Chiara: Wife, Mother, Faithful Witness

‘If I had aborted her, I do not think that I would have remembered the day of the abortion as a day of celebration’

Chiara Corbella Petrillo with her son Davide
Chiara Corbella Petrillo with her son Davide (photo: Courtesy of Sophia Institute Press/CNA / Courtesy of Sophia Institute Press/CNA)

Chiara Corbella Petrillo is being considered for canonization, just a few years after her untimely death on June 13, 2012.

Her story is as simple as it is an epic one, but most of all it is a holy one.

Enrico and Chiara were married in September 2008. Soon after, Chiara became pregnant. The newlyweds were overjoyed. Their joy was to be muted, however. An ultrasound scan revealed the child was deformed. The doctors just assumed Chiara would abort the child, but looking at the image of her helpless child, she resolved to continue with her pregnancy.

Maria Grazia Letizia was born on June 10, 2009. She lived for 30 minutes, long enough to be baptized by a priest. Later Chiara was to write:

“If I had aborted her, I do not think that I would have remembered the day of the abortion as a day of celebration … It would have been a moment that I would have tried to forget, a moment of great suffering. But the day of Maria’s birth I shall always recall as one of the most beautiful days of my life …The amount of time (as parents) does not matter: one month, two months, a few hours. What matters is that we have had this gift …and it is something that can never be forgotten.”

Maria Letizia’s funeral took place two days after her birth. On the small white coffin, her parents left a card with the following words:

“We were content to hold you in our arms, for even half an hour, we were fine.We were not able to stop looking at your nose, the same as mine, and those little hands, and those little feet.We did not have much time to tell you… that we love you… It does not matter how much time we spend together. … What is necessary is to know the Father. … And you were born ready, I do not know how to tell you how proud we are of you.We accompanied you as far as we were able.Now you shall know the Father …”

Another pregnancy soon followed. The scans showed that the child in the womb was missing one leg and had a stump for another; further scans showed the child had no kidneys and so, as a consequence, the lungs would not develop in the normal way. The prognosis for survival was dire. Once more medical staff began discussing with Enrico and Chiara whether to end the life of their child while all the time on the screen in front of them that same child kicked and pushed for life.

Eventually Davide Giovanni was born.

Immediately upon entering into this world, Chiara embraced Davide as she tenderly whispered to him: ‘My son, my love.’ Like his sister, the child was baptized at once by a waiting priest. Then Enrico placed a small wooden cross around his newborn son’s neck. Thirty minutes later, the child was carried by his father to the hospital mortuary.

But the couple could no more block the wellsprings of life than stop loving each other. And so Chiara became pregnant once more. As this child grew in her womb something else was growing in Chiara’s body. A tumor had been discovered on her tongue. Soon it would spread to her neck and eyes. Various treatments were proposed, but Chiara refused anything that might endanger the life of her unborn child.

When Francesco, came into the world his parents were so happy with their newborn, healthy child. For the first time, after his birth the couple enjoyed something close to a normal family life. They relished every minute of having a child in their home, having their first excursions as a family, being with other families, even the sleepless nights. It was a precious time; it proved to be borrowed time. Chiara did not know then that, just as she had ushered new life into the world, her own life was slowly beginning to ebb away.

Soon the tumor proved malignant. After Chiara spent some time in hospital, it became clear that there was no cure for her. Medical staff took Enrico aside and explained the situation to him. As he listened, he thought of the woman with whom he had expected to grow old, the woman whom he hoped would rejoice alongside him with their children, and one day their grandchildren. Now he had to tell Chiara that this was not to be.

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Chiara’s life course had been altered by a chance meeting in the summer of 2002 while visiting a Marian shrine. There, she was to meet her future husband, Enrico Petrillo. He had gone to the shrine with his then girlfriend but a row had caused her to leave so now he was alone. That evening he was sitting by himself in the hotel dining room when a young woman entered. Many years later, he was to remember that moment because as he looked at Chiara he thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. As it happened, that night there was only one free seat available in the dining room. And as she walked across the room toward him their eyes met.

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After a while, Enrico was able to compose himself. Then, finding his wife he took her hand and gently led her to the hospital’s chapel. It was there before the Blessed Sacrament that he talked to her.

After some time, they embraced each other. Then the couple once more repeated their marriage vows. Chiara asked one last thing of Enrico. She made her husband promise not to tell her how long she had left; she wanted to live in the present moment with her husband and their beloved child.

It was the Wednesday of Holy Week.

Just as the Angelus bell rang out at noon, Chiara’s eyes closed for the last time. It was June 13, 2012. She was 28 years old.

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Chesterton said: “It is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.”

It does seem as if we are being offered a “saint” for our times. For the life story of Chiara Petrillo is one of fidelity to God’s plan: fidelity to vows taken, fidelity to the Church’s perennial and unchanging teaching on marriage and on life, and of fidelity to the vocation of motherhood, regardless of the condition of the child entrusted to one’s care. In this world, she had so wanted to be a mother but instead sooner than expected she was reunited with two of her children already awaiting her. Faithful until the end in this life, now Chiara waits for all those whom she loved in the next where, finally, all tears shall be wiped away.

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