Even a seemingly ordinary life can inspire others. Arthemide Zatti, a simple Salesian who dedicated his life to the sick, can be a great example for us. Pope Francis declared him a saint on October 9, 2022.
Artemides Zatti was born in Boretto (Reggio Emilia) on 12 October 1880. It did not take long for him to experience the hardship of sacrifice, so much so, that at the age of nine he was already earning his living as a farmhand. Forced by poverty, the Zatti family emigrated to Argentina at the beginning of 1897 and settled in Bahia Blanca. The young Artemides immediately began to frequent the parish run by the Salesians, finding his spiritual director in Fr Carlo Cavalli the parish priest, a pious man of extraordinary kindness. It was he who directed him towards Salesian life. He was 20 years old when he went to the aspirantate in Bernal.
While caring for a young priest suffering from tuberculosis, he contracted the disease. The fatherly concern of Fr Cavalli – who followed him from afar – made it possible for Zatti to go to the Salesian House in Viedma, where there was a more suitable climate and above all a missionary hospital with a good Salesian nurse who was like a “doctor”: Fr Evasio Garrone. Fr. Evasio Garrone invited Artemides to pray to Mary Help of Christians to be healed, suggesting that he make a promise: “If she heals you, you will dedicate your whole life to these sick people”. Artemides made this promise willingly and was mysteriously cured. He would later say: “I believed, I promised, I recovered”. His path was now clearly marked out and he embarked on it with great enthusiasm. He humbly and docilely accepted renouncing the priesthood, though it cost him much. He made his first profession as a coadjutor brother on 11 January 1908 and his Perpetual Profession on 8 February 1911. In keeping with the promise he had made to Our Lady, he immediately dedicated himself totally to the Hospital, initially taking charge of the adjoining pharmacy, and when Fr Garrone died in 1913, the entire responsibility of the hospital fell on his shoulders. He became deputy director, administrator and an expert nurse, respected by all the patients and by the doctors themselves, who gave him ever greater freedom of action.
His service was not limited to the hospital, but extended to the whole city, and even to the two towns on the banks of the Negro River: Viedma and Patagones. In case of necessity, he travelled at all hours of the day and night, in any weather, to the hovels in the suburbs, and doing everything free of charge. His reputation as a saintly infirmarian spread throughout the South and he received sick people from all over Patagonia. It was not uncommon for the sick to prefer the visit of the holy infirmarian to that of the doctors.
Artemides Zatti loved his sick in a very touching way. He saw Jesus himself in them, so much so that when he asked the sisters for a dress for a new boy who had just arrived, he would say: “Sister, do you have a dress for a 12-year-old Jesus?” His care for the sick had its own delicate nuances. Some people remember seeing him carrying the body of a patient who had died during the night on his shoulders towards the mortuary, to remove it from the sight of the other patients: and he did this while reciting the De profundis. Faithful to the Salesian spirit and to the motto bequeathed by Don Bosco to his sons – “work and temperance” – he carried out prodigious activity with habitual readiness of spirit, a heroic spirit of sacrifice, and absolute detachment from any personal satisfaction, without ever taking holidays or rest. It’s said that the only five days of the rest he had were spent… in prison! Yes, he had also known the prison, because of the escape of a prisoner from hospital, for which the blame was laid upon him. He was absolved and his return home was a triumph.
He was a very easy person to deal with, showed enormous sympathy and gladly spent time talking with simple people. Above all, he was a man of God, and this shone through him. One doctor at the hospital, inclined not to believe in God, said: “When I saw Br. Zatti my disbelief faltered”. And another exclaimed: “I started believing in God ever since I met Br. Zatti”.
In 1950, the tireless nurse fell from a ladder and it was then that the symptoms of cancer appeared, which he himself clearly diagnosed. However, he continued to carry out his mission for another year, until, after heroically accepting his suffering, he passed away on 15 March 1951 fully conscious, surrounded by the affection and gratitude of an entire population.
He was declared Venerable on 7 July 1997 and beatified by St. John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square on 14 April 2002.
ARTEMIDES ZATTI WAS DECLARED A SAINT ON SUNDAY, 9 OCTOBER 2022.