Nothing Is Our Own Work. He Is the One who Does Everything
The testimonial of faith by the wife of officer Giuseppe Coletta, killed in the terrorist attack at Nassiriya.

edited by Alessandro Banfi

Winter in the south of Italy is mainly wind. The southern cold howls, penetrates, worms its way in everywhere. It is very different from the wind in the north, where it is firmly confined to the outside and often is muffled, foggy, soft. This is the sensation I felt when I arrived at Margherita Coletta’s house in San Vitaliano, near Nola, in the province of Naples, accompanied by Fr Mariano, a priest in the Movement and the parish priest there since two weeks earlier. It was one of those days when the almost unbearable beauty of Naples and Mt. Vesuvius is clear, distinct, etched onto the horizon, thanks to the typical winter wind of the south.
Meeting the widow of vice-brigadier Colletta, a carabiniere killed in Nassiriya, gives more or less the same effect. Everything immediately appears clear, distinct, and hard, but touchable at the same time, sharply outlined. The fog melts away and confusion is banished, at least for an instant. The wind of this southern woman born in Avola, in the province of Siracusa, comes from faith. Her charm is called Jesus Christ, since she entered Italian homes reading the Gospel. “It was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say to you, love your enemies…” she enunciated clearly when the television reporters came into her living room with the red sofa after the news was confirmed that her husband Giuseppe was among the nineteen Italians killed in Iraq. This simple reading touched and moved many people. Then it came out that she had already been through a very tough time; she had lost a son to illness at the age of 4, with her husband in the police force, well-known for his commitment in foreign missions in favor of the youngest and smallest. Now a tape recorder was on the table, alongside Fr Giussani’s text read as the introduction to the television newscast on the evening of November 18th, after the state funeral of the victims of the attack, in which Mrs Coletta is cited and even exalted. The conversation started on the topic of loving Jesus. “Many speak to me of Mother Teresa or Padre Pio or even St Francis, but I always answer, ‘They loved Jesus. Follow in His steps. He knows it.’”

Why did you give that reading of the Gospel? How did it come up?

I don’t know. Do you know how it is when people say someone was inspired in that moment? Jesus wanted me to say those things at that moment. I myself still ask myself how I did it. I am sure that He wanted it like this; He wanted to send a message. Too often the dailiness of life makes us tend to forget life’s real meaning.

You already had the passage on “Love your enemies” in mind…
When they arrived with the TV cameras I picked up the Gospel, but I was looking for another Bible verse, the one I wrote on the back of Giuseppe’s photo: “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who harm you. Love your enemies, do good and your reward will be great,” then my eye fell on the other one that I read, and I thought it was the same thing…

You also said on another occasion: “My husband’s life and my own were based on the Gospel…”
Yes, based. He, Giuseppe, did it without realizing, without realizing that he was seeking Jesus. He sought Jesus in every child he hugged, in every person he helped.

In what sense was it based?
In what sense? Living for others.

But how did you happen to take Christianity seriously?
A little at a time. I began reading the Bible, the Gospel. I asked myself questions. It all started from these Whys, these questions. From wondering about the meaning of things, not just living them and nothing more.
I remember when Paolo [her son who died of leukemia] got sick, this journey of faith had already started, but I was very disturbed. I listened to the various religions: the evangelicals, Jehovah’s witnesses…. There was a moment when I felt very strange. I will never forget it; I went into my room and knelt down, and I asked Jesus, “Help me. Let me know which is the right road to take.” Since that day, I have had no more doubts. And I learned one thing there: you have to lower yourself a little, get rid of your presumptuousness, stop thinking that everything we do is our own work—on the contrary, it is not our work at all. He is the One who does everything. He gives you gifts—to one person, one thing; to another person, another. But then you have to put them to work.

Is the encounter with Christ something personal?

Oh yes, absolutely, and it is different for each person, even if the Gospel is what it is, everything, for everybody. You have to follow it in joy and in grief. In joy, it is easier; in grief, it is more crucial.

What about the Church?
She is fundamental; you cannot split the two things apart. He manifests Himself to people individually, but the Church is His one big family, that gives you strength, that sustains you.

Did they give you Fr Luigi Giussani’s reflection used as the opening of TG2 news on the day of the funeral…?
Yes, I read it. It is something too big for me. It is too great a comparison. Dante, Our Lady. No. No. I am pleased that such an important man thought and wrote it, but I am a small thing. I am happy that He is using me. I want to become what is described here; I want to be like this. I want to make Jesus happy; I want to be like He wants me to be. That is what I want to be. Whatever He asks of me, I agree, because I know that He is the One who gives me strength.

In any case, you must have reflected on your testimony. Cardinal Ruini cited it in his funeral homily, the Pope embraced you…
The testimony is not mine, it is Jesus’. I want people to understand this. I am not the one who said those things. I don’t even know how I said them…. The only merit I can have is that of loving Him—this I do have. I love Him with all my heart, all my very being, even if I have not seen Him. Sometimes you think you love someone you can touch, embrace, see. But no, the joy He puts in your heart does not exist on this earth.

It is something out of this world, loving your enemies…
No, no. It is of this world. He said it for this world. He said it even at the end, on the cross: forgive, forgive, because they do not know what they do. It is the very same thing.

God and religion are used a lot in this phase of such confusion in the world…. I was struck by reading the report of the SISMI, written a month before the attack and recently published by the Washington Post, which hypothesizes that the head of the Nassiriya terrorists is a theologian, a university professor…
It did not surprise me at all. Jesus was killed by the learned men, the doctors of the law, who thought they were the religious leaders and who were not even aware of Him… This is Satan, who astutely worms his way in, makes people believe he does not exist, and makes them attribute every bad thing to God. This is Evil that worms its way into the things of every day. But watch—he will not win anything. Some battles, some little battles, but he will never win the real war. God is so great… even if He let this happen, let this attack happen, just as He let the Crucifixion happen. But there is always something behind it…

Death is a mystery for everybody. You have been struck twice, first with the agony of little Paolo, then with the terrorist attack that killed Giuseppe. And yet you have not lost your positivity about life…
Death… now when I think about Giuseppe, I cannot think of him any more with the body he had… I know it is there in the cemetery. I go there, I respect it. I am certain of God’s love and of the resurrection. But what will we be like afterwards? This is the question I ask myself. And yet, death does not touch me. I miss Giuseppe’s flesh, now, this I do miss. I miss him; even though I know he is no longer like this, I miss him just the same. So much. I miss his caresses, his smile, his grimaces. What Giuseppe was like inside, that is always with me. Let’s say his soul—well, his soul I really have close to me, even if it is painful just the same. Having faith does not mean not having feelings, not crying. Quite the contrary. You suffer even more. Inside, however, I have peace, I do not have desperation. I do not have hatred. If you love Jesus, you embrace everybody. You love others, independently also of their religion.

Reading about him, seeing the film clips, your husband did not seem like a man of war…
They did not go there to wage war; they were not barricaded up in the desert. I do not know if anyone can be held responsible for what happened, and it is not up to me to judge. However, those boys wanted to improve the life of the people there, bring in roads, electricity, running water. The Iraqis do not have anything. My husband told me over and over on the telephone, “The living conditions of the people here are terrible, much worse than Albania.” He was happy about what he was doing. He devoted himself a great deal to the children. He would go into the children’s hospitals and distribute aid, like that sent by the Knights of Malta. Sometimes I say to myself, if Giuseppe made even just one of these children smile and he died for this, it is all right. For me it is all right like this. This is the meaning of life.

Now what will you do with your life? You have a two-year-old daughter to take care of…
That is an answer I cannot give you. Right now I do not know. Jesus has already decided. Whenever He deems it the right time, He will open a new road for me. I do not know how to do it by myself.

Have you received many expressions of affection?
Yes, but I want to say that those things on the TV news, I did not say them… I felt it was my duty to do it, because Jesus maybe wanted to reawaken something in our people. However, I want to thank everyone who phoned or wrote me. I don’t know how long it will take me to finish, but I want to answer everyone personally, one by one. But in any case, I tell everyone the same thing; I give everyone the same answer: show me this affection in your life, each one in his own place, with his own duties. Thank you to everyone. Heartfelt thanks also to my husband’s colleagues; generals who wept with me like brothers… I want to thank all the carabinieri. I know I can always count on them.