In 2008, Natalie Saracco and a friend were involved in a terrible car accident on a French highway. While trapped inside the car, she felt life slowly drifting away from her as she started spitting blood and suffocating.

As a practicing Catholic, Saracco said her only concern at this moment was the fact that she couldn’t go to confession before dying. But as a voice inside her told her that it already knew the intentions of her heart, she was suddenly projected into another dimension — a place out of space and time where Jesus Christ appeared to her, dressed in a white tunic, showing his heart with the Crown of Thorns.

This mysterious heavenly encounter with what seems to be the Sacred Heart of Jesus would leave an indelible imprint on Saracco’s soul and mark for her the beginning of a brand-new life.

After miraculously surviving the accident, Saracco has been tirelessly telling her story, with the strong conviction that she had the duty to give testimony to the truth of Christ.

Frequently invited to share her experience within the framework of conferences, interviews or documentaries, Saracco claims that she saw Jesus crying, revealing his immense pain, as if he wanted her to feel it and share it.

In order to give thanks for the grace of her encounter with God’s love, she initially put her artistic talent at the service of her testimony by making the film La mante religieuse (The Maneater, 2012), which tells the story of a kind of Mary Magdalene of modern times.  

And the major impact of this near-death experience on her life and her vision of the world, which Saracco discusses in this interview with the Register, is further detailed in her two books Pour ses beaux yeux. Road Movie d’une cinéaste amoureuse du Christ (For Love of Him, Road Movie of a Filmmaker in Love With Christ) and Aux âmes citoyens. Apocalypse Now (To Souls, Citizens. Apocalypse Now).

According to Saracco, the current health, social and economic crises facing society can also be a game changer likely to favor a return of God in Western cultures.

 

When you tell our story, you always mention that it was a crying Jesus that you saw when you were at the gate of death. What did you think made him suffer so much? Why do you think he chose to appear to you this way?

I saw Jesus suffer indeed, and I understood it was not only because of sin, but also because of the indifference of Christians, who pretend to be part of his family, to be his friends.

I know the Lord suffers agonies because his love is so often ignored or unrecognized. We don’t know how much he loves us. He is consumed by an infinite love for every creature, even the last monster on earth. He loves such a person infinitely and wants to save even this kind of person until the end.

When I asked him, “Why do you cry?” he said, “Because you are my darling children; I love you infinitely and in return I get coldness, contempt and indifference. I cry because there is nothing worse than being rejected by those we love.” This is why Christ suffers. He made me feel that.

I believe that Jesus made me see this to make me remind people that we must burn with love for him, completely, for what he is, and not just through a few words pronounced halfheartedly, in a worldly manner, or to ease one’s conscience.

 

How does such a half-heartedness manifest itself in the Christian world? 

One of the major risks facing the average Christian is to pray for sinners only, in a personal contemplation, being self-satisfied. It is a danger we must be very careful about. Just because we go to Mass every Sunday, direct our church choir, teach catechism and do good deeds doesn’t mean we are in God’s pure will to love. We must be carriers of his love.

Some of us could have surprises on the other side, perhaps people that we used to point fingers at will walk past us and allegedly exemplar Christians will be in a more difficult position because they didn’t put love into their actions. Everything is about love. God asks us love first. Indeed, there is no need to kill people or to rob a bank to be a sinner — lacking love is enough.

Before my experience, I used to be more judgmental, to pay attention to the bad things people could do. Now, my vision has totally changed, because I physically experienced God’s mercy. I understood that the first person to be converted was I.

 

More than 10 years after your car accident, how would you say that this near-death experience changed your life?

This accident, followed by this state of near-death which I experienced, immersed me in the imminent love of Our Lord — it is beyond imagination. I am like branded for life.

I was already a practicing Catholic before the accident, just like my whole family, but my relationship with God was more intellectual. I was going to Mass on Sunday, received Holy Communion, but it was more of a “tranquil” faith. And this event was for me like a unique love encounter that shook all of my senses. I felt like a woman that had been dreaming about great love all of her life and suddenly ran into the person she was desperately waiting for while walking on the street.

I’ve discovered the Gospel properly, under another perspective, in the dynamic of the Lord’s love, of his infinite and unfathomable mercy. I thought I knew the Lord and his love, but before that, there were just words, and then, after the accident, I could live it physically. From the outside, people could see there was a before and an after, because I even put aside my career as a film director for a while, to focus on my testimony, and I give thanks to the donations and support of my brothers in Christ. I am passionate and I am giving the Lord everything I have. I received a very tempting proposal for a feature film a few months ago, but I won’t do it now because I want to dedicate myself to the ugency of the proclamation of the Word, of conversion, to help the world refocus on God.

 

And how did your experience change you on the inside?

 

I was literally traumatized, I could no longer do anything, and couldn't go on living like I used to. For a year, I gave up everything, and I only prayed.

I can say that it changed all of my relationship with people, with the surrounding world, nature, animals. … I see the glory of God shine through his creatures, even in a small daisy. I enjoy his infinite beauty and that of his creatures, which are all involved in his divine plan. God is so much more than what we can imagine. We tend to enclose him in a preconceived image, to limit him in order to make him our own.

Another major change in me is the place of prayer. I didn’t give prayer enough space in my everyday life; I used to say a small “Our Father” and a “Hail Mary” and that was all. However, prayer is the starting point for everything; it is our umbilical cord with God. It feeds us and readjusts us to his will. So, I pray a lot, every day.  

Then I took full awareness of the Virgin Mary’s role. I didn’t have a particular Marian heart in the past, even if I knew that she is the one that leads us to her Son. But actually, the stronger gesture that Jesus offered when he appeared to me was to send me to Mary’s maternal arms. The only creature that fully expresses the whole glory of creation, of God’s human project, is the Virgin Mary. She is God’s masterpiece.

 

We live at a time when there are less visible miracles; the world hasn’t seen any miracle-working saints in quite a long time. By contrast, the so-called near-death experiences seem to be a growing phenomenon in Western societies. Do you think it could be a new privileged channel for God to reach his creatures in a world which is more and more materialistic and far from any idea of transcendence?

 I think you’re right. There is a total disinformation about God nowadays, about his message of love, and about the Church in general. People talk about the Church only in relation to scandals that disfigure its image. The devil is trying his best to erase the presence of God from this world.

So, many people won’t take the initiative to push open the door of a church, even if they know they lack something important in their lives. Therefore, this kind of near-death experience can be a good channel to get people involved and induce them to ask the good questions. It can also touch the heart of people who don’t believe in God: While they may deny the existence of a transcendent God, their soul intrinsically knows his existence. So they are somehow stimulated by their own soul when they hear this kind of experience.

God wants to save all of his creatures and he casts a wide net to get to them. He is the greatest recycling company of mercy, and he acts at every level. However, his mercy depends on the human being’s personal choice and can’t be exercised without an explicit conversion of heart.

 

The Lord can also use tragedies to manifest himself and touch people’s heart, which has been the case during the coronavirus pandemic. What benefits could flow from the current crisis, including from the long period of time without Mass?

God never sends evil and death, but he uses these events to reach us — and he will, under the condition that we agree, as he gave us free will. He respects us and we are free to accept him in our lives or not. So, God lets things happen but he also uses them for our own good. The Lord doesn’t want to change us; he wants to transfigure what we are for his glory, for the glory of love.

Then I do think that through the deprivation of the sacraments, the Holy Spirit sent an electroshock to the many people that were taking Holy Communion for granted, ignoring the fact that Communion is every time a miracle of love.

It was also an electroshock sent to all those living like robots, following the daily grind of modern life at every level of their lives, thinking of themselves as products that should be efficient. This coronavirus reminded us all that we are not invulnerable, that illness and death are not just for others. This worldwide effect forced us to put ourselves on standby and think about our lives. Some people needed this to open themselves to real life.

But what we’ve just lived can be the beginning of terrible consequences for the Church. The media have accused churches of spreading the virus, and the French authorities wanted to extend the suspension of Masses while the rest of the society was reopening. It will certainly happen again in the future.

 

You recently signed the Manifesto of Chartres, signed by several prominent Catholic figures, such as the bishops of Chartres and Toulon and philosopher Rémi Brague. This document sounds like an appeal to Christian consciences at a key moment for both our Church and society. In what perspective did you sign it?

This manifesto has pretty much the same substance as my recent book Aux âmes citoyens, which is only the fruit of my prayers. I wrote the book a few months ago and many of the things I said are being further confirmed by the current crisis.

There is a terrible loss of faith nowadays. I mean, there were only 12 of us at the beginning of Christianity and the whole world got evangelized, and now there are more than one billion Catholics in the world and our churches are emptying. They are turned into night clubs, fashion showrooms or restaurants. … It shows a heavy internal problem.

Indeed, even within the Church, so many people are halfhearted. Why do you think that Islam seduces the youth so much currently? It is because it offers a hardline model — it makes the youth dream. For, when one is young, one is passionate and doesn’t come to terms with the greyness of the worldly spirit. Unfortunately, Catholics in many parts of the Western world often are not really inhabited by the joy they want to pass on — they no longer know how to give others the means to meet God.

In France, we finally got the right to resume the celebration of Mass, on May 24. When I went to Mass that day, I thought the church would have been full — but there were no more than 20 people! Ultimately, no one can cut us off from God but ourselves.

The Lord came to light a fire on earth, and it is not with extinguished wicks and dying hearts that we will spread his word. The problem is that the West is no longer burning with love for God and we should rekindle this flame of love to create the revival the Church so badly needs. Whatever happens to the Church and the whole world, let’s rejoice that this fight is not ours but God's fight. Even though the struggle continues, Christ won the victory in all eternity. Let’s pray and offer Masses so that the eternal father may deign to hasten the glorious return of Christ on earth, so that “hallowed be thy name; thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Solène Tadié is the Register’s Rome based Europe correspondent.