National Catholic Register


Emma, the Pope and the President

7-Year-Old Witnesses to Obama on Life


Register Senior Writer

May 3-9, 2009 Issue | Posted 4/24/09 at 12:39 PM


CRAIGMONT, Idaho — When 7-year-old Emma Watson recently sent a letter to President Barack Obama, it wasn’t her intention to be political.

She was merely witnessing to the president on an issue near and dear to her own ailing heart.

Watson’s birth mother had originally planned to abort Emma because she had half a heart — a condition known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Instead, the birth mother gave Emma life and placed her for adoption with John and Patti Watson, a Catholic couple who were willing to adopt kids with special needs.

Emma was able to schedule a visit with Pope Benedict XVI through the Phoenix-based Make-A-Wish Foundation — but the meeting had to be postponed due to her illness.

To compose her letter to Obama, the girl sat down with her mother and dictated: “I am writing to you because I don’t agree with abortion. I know you are trying to help people, but I know that God can take care of things in his own way.”

She told the president that she initially supported his candidacy.

“You said you would do good things for America, but then I found out that you are pro-abortion,” says Emma’s letter. “Then I got to wondering how killing babies is good for America. Can you please let babies live, President Obama?”

She added, “My birth mom loved me a lot too and chose life for me, even though she knew that I would be very sick even before I was born.”

Emma’s reference was to her adoption in 2001, when, after a struggle with infertility, John and Patti placed their names with a local adoption agency.

“We had learned natural family planning, but had no success conceiving,” said Patti, a home-schooling mother of four in Craigmont, Idaho.

According to Patti, prior to an ultrasound, Emma’s 16-year-old birth mother had originally arranged to place her child for adoption with another couple. When she had the ultrasound and learned that the baby had a heart condition, the other couple backed out.

“After seeing doctors, who gave the baby very little chance of making it, the birth mother decided to have an abortion,” said Patti. “But on the day the abortion was scheduled, she woke up and couldn’t describe the feeling other than to say that ‘God had a very special plan for this baby,’ and she decided not to go through with the abortion.”

After the birth mother contacted an adoption agency, the Watsons were the only ones who had said they would take a child with special needs.

“When they called, we said Yes,” Patti told The Associated Press. “It was an easy decision. We’d been praying about it, and God has granted us the grace to deal with everything that has come along.”

Because the child would need heart surgery within the first 24 hours of life in order to survive, the birth mother and adoptive mother flew to Delaware for care from a physician who agreed to undertake the risky surgery.

Emma was born on Feb.11, 2002 — the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Since her birth, she’s had five open-heart surgeries and numerous other operations. She has spent more than a year and a half of her 7 years in hospitals. In addition to her heart condition, Emma has Turner syndrome, a chromosomal condition characterized by complete or partial absence of the second sex chromosome in females.

The Watsons are also parents to Ellie, 10, who is also adopted, and Noah, 3, and Greta, 1, whom they conceived after assistance from the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, Neb.

Speaking Truth to Power

Last fall, even before the election, Emma got the idea to write to Barack Obama.

Emma’s mother, Patti, described how the idea came about.

They had obtained a Veggie Tales video from the local hardware store — The Fib From Outer Space, which teaches a lesson about the importance of not lying.

“After watching it, Emma’s eyes became as big as saucers, and she said, ‘I can send this to Barack Obama, and he can learn how to tell the truth,’” said Patti.

Patti’s first reaction was to laugh.

“She kept insisting,” said Patti. “When her sister Ellie got to write a letter to the president as part of her religion class, it was time to send Emma’s letter and video.”

So, finally, she dictated a letter for the president through her mother.

“She sat me down and said, ‘You write; I’ll talk.’”

The letter and video went out in March. So far, there’s been no response.

While the White House wouldn’t comment on a personal letter it had received, a female White House press officer who did not want to be identified told the Register that the lack of a response so far doesn’t mean that the letter is going unanswered.

“Mail can sometimes take a couple of weeks just to get to the building,” the press officer said. “It will be responded to.” 

The Red Envelope Project recently tallied that 2.5 million empty red envelopes were sent to the White House with the message: “This envelope represents one child who died in abortion. It is empty because that life was unable to offer anything to the world. Responsibility begins with conception.” A White House mail worker told World Net Daily that the Red Envelope project was one of the biggest presidential campaigns he had seen in 35 years.

The New York Times reported April 20 that the White House mail office chooses 10 letters each day for the president to read personally. The paper offers examples of letters the president was shown and answered; none are about abortion.

Patti doesn’t expect to hear back from the president. Emma’s more hopeful.

“I’m hoping that he and his daughters will watch the video,” said Emma. “I’m hoping he’ll write me back — when he has the time.”

Papal Plans

Emma’s letter isn’t her only interaction with an international figure. In February, she was scheduled to travel to Rome to meet Pope Benedict XVI on her birthday, through a trip arranged by Make-A-Wish.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation granted 13,425 wishes in 2008 to children with life-threatening medical conditions. Between 5% and 10% of those were celebrity-related.

A medical condition prevented Emma from making the trip.

“She had a bunch of intestinal ulcers that bled profusely,” said Patti. “She needed a transfusion and spent a couple of weeks in the hospital instead.”

“I was a little disappointed and sad and angry,” admitted Emma.

Not one to complain, Emma told her parents, “God has a pretty good sense of humor.”

“She’s gotten used to the fact that we sometimes have plans that don’t happen,” said Patti.

She did, however, receive a hospital visit from Spokane, Wash., Bishop William Skylstad, and nuns from the order of Mary, Mother of the Church, said that if she couldn’t go meet the Pope, they would bring the Pope to her: The sisters brought a painting of Pope Benedict XVI to her in the hospital.

Patti said that Emma’s desire to see the Pope started when she was 3.

“She was in the hospital in California during the papal conclave,” said Patti. “I wanted her to watch a movie, but she wanted to watch the conclave on TV. When he was chosen, Emma said, ‘That’s my new pope. That’s my new pope. Do you think I’ll ever be able to meet him?’”

“We thought we were doing something good to save this sick little girl,” said Patti. “Not knowing all along that she was saving us … from selfishness and getting caught up in the little details of life rather than what’s really important.

“I see that she has stood as a voice against what’s happening in this country right now — the disrespect for human life. She’s the perfect example. She has a chromosomal disorder, a heart condition, and a learning disability. Yet, she has a bubbly personality and she knows she has a mission and she tells people about it.”

What does Emma see as her mission?

“Spreading the Gospel to all the people,” said the 7-year-old, “and talking to them about Jesus.”

Tim Drake is based in

St. Joseph, Minnesota.