. And when I finished speaking, in my poor Italian, someone said said that was Fioretta's dream too. Later she gave me Fioretta Mazzei's Blue/Green Thoughts, in a little booklet. We share a dream, not the cloistering of women in convents, men in monasteries, but of a culture of compassion brought into the midst of the world, where women can bless the Sabbath lights, men the Sabbath bread and wine, hallowing for God, not Florence and not Jerusalem alone, but the entire world.
this year of 2000, let us, in Fioretta Mazzei's honour, bring
about this Jerusalem Community.
These are the drawings Fioretta showed me at San Frediano of the Mass for the Poor in the Badia. I have no pictures of her together with Giorgio La Pira, of whom she spoke so lovingly, so obsessively. I can imagine the two together, she, tall, gracious, shy, beautiful, he, tiny, effervescent, exuberant, dreaming together the new Florence, the New World, a world of peace. When I saw these drawings, which depressed me also as much as in them I witness depression, I yearned to share with Fioretta's poor, the riches of Florence, the gold-leafed, azure Madonnas, the Child with the goldfinch, the pomegranate, to encourage again all the artisan skills that Florence had shared across the globe. This was why I brought to her the books I made on prayer, bound in Florentine papers, filled with Madonnas, Fra Angelicos, Lorenzettis. It is my dream to bring gold leaf and brilliant colour to these drawings of drab sadness, to bring to them joy and beauty and meaning and healing, entering heaven's doors and windows.
Simone Martini , Diptych of the Madonna and Pieta`, Museo Horne, Florence
The Prayer said at the end of the Mass for the Poor of the Republic of San Procolo, written by Giorgio La Pira, rewritten by Fioretta Mazzei:
y Lord Jesus Christ, who died on the cross, You have given life to the world, free me, through this Your sacred Body and Blood, from all my sins and from all evil. Make me be always true to Your commandments, and do not allow me to draw away from You.
O good Jesus, I commend to you, all those who weep and suffer, and all those who make them weep and suffer. I commend to you the abandoned children, youths in scandal and peril, the old in need, all those who suffer in poverty.
commend to You those weeping the death of their beloved, those
who seek work and do not find it, who suffer in loneliness.
The ill, the handicapped, the victims of drugs and alcohol,
the prisoners, the exiles, the immigrants, the oppressed,
those in war, the refugees. Comfort them, O Lord, help them,
commend to You our earth. I commend to You the Pope, the
Bishops, the priests, the sisters, the missionaries, the
families. I commend to You those who do not yet know You and
all those who are far from the Church. Shape, O Lord, but one
sheepfold, with one shepherd only.
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