Alexandrina Maria da Costa was born on 30 March 1904 in Balasar, Portugal. She received a solid Christian education from her mother and her sister, Deolinda, and her lively, well-mannered nature made her likeable to everyone.
Her unusual physical strength and stamina also enabled her to do long hours of heavy farm work in the fields, thus helping the family income.
When she was 12, Alexandrina became sick with an infection and nearly died; the consequences of this infection would remain with her as she grew up and would become the “first sign” of what God was asking of her: to suffer as a “victim soul”.
The consequences of sin
When Alexandrina was 14, something happened that left a permanent imprint on her, both physically and spiritually: it gave her a face-to-face look at the horror and consequences of sin.
On Holy Saturday of 1918, while Alexandrina, Deolinda and a young apprentice were busily sewing, three men violently entered their home and attempted to sexually violate them. To preserve her purity, Alexandrina jumped from a window, falling four metres to the ground.
Her injuries were many, and the doctors diagnosed her condition as “irreversible”: it was predicted the paralysis she suffered would only get worse.
Until age 19, Alexandrina was still able to “drag herself” to church where, hunched over, she would remain in prayer, to the great amazement of the parishioners. With her paralysis and pain worsening, however, she was forced to remain immobile, and from 14 April 1925 until her death – approximately 30 years – she would remain bedridden, completely paralyzed.
Alexandrina continued to ask the Blessed Mother for the grace of a miraculous healing, promising to become a missionary if she were healed.
Little by little, however, God helped her to see that suffering was her vocation and that she had a special call to be the Lord’s “victim”. The more Alexandrina “understood” that this was her mission, the more willingly she embraced it.
She said: “Our Lady has given me an even greater grace: first, abandonment; then, complete conformity to God’s will; finally, the thirst for suffering”.
Mission to suffer with Christ
The desire to suffer continued to grow in her the more her vocation became clear: she understood that she was called to open the eyes of others to the effects of sin, inviting them to conversion, and to offer a living witness of Christ’s passion, contributing to the redemption of humanity.
And so it was that from 3 October 1938 until 24 March 1942, Alexandrina lived the three-hour “passion” of Jesus every Friday, having received the mystical grace to live in body and soul Christ’s suffering in his final hours. During these three hours, her paralysis was “overcome”, and she would relive the Stations of the Cross, her movements and gestures accompanied by excruciating physical and spiritual pain. She was also diabolically assaulted and tormented with temptations against the faith and with injuries inflicted on her body.
Human misunderstanding and incredulity were also a great cross for her, especially when those she most expected would “assist” her – members and leaders of the Church – were adding to her crucifixion.
An investigation conducted by the Curia of Braga resulted in a circular letter written by the Archbishop which contained a series of “prohibitions” regarding Alexandrina’s case. It was the result of a negative verdict made by a commission of priests.
In addition and by way of spiritual comfort, after her spiritual director, a Jesuit priest who had helped her from 1934 to 1941, stopped assisting her, a Salesian priest, Fr Umberto Pasquale, came to her aid in 1944.
Nourished only by the Eucharist
On 27 March 1942, a new phase began for Alexandrina which would continue for 13 years and seven months until her death. She received no nourishment of any kind except the Holy Eucharist, at one point weighing as few as 33 kilos (approximately 73 pounds).
Medical doctors remained baffled by this phenomenon and began to conduct various tests on Alexandrina, acting in a very cold and hostile way towards her. This increased her suffering and humiliation, but she remembered the words that Jesus himself spoke to her one day: “You will very rarely receive consolation… I want that while your heart is filled with suffering, on your lips there is a smile”.
As a result, those who visited or came into contact with Alexandrina always found a woman who, although in apparent physical discomfort, was always outwardly joyful and smiling, transmitting to all a profound peace. Few understood what she was deeply suffering and how real was her interior desolation.
Fr Pasquale, who stayed close to Alexandrina throughout these years, ordered Alexandrina’s sister to keep a diary of her words and her mystical experiences.
In 1944, Alexandrina became a member of the “Union of Salesian Cooperators” and offered her suffering for the salvation of souls and for the sanctification of youth. She kept a lively interest in the poor as well as in the spiritual health of those who sought out her counsel.
“Do not offend Jesus anymore!’
As a “testimony” to the mission to which God had called her, Alexandrina desired the following words written on her tombstone: “Sinners, if the dust of my body can be of help to save you, come close, walk over it, kick it around until it disappears. But never sin again: do not offend Jesus anymore! Sinners, how much I want to tell you…. Do not risk losing Jesus for all eternity, for he is so good. Enough with sin. Love Jesus, love him!”.
Alexandrina died on 13 October 1955. Her last words: “I am happy, because I am going to Heaven”.
Her own diary:
“On the appointed day, the doctor in attendance came to our house with Dr Enrico Gomes di Araujo and Dr Carlo Lima. Fortunately I was calm and serene; God had heard my prayer. One of the doctors asked me if I suffered much and for whom I offered my sufferings. He also asked whether I suffered willingly and if I would be happy if God released me from my sorrows. I replied that, in truth, I suffered much and that I offered everything for the love of God and for the conversion of sinners.
“Then they asked me what was my greatest aspiration and I answered, ‘It is Heaven.’
They then enquired if I wanted to be a saint like St Teresa or St Clare and to arrive in Heaven leaving behind a name famous throughout the world. ‘I am not in the least interested in that’, I replied. They then asked, ‘If it were necessary to lose your soul to save sinners, what would you do?’ I answered, ‘I trust that I would also be saved, but if I had to lose my soul I would say no, because God would never ask such a thing.’
“‘Why do you not eat?’ they then asked. And I replied, ‘I do not eat because I cannot. I feel full. I do not need it. However, I have a longing for food.’
“The doctors then began the examination which I bore with good disposition. At the end, seeing that I was in no condition to make a journey, they decided to call two nuns to verify the truth of my fast. After they left, I remained waiting for their decision. On June 4, my confessor came to give me Communion, accompanied by my doctor, who afterwards explained that I was being given the opportunity to enter a hospital in Oporto to have the fast medically certified. I would be isolated for a month and under constant observation. I immediately said ‘No’ – but at once I was sorry, thinking of the obedience lowed the Arch¬bishop and the difficult situation of my spiritual director, my doctor and my relatives and friends. So I accepted the proposal, subject to three conditions – I would be able to receive Holy Communion every day, I would be accompanied by my sister, and I would not be subjected to any more medical examinations because I was only entering the hospital for observation.
“By June 10, all was ready for my journey to the hospital of Foce del Duro in Oporto. My grief was great, but I had such faith in Jesus that I felt he would, if necessary, send his angels to help me. When my doctor arrived, he hesitated for some while, as if loath to tell me I had to leave. Finally 1 managed to say, ‘Let’s go, doctor. He who does not leave does not return!’
“I embraced my family and friends and only Jesus knew the sorrow it cost me to separate myself from them. I looked only into his Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and implored them to give me courage and strength to bear this new affliction. As they levered my stretcher downstairs I murmured to my weeping family, ‘Courage! All for Jesus and for souls!’ I was unable to say more. There was such a tightening of my heart that I felt it would be impossible to keep back the tears. Over a hundred people were surrounding the ambulance.
I saw tears in the eyes of almost all. The sorrow I felt then was indescribable. My heart was beating with such violence that it seemed about to burst my ribs. Inwardly I prayed, ‘Accept these throbbings, my dear Jesus, for your love and for the salvation of souls.’
“The journey was difficult; it seemed to me that my heart would not hold out [the road was very bumpy and difficult –ed] Every now and then, I looked at my sister and saw how desolate she was. By the grace of God, I was able to keep the smile on my lips. But the constant shaking of the ambulance was sheer torture and I prayed repeatedly, ‘All for your love, my dear Jesus, and may the darkening of my spirit serve to give light to other spirits.’
“When we arrived at Matozinhos, the doctor raised the curtains so that I could look at the sea. An enormous silence filled my spirit, and observing the continuous movement of the waves, I asked Jesus to let my love beat like them without interruption.”
“After a long while we reached the hospital, but before they withdrew me from the ambulance, my face was covered with a cloth so that no one would recognise me. Going up the stairs was a martyrdom as they carried me up head down. When they reached a small room, my face was uncovered and I found myself surrounded by doctors and nurses. I was dismayed to discover that Deolinda had been allocated an adjoining room, contrary to what I had asked for. I did not know how I could manage without her experienced help and constant words of encouragement. Dr Araujo then arrived and began to give instructions to the nurses and assistants.
“After he had gone, my own doctor remained for some while and two nurses charged with watching all my movements took up their station by my bed. When Dr Azevedo finally left that evening, I could not restrain my tears any longer. For a long time I wept, offering my tears and grief to Jesus. On seeing me so desolate, the nurses permitted Deolinda to remain near me that night, together with another nurse who learned from her the correct way of turning me.
“The following day, a Friday, I began my true Calvary in that place. I had an ecstasy in the morning (1 have one every Friday), and the doctors and nurses gathered round my bed. Dr Azevedo was there and after writing the words of the ecstasy he passed them round for the other doctors to read. Nothing escaped their watchful gaze, not even the most insignificant detail which was commented on at once ….Dr Araujo was very strict, even to the point of harshness. He sternly forbade any nurse to question me in the slightest way. When one of the nurses tried to comfort Deolinda, who was weeping because of my condition, Dr Araujo immediately dismissed her and forbade her to enter my room again.
“During the night of Friday to Saturday, I had a great crisis of vomiting which made me suffer severely and which was made worse by the absence of my sister who knew how to sustain me. Dr Araujo arrived in the morning, but my prostration was such that I did not hear him knock at the door. I heard him whisper to one of the nurses by my bed, ‘It is all over with her.’
“At these words, I opened my eyes and said, ‘Doctor, I have had these crises at home.’ He replied curtly, ‘Miss, don’t think that you have come here to fast.’ I understood what he meant and felt deeply wounded.
“When he was informed of the ecstasy of the previous day, he asked for the notes of it and having read them, commented, ‘It seems impossible that Dr Azevedo, so intelligent, lets himself be deceived by these things. It is necessary to make an end of this nonsense. From now on, take away all the clocks so that the sick woman will be ignorant of the time.’ (As if the Lord had need of clocks’)
“Dr Araujo then tried to treat me with medication, but I would not consent. Several times the nurse came near me, convinced that I was dead. For five days I underwent a continuous agony, more in the spirit than in the body, because in those crises, they never permitted Deolinda to come near me, while at home two people were frequently necessary to sustain me. All were persuaded that the crises were due to a lack of nourishment and they kept me isolated, convinced that I would ultimately be compelled to ask for food, or else die of starvation. How they deceived themselves! They did Bot know that nourishment came to me from the Sacred Host which I received every day.
“When Dr Azevedo returned and learnt of the attempts to make me take medicine and nourishment, he said to the hospital staff, ‘This sick woman has only come so that the reality of her fast and the normality of her mental faculties can be ascertained – nothing more. I trust that Dr Araujo will abide by these terms. I do not permit anyone to give her injections or medication, unless she specifically requests them, or I consent to it. You will see that after each crisis she has, the dark rings under her eyes disappear, her colour returns and her pulse becomes normal.’ He paused and then added, pointedly, ‘I can assure you of one thing: without nourishment, you would die, I would die, but the sick woman here will not die.’
“His kind words on my behalf did much to rally my flagging spirits. Five days later, the vomiting stopped completely, the colour reappeared on my face and my pulse became normal.
“The strict surveillance by relays of doctors and nurses continued. Never for one moment was I left alone. The door of my room opened only to admit doctors and nurses. The improvement in my condition failed to convince any of them. They said it was impossible to live without nourishment and they tried to intimidate me, using soothing, persuasive tones to induce me to take food. But all their efforts were in vain. On one occasion I heard them affirm that my case could be one of hysteria, or a phenomenon still unknown to medical science.
“Dr Araujo visited me several times each day, occasionally taking me by surprise at night, as if to discover some¬thing …. Even if I live until the end of the world, I will never forget the apprehension I felt whenever he opened the door, and my anxious suspense of waiting for his words. So many times I prayed, ‘May this night serve to give light to him, to the people who surround me and to all the souls who find themselves in darkness.’
“During his frequent interrogations of me, he tried in every possible way to persuade me to take food and end the fast. A nurse even tried, on many occasions, to take away my Faith. She used interminable arguments to discourage me and to convince me that what was happening to me was not the work of God. Once Dr Araujo said to me with a malicious expression, ‘You convince yourself, Miss, that God does not want you to suffer. If you wish to save souls, he can save them himself if it is true that he has the power to do so.’ At other times when he questioned me, I seemed to see in front of me a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I had the impression of seeing Satan himself trying to destroy my Faith and convince me that my immolation for souls was all an illusion.
“On one occasion I replied to him, ‘The things of God are so great, so great, and we are so small, so small. At least, I am, doctor.’ He stiffened and then said scornfully, ‘You are right, but I am far greater than you – and by how much!’ So saying, he took himself off.
“How far Dr Araujo was from comprehending this law of love for souls! If he knew the value of a soul, he would realise that everything is too small to save it. My stay in the hospital was a constant rain of humiliation and sacrifice. Oh, if I had known how to suffer for Jesus! To this end, I tumed to little Jacinta of Fatima whose picture I keep at the foot of my bed, and said to her, ‘Dear Jacinta, you who were so small have proved all this. You know how hard it is.’ Only through prayer and the prayers of many good souls was I able to gain the strength to climb this sorrowful Calvary with such a heavy cross.
“One day, Dr Araujo sat down by my bed and tried to convince me that I was a victim of delusion. He began with an involved discourse on medicine and spoke of one of his professors to whom he had presented a long work, pains-takingly put together during many days and nights of study. The professor read the work and asked him if he was certain that it was accurate. The doctor replied ‘yes’ and cited the arguments supporting his case. As the conversation lengthened, I looked at him, pretending that I did not understand, but thinking, ‘You go so far to fall so near?’ Meanwhile, the doctor continued, ‘I was convinced that I had done a good job, but the professor let me finish and then, with a few deft strokes, briefly demolished my case. My breath was taken away. I felt humiliated over so many lost hours and the realisation that my long study had collapsed in a few seconds.’ I had already guessed what was coming and replied, smiling, ‘But my case does not fall, doctor. A very good and wise man follows me and has studied me for years. [Dr Azevedo.] If the work is of God, there is nothing that can make it collapse.’ Dr Araujo seemed rather embarrassed and said, ‘We will see,’ and retired in a hurry.
“On the 17th and then on the 30th day of my stay at the hospital, my mother came to see me. I had such a desire to see her! But she stayed only a very short time and always under the watchful eye of the nurses who were keeping me under continual surveillance. When my mother wept, I had to smile and joke to conceal my sorrow.
“The difficult days passed with the endless changing of nurses under the directions of the doctor. With some, who went beyond the limits of their duties and their rights, I suffered more than with others. After some weeks, the doctor began to allow me a little freedom and permitted my sister to spend some time near me, though without giving her permission to touch me. On the 21st day, he allowed the nuns of the hospital to make a brief visit to me.
“While Deolinda and I were beginning to think of letting the family know of our approaching return to Balasar, an unexpected obstacle arose. One of the nurses charged with my surveillance had spoken of my case to a physician named Dr Alvaro. Not knowing anything about me, he expressed his immediate disbelief and affirmed that the nurses who were watching me must have been deceived. He added that he would only believe in my fast if it were testified to him by a nurse of his faith.
“Dr Araujo was indignant because it put the seriousness of his study in doubt. He invited Dr Alvaro to send a nurse of his own choice and the latter selected one of his sisters. I was therefore asked to remain in the hospital for an additional period of observation.
“The new test lasted ten days – and with what suspicion! When my sister, with Dr Alvaro’s permission, entered my room every evening to turn me, the new nurse lit the light and stood beside her. As soon as Deolinda left, the nurse made a rigorous check to ascertain if Deolinda had con¬cealed something under the sheets.
“Nor did they lack subterfuges to induce me to eat something which the assistant nurse always had with her. When she showed me some tasty morsels, I smiled without saying anything and when she offered them to me, I thanked her and still smiling, pretended not to understand her. Frequently, all my linen was taken away to be inspected. The nurse who assisted me during those last ten days became convinced of the reality of my fast and afterwards visited my home where she greeted me like a dear friend.
“On 19 July 1943, the eve of my discharge, all the children of the hospital passed around my bed and I prayed with them. Later more than 1,500 people came and the authorities had to call the police to maintain order. One policeman limited himself to standing by my bed and saying continually to the crowd who pressed around, ‘Pass along, pass along.’ The doctor had to literally implore the crowd that pressed round the entrance to the hospital and in my room to move back so that I would not be suffocated. I remained humiliated, exhausted and full of self-contempt for the tears of the visitors and for the many kisses I received which I did not merit and did not want.
“On the morning of my departure, Dr Araujo rose early than usual and told me that he had been unable to sleep that night due to the responsibility weighing on him. When he arrived at the hospital, a crowd awaited him. After spending a short while with me, he permitted some people to enter the hospital and only then did he tell us that we were free and that the ‘observation’ was ended. He allowed my sister to eat a meal near me and then said, ‘In October, I will come to visit you at Balasar, not as a doctor-spy, but as a friend who esteems you.’
“I kissed the doctor’s hand gratefully and thanked him from my heart. I did this in all sincerity for I was deeply grateful to him for the seriousness with which he had treated my case.”