There are only a thousand kilometers between Brno, the second largest city of the Czech Republic, and Milan. And yet, the route that Vendula Krcilova took, who arrived in Italy as a twenty-year old, is much, much longer. Even today—after 14 years, a marriage with Daniele and the birth of a much loved son, Federico— as she speaks about it, she loses her breath and holds back tears that threaten to flow. It would be easy to confuse the light in her eyes for a life triumph, of having “made it”. But this is not the case. “Thanks be to God, they don’t feel like they have already arrived; they continue to walk,” explains Fr. Jacques du Plouy, pastor of San Carlo, the parish near the Niguarda hospital in the periphery of Milan. He speaks about Vendula and Daniele, and how he sees them growing. And these words are not just a motto or a paradox for this priest who comes from French nobility and who arrived to Milan, almost five years ago, after a long journey that took him around the world, with stops in Argentina and Montreal. “This relationship is also a surprise for me,” he says. On the 22nd of May, 2016, after a long period of catechism, Vendula Letizia Maria was baptized; she got married to Daniele in June, was confirmed in October, and, on the 8th of June, 2017, her son Federico was baptized. “She didn’t stop; on the contrary,” recalls Fr. Jacques, a bit astonished. “She doesn’t settle; she always wants more. She wants to deepen her relationship with Jesus”. And He continues to accompany this family that is “so real” as to strike everyone in the parish. Because, he admits, if “every conversion is a miracle, something you don’t expect, then I see these encounters as a miracle for my own life”.
When she arrived in Italy, Vendula was fleeing a very problematic family, where she felt estranged. Her parents had separated; her father had begun a new life and her mother was exhaustedly searching for the right job. “Nobody in my family believed in anything. Or at least, I never received any kind of religious education. Only my aunt, my mom’s sister, seemed to have a sensibility for the faith. I got along with her.” For a while, Vendula and her brother lived with their paternal grandparents, who were quarrelsome and unhappy: their maternal grandmother had remarried with a man who has a daughter. The children were almost always alone, even at night. “When I was ten, I would go to the neighbors to ask for money to buy groceries. In the house, there was no milk but there were always cigarettes. We constantly changed homes, schools, neighbors, friends. We ended up living in the barrack where the Ukrainian workers were staying. We remained locked up all day, and we were afraid”.
She was only twenty years old when she arrived in Italy, following a boy from Milan whose family unwillingly greeted her. “I did not even think about getting married. Above all, I did not realize that it is not enough to be in love.” After a few years, the story with the boy ended. Vendula found a good job as a manager in the chain clothing store called Terranova. She met Daniele by chance, while looking for a garage for her moped. “He seemed serious, someone who is true to his word. A profound person who wanted to know everything about me. He spoke to me about his parents with whom he had a wonderful relationship. He also told me that he believed in God and wanted to start a family.” At work, Daniele met a friend who went to the same parish. This friend, Lele, who belongs to the Movement of CL, would later become the witness that Vendula chose for her marriage, as well as her godfather. He is the one who presented the couple to Fr. Jacques. “It was a very simple and friendly first meeting,” says the priest, who the couple now continues to call ‘Father Jacques’. He laughs: “What, at the beginning, was just her seeking affection, transformed into a desire to know the faith.” Jacques speaks of this relationship as “a gift, a sign. And also, a great human investment, on my part. Besides the time spent with her, there is the tension that comes from entrusting the people who are sent to us in prayer.”
For a year, Vendula met Jacques every Friday. “And I started to understand,” she says, moved profoundly again, “both how ignorant I am and how beautiful it is to approach the Lord. Fr. Jacques has dedicated himself completely to me, which is an extraordinary thing because time is precious. Being with him, I realized that I was surrounded by people who believe in and love Jesus. When you begin to belong to a community, you can start to go deeper into certain topics. Otherwise, it seems like there are things you never talk about because you are afraid. I am beginning to see signs and demonstrations of the presence of the Lord, and I understand that He is present. For years, Daniele and I spoke about our values, about the family. And now we are discovering that He really exists.”
You could talk with Vendula for a long time. She says things in a simple way that makes you tremble: “I saw His beauty and His power,” she says about Jesus. “I thank Him because He has given me the eyes to see and, I hope, the possibility of transmitting what I have seen to other people.” She was baptized, the only adult, in the middle of a bunch of children dressed in white: “I knew there was a new union between me and the Lord,” she recalls. “Something official, objective, that everyone could see and that would complete me, my prize for having reached the end of a path. Even Daniele has changed. Now, in our house, you pray”.
Before closing, we asked Vendula to reflect on her experience, to help us understand. And she, with her newly conquered docility, willingly gave it a shot: “I had a heart of stone, so they told me. I lacked humanity, sweetness and humility. Now I feel like a more peaceful person. I have a lot of faith and a lot of trust. A very dear friend, an Albanian girl, told me: ‘You already had something inside but you had never met someone who could help bring it out’”. This last line refers to Jacques, the priest whom Fr. Giussani had nicknamed “the miracle” because he had come from France totally unexpected. “Now Vendi (nickname of Vendula) flies,” he says happily. “In the evening, she prays with her child in Czech, telling him about Jesus. It’s so surprising, everything is new to her, even the vocabulary.”