What do good people do when unspeakable evil is forced upon them?
The entire course of Sister Lucy Vertrusc’s life was upended when she answered this question. A nun in the war-torn former Yugoslavia, Sr. Vertrusc and two of her fellow religious sisters were raped by Serbian soldiers in 1995. Soon after, Sister Lucy Vertrusc found that she was pregnant.
In a heartrending letter to her Mother Superior, the young sister explains her difficulty of understanding the violent incident as part of the plan of a God she always knew to be loving.
My drama is not so much the humiliation that I suffered as a woman, not the incurable offense committed against my vocation as a religious, but the difficulty of having to incorporate into my faith an event that certainly forms part of the mysterious will of Him whom I have always considered my Divine Spouse.
Wanting to be a spouse of Christ since she was young, Sr. Vertrusc tells her superior of the suffering she experienced in her heart once she realized this plan was no longer God’s will.
Now I find myself lost in the anguish of internal darkness. He has destroyed the plans of my life, which I considered definitive and uplifting for me, and He has set me all of a sudden in this design of His that I feel incapable of grasping.
This was not the only suffering in Sr. Vertrusc’s life. A month prior to the incident, her two brothers were shot and killed by other Serbian soldiers. Still, her letter asks her superior not for consolation or money or help of any kind, but only that she join in giving thanks to God in allowing her to join in the suffering of thousands of her country’s people who also experienced abuse and tragedy due to the war.
Now I am one of them, one of the many unknown women of my people, whose bodies have been devastated and hearts seared. The Lord had admitted me into his mystery of shame. What is more, for me, a religious, He has accorded me the privilege of being acquainted with evil in the depths of its diabolical force.
While she writes that she will only tell God of the horrific details of the act, she reveals that in that moment and the moments after, she found solace in a poem she had memorized while studying in Rome for her Master’s degree in Literature.
I remember…an ancient Slavic woman, the professor of Literature, used to recite to me these verses from the poet Alexej Mislovic: You must not die/because you have been chosen/ to be a part of the day.
That night, in which I was terrorized by the Serbs for hours and hours, I repeated to myself these verses, which I felt as balm for my soul, nearly mad with despair.
Her fellow sisters, Sr. Vertrusc confides, were nothing but kind and caring in the days following the attack, “especially for never having asked any uncareful questions.” At the end of the letter, Sr. Vertrusc writes her response to a question her superior asked her over the phone: What will you do with the life that has been forced into your womb?
Sr. Vertrusc writes that once she found she was pregnant, she did not doubt God’s plan:
I will be a mother. The child will be mine and no one else’s. I know that I could entrust him to other people, but he-though I neither asked for him nor expected him-he has a right to my love as his mother. A plant should never be torn from its roots. The grain of wheat fallen in the furrow has to grow there, where the mysterious, though iniquitous sower threw it.
Unsure of exactly where God was leading, Sr. Vertrusc told her Superior that she will leave the convent and return to the country with her child and her mother and live the way of life she thought she had left behind upon entering religious life. As an explanation of her decision, she offers:
Someone has to begin to break the chain of hatred that has always destroyed our countries. And so, I will teach my child only one thing: love. This child, born of violence, will be a witness along with me that the only greatness that gives honor to a human being is forgiveness.
Through the Kingdom of Christ for the Glory of God
Ours is a culture that seems to increasingly experience unspeakable evils. Sr. Lucy Vertrusc’s story serves as an example of what our response as Catholics must be – one of heroic forgiveness. A forgiveness that does not deny nor make little of the suffering at hand, but that calls humanity to something greater. A forgiveness that clings to the Cross where all seems dark and bloody and hopeless, but that in the end is the only hope of Redemption.
May we join the sufferings of our time and lives with those of Sr. Lucy Vertrusc’s and offer them in union with Christ on the cross, praying as Sr. Lucy prayed: May Your will be done.
For the full text of the letter, click here.