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Testimony Could Move Nun closer to Beatification

By Anna Arco
September 4th, 2009
The Catholic Herald (UK) (

Mr Piperno, an Italian Jew who was among those saved from Nazi persecution by the Bridgettines, delivered his testimony to the Vatican last week.

LONDON (UK Catholic Herald) - A Holocaust survivor has given evidence to support the canonisation of an English nun who hid Jews from the Nazis in wartime Rome.

Piero Piperno testified on behalf of Mother Mary Richard Beauchamp Hambrough, whose Cause for Canonisation has been opened by the Vatican. He was among witnesses invited to give their testimonies to establish that "Mother Riccarda" lived a life of heroic virtue.

Mother Riccarda was baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church in Brighton as a four-year-old after her Anglican parents converted to the Catholic faith. She joined the Bridgettines at the age of 24, and soon became deputy to the founding mother of her branch of Bridgettines, Blessed Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad.

Together the two women helped save the lives of over 60 people by hiding them in their motherhouse in Piazza Farnese in Rome, and Blessed Mary Elizabeth has been honoured as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem on behalf of the efforts of all of the nuns who lived there.

Mr Piperno, an Italian Jew who was among those saved from Nazi persecution by the Bridgettines, delivered his testimony to the Vatican last week. He is an important witness for furthering Mother Riccarda's Cause because everyone else, he said, had either died or was too young during the period to understand the role played by the individual sisters. Mr Piperno spoke at the ceremony when the Blessed Mary Elizabeth was declared Righteous among Nations in 2004.

Although the proceedings leading up to beatification are secret, Mr Piperno told the Times that Mother Riccarda was the personification of "sweetness and sympathy".

He said: "We called Mother Riccarda 'mammina' as if she was our mother. She was Mother Mary Elizabeth's right hand. They were two faces of the same coin." One was kind, the other strict, he said.

The Piperno family moved to Siena to avoid the racial laws imposed by the Fascist government after the outbreak of the war. When Mussolini was ousted and the Nazis occupied Italy in 1943, Siena was no longer safe. The family sought refuge first in a farm, where they survived on mushrooms and sparse food provided by the farmer who sheltered them, but they decided to return to Rome, hoping to find safety in the city.

They were taken in by their former cleaning ladies, but this became dangerous when neighbours began to suspect their identity. An aunt recommended going to the Bridgettine's motherhouse in the Piazza Farnese and they were introduced there as refugees from the south. According to Mr Piperno, who is 80, Blessed Mary Elizabeth suspected their real identity and eventually his mother told her they were Roman Jews.

He said: "We were three families, 13 in all. We stayed in three rooms, all the men in one, except an uncle who slept in a dark, small room with no windows, and another two for the women. In the beginning we all ate in one room by ourselves." For six months - until the Allies liberated Rome - the Piperno family hid in the convent, at every moment fearing potential arrest.

The nuns did not discriminate between the people they helped, he said, and took in Fascist refugees as well as Jews. He said: "Something which bothered me back then, but which I now understand, was that the nuns that helped us also helped Fascist families. There was great solidarity because everybody was suffering and everybody finally realised we were all in the same boat. "

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