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The eldest son of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Pierluigi Molla, remembers his mother.
BY Edward Pentin
Pierluigi Molla was only 5 when his mother died. But he had
absorbed enough of her saintly character to make a mark on his life.
Canonized in 2004, St. Gianna Beretta Molla refused to have an abortion
and gave her life instead to save that of her fourth child, Gianna Emanuela.
Her heroic example led to her being named a patron saint of the unborn, and she
has a growing, devoted following worldwide; reports of miracles and graces
granted through her intercession continue to this day.
Register correspondent Edward Pentin spoke recently with Pierluigi, her
first child. A business consultant based in Milan, Molla reflects on his
mother’s example, what it’s like to be the son of a saint, and what St. Gianna
would make of the struggle against abortion in the world today.
It must be very consoling for
you to have your mother as a saint because you know for sure that she lives on,
showing it through her intercession with miracles.
Definitely, yes, this is a great
consolation. It’s also really wonderful to see how the knowledge of my mother
is spreading around the world, and how many messages we’ve received from all
over the globe testifying to what she’s doing today — because she’s mediating a
lot of graces. Miracles are something recognized by the Church, but these are
graces, and they’re really extraordinary. Two years ago I received an e-mail
from the United States. A woman had problems conceiving a child, and at the end
she had two wonderful children. One of them is called Gianna because she said a
prayer to my mother. So this is extraordinary; it’s like she is with us and
working throughout the whole world.
It happens frequently. There is a
church close to Genoa with an old and famous shrine, Madonna della Guardia. A
priest there put up a picture of my mother in the shrine 15 years ago, and it’s
incredible how it’s now completely full of pink and blue ribbons. This is an
Italian tradition — to hang up these ribbons on the outside of a house when a new child is born. This shrine is full of
these kinds of messages, of graces received through my mother.
Although you were only 5 when your mother died, can you tell us about her character and faith?
taught me how to ski, and also I remember going with her when she went on
visits as a doctor. My mother was close to the family and to her profession. At
that time, in the 1950s, it was not common for women to have a family and also
be involved in a profession, to be a doctor, and to be active helping
people in associations such as Azione
Cattolica [Catholic Action] and San Vincenzo [St. Vincent de Paul
Society]. But at the same time, she was
someone modern who liked to go skiing in the mountains and liked music.
She lived a
very active life?
full life and also a modern one, compared to the average way of life at that
time. So these are my memories of my mother. Also, I learned from her the faith
that she transmitted to us: a trust in Providence — that you have to be
committed to the values you hold. These things my father also passed on to
us. Also, I was able to learn about her
life through the documents she left us. She left a lot of documents about her
work with Azione Cattolica, and through these documents you can really
was completely happy in her family and professional life. She was consistent
with this principle and applied it to everything she wanted to do. One of my
mother’s favorite expressions was to do everything in depth, not superficially,
and not to stop and only do 50%. She wasn’t an extraordinary intellectual, and
at school she got average results. She was not a champion, but she tried her
Some beautiful quotes from your
mother have been remembered for posterity, such as “The secret of happiness is
to live moment by moment and to thank God for all that he, in his goodness,
sends to us day after day” and “God’s providence is in all things; it’s always
present.” What’s the most important thing we can learn from her?
As Catholics we
need to learn how to be consistent
with our values and beliefs. My mother
grew up in a family where she received the faith and values from her father and
mother, and [learned] how to live life in a correct way. She was consistent in
these values, which she learned in the first years of her life, and she was
consistent to the end.
second thing is to be consistent with your vocation. She once thought of
leaving Italy to work in Brazil with my aunt.
But she understood that her vocation was to be a mother. And, as well as
being consistent with her values in her role as a mother, she also strove to be
consistent in her work as a doctor and as a volunteer.
ways, she addresses how important upbringing is and how vital it is to be
brought up properly in the faith.
definitely, but not only as a mother. During
her time working for Azione Cattolica, a colleague of hers said she rarely did not
practice what she preached. My mother would not just say you have to do this or
that — she really did it. It was the
same in the family and in her choice to be a mother. She was an example for us: consistent in what
she believed and what she passed on to the family. She said she wanted to have
a holy family, and she did everything she could to lead this holy family toward
being consistent in its faith.
tell us a little about Gianna Emanuela?
is a doctor and studied medicine like my mother. She is a geriatric specialist,
not a pediatric doctor like my mother. Now she is taking care of my father. Up
until six years ago, he was completely active, but six years ago he started
having problems. So Gianna decided to leave her job in a public hospital to
take care of him. She also helps to run my mother’s foundation. My father
started the foundation, which is a family charity in honor of my mother, and
various people write to it from all around the world, giving materials or
asking for help. So Gianna is working for that.
until six years ago, all this was done by my father. He had been completely
absorbed in this work over the past 15 years. Once he retired from his job, he
took care of all the necessities relating to the beatification and canonization
causes. As you can imagine, and as I said before, to be a family, to be a
witness to a beatification is not only important, but it also involves an
immense amount of work. Traditionally, saints come from priestly orders or
convents, and so they have a lot of people working on these causes for free.
But in a family, we have to work hard — and also for free.
abortion laws mostly came into force in the Western world after your mother
died. Do you think she’d be campaigning against these laws if she were alive
probably would be, as someone who was committed to Azione Cattolica. As someone
who had to give a good example, who tried to be consistent in her commitment to
her faith, she would have done everything she could to prevent an abortion from
taking place. I think she would have also been committed to this in her job, to
be consistent with this aspect of her faith. [When Pope Benedict met with
President Obama at the Vatican], the main aspect discussed was abortion, so it
shows the real value these issues have at the highest level. Because if you
agree with this kind of value, you must also be consistent in the policies you
make. I was really surprised that Obama wanted to reduce abortion. In the last
10 years of presidential campaigns in the U.S., abortion has figured highly, so
it is of real value.
my mother represented this value. My mother was a person who lived in the
1950s, died in 1962, and yet the message she left is still very current and
topical. Not only in bioethics and abortion, but also in matters relating to
the economy and moral values. If we agree on these values, and every leader
applies these principles to daily life, we can change the general situation.
it like to be the son of a saint?
is an extraordinary experience. Hard to imagine. What happened to the family during all the beatification and
canonization processes wasn’t easy
because one has to constantly recall, each time, the pain of her death. The
beatification process meant coming back to a painful moment in my life. I was
only 5 years old, and when you lose your mother at that age, it’s about the
worst kind of pain that any child can
experience. But at the end of the
beatification process, in 1994, I was compensated by seeing my mother elevated
to the altars. The same thing happened in 2004 at the canonization. Now I am 53 years old. But it really
was an extraordinary experience, and now I feel very happy that, through the
Church, I can celebrate my mother on All Saints’ Day instead of being sad for
her the day after, on All Souls’ Day. So the transformation to being a saint
means that now, if you remember her life, you have a feeling of happiness
instead of sadness.
me and for my sisters, it has been extraordinary, because what happened to us
is not common. I don’t know if we are the first, but it’s really an uncommon
experience to see this happen when alive, also for my father. My father is 97.
He was with us in St. Peter’s in 2004 for the canonization of his wife.
it has been an extraordinary experience, but probably we were not the first and
only ones. We hope not, because this is a contemporary message, a really great
message for the Church: how contemporary people living everyday lives can
become saints. Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini said my mother is the saint of
everyday life. She shows that saints can be people living ordinary lives, not
extraordinary ones. For this reason, we are all ordinary people. Admittedly, my
mother was an extraordinary and heroic woman, but in every ordinary thing of
her life, she showed herself just to be living an ordinary life. My father had
an extraordinary relationship with my mother. They were together for just five
years, but are still together.
Edward Pentin writes