When Pope Francis met with Cardinal Angelo Amato of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in January to endorse the progression of various sainthood causes, he made history.

For in that meeting, the Holy Father approved beatifying a 22-year-old woman who died defending her chastity, making her the first Romanian woman to become a beata.

The oldest of four children, Veronica Antal was born Dec. 7, 1935, in the small hamlet of Nisiporeşti in Romania’s northeastern Moldavia region.

Deeply religious back in Veronica’s time, it remains largely so today. Even though many churches seat upward of 1,000 people, the congregations normally spill outdoors, even in the coldest weather. Not surprisingly, such fervor fosters vocations. Indeed, the region produces every single Romanian priest.

This devotion dates back to the age of the apostles. According to a 2005 Register article, “The apostle Andrew is believed to have brought Christianity to Romania in the first century.

“Though the Schism of 1054 split the Church between East and West, many in Romania remained faithful to the pope.

“Centuries of Tartar invasions killed off or hauled away into slavery much of the Catholic population. But beginning in the 18th century, a huge wave of Catholics escaping their own persecutions in Transylvania on the western side of the Carpathian Mountains began seeping in and repopulating Moldavia.”

By Veronica’s time, two-thirds of her village’s inhabitants were Catholic. The figure rises to 88% in nearby Hălăuceşti, where she usually attended Mass. In an 80%-Orthodox country, that is remarkable. Furthermore, Veronica’s county is studded with more monasteries and convents per square kilometer than any other area in the world.

Just as the region has long been deeply Catholic, it has also been deeply impoverished. Agriculture is the main industry, and farmers barely earn enough to feed themselves.

Because their very survival depended on both of them working in the fields, her parents left her daily care to her grandmother. From the moment Veronica could begin to talk, this grandma taught her lessons from the catechism and how to pray.

Every day, Veronica walked 5 miles each way to the village of Hălăuceşti to attend Mass, even in the coldest weather. She joined the choir at age 16, became a member of St. Maximilian Kolbe’s Militia Immaculata, prayed the Rosary daily, and read about saints, such as the newly canonized Maria Goretti, whom she greatly admired. She also built a cell alongside her house as a hermitage, and there she would retreat to spend hours in prayer. Every Thursday she joined others for adoration at the church in Nisiporeşti.

Other than these quiet, interior practices, however, she was an ordinary young lady. She spun wool with her mother, sewed native clothing and worked the fields with her family. If someone wronged Veronica, she immediately forgave them. If someone was sick or elderly and lonely, she visited them. If a mother was sick or exhausted, she baby-sat her children. She helped prepare the village’s young ones for first Holy Communion.

Of course, others did many of the same things. However, as the Diocese of Iaşi notes on its website, “In the course of her short life, she did nothing extraordinary, except that she had lived her Christian vocation to a higher level than that of other believers. Her holy death is, therefore, the fruit of a holy life, the fruit of her fidelity to that God in whom her young heart firmly believed.”

Given all of this, it is not surprising that Veronica was in love with Jesus and greatly desired to serve as a woman religious in one of the local convents and with an order that would let her help children, whom she loved. After the communist takeover, however, the government suppressed such institutions. This is why, under the direction of her spiritual director, Father Alois Donea, she became a secular Franciscan and made a private vow of chastity.

On Aug. 24, 1958, she journeyed to Hălăuceşti to attend the rite of confirmation conducted by Bishop Petru Pleşca. Friends recall she looked unusually somber and downcast. Did she have a premonition about what would soon happen?

After tidying the sacristy and enjoying a meal with some friends, she began her walk back to Nisiporeşti.

As the cause documentation and news articles attest, along the way, a young man from a distant town who knew Veronica stopped her. Pavel Mocanu had just spent the day visiting his girlfriend and was drunk. He mocked Veronica’s vow of chastity. He made indecent proposals. Then he threw her into a cornfield and tried to rape her.

She fought him off, however, and in retaliation, he stabbed her, leaving her for dead. When he returned to the body, most likely to bury her, he was surprised to find her still alive, so he continued stabbing her — 42 times. He again left her, but not before putting two stalks of corn on her body in the form of a cross.

Her remains weren’t discovered for two days, when field hands walking to work discovered her face down in a pool of blood, clutching her rosary. Following her burial, her funeral bier draped with white ribbons reading, “You fought bravely for purity,” the townspeople considered her a saint and called her the “Bloody Lily” and “Martyr of Chastity.”

Mocanu almost got away with the murder. In the crime’s aftermath, police arrested three suspects, including Mocanu, and held each of them for more than half a year. Ultimately, the other two were convicted of the crime based wholly on testimony coerced through torture. One was sentenced to death, the other to 25 years in prison.

But Veronica’s sister was not convinced, and she persuaded authorities to reopen the case. They brought in a noted detective, who concluded the two could not have committed the crime. This left Mocanu. But no fingers would point at him. Instead, officials blamed the crime on an unknown assailant and closed the case in 1961.

The problem was Mocanu came from a very prominent, wealthy family. Indeed, there were three witnesses to the crime and its aftermath. Two of them were the train station guard and a signalman, who it is said saw Mocanu covered in blood. Both refused to say anything to police. Both later died highly suspicious deaths within a year or two of the crime.

The other witness was Mocanu’s aunt Elena Carp, who lived across the cornfield where the murder had taken place. She heard Veronica screaming for Pavel to stop. Yet for years she kept quiet because she was afraid she would end up like the two railroad employees.

Finally, however, in 1973, as she lay dying, she called for the police, who came and took her statement. That testimony was enough to convict her nephew, who served eight years of a 12-year sentence.

Upon his release, he moved to the town of Galați. There, he met and tried to seduce a policeman’s wife. When she told him she was married, he replied he could solve that by killing her husband, for he had already killed someone. This was the closest he ever came to confessing. He died several years later, alone.

But Veronica’s holy story lives on.

As Friar Damian Patrascu, postulator general of the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscan Friars), said of the cause to the Register, this is the “message that the Servant of God wants to convey to today's world: She wants us to be serious and responsible about living the Christian faith; she wants us to live daily life with commitment; to young people, she wants to transmit courage to deal with social and cultural issues and live a Christian life; and to all Christians, she wants to say that the best time and place to sanctify themselves is wherever they are living now.”

Register correspondent Brian O’Neel writes from Quarryville, Pennsylvania.