We nicknamed it “the prayer heard round the world.” It most certainly was that.
In the spring of 1999, our extended family received a letter from my brother-in-law. The child his wife was carrying in her womb was in serious trouble. Tests had revealed the likelihood of some severe birth defects and the possibility of others. We all began to pray fervently.
For me, this didn't seem like enough. I saw prayer as something passive; I wanted to do something proactive. So I sent out an e-mail prayer request to almost everyone I knew and tapped into the international e-mail lists of the Schoenstatt Marian Apostolic Movement, of which I'm a member. “With this many people praying,” I thought, “surely God will grant a miracle.”
Further testing confirmed the specialists' suspicions: Not only would this child have serious deformities, but he or she probably wouldn't even survive the birth. My brother-in-law and his wife began to feel the pressure from doctors urging them to abort. They stood strong against the tide.
In the meantime, the prayer petition was spreading globally. Hundreds of e-mail prayer pledges poured in from all over the world. Volunteers translated my message into Spanish and German, spreading the message even further. The outpouring of hearts was incredible to witness. As each new batch of responses came in, I put them into a folder and took them to my brother-inlaw and his wife. They read them again and again, drawing fresh strength each time.
The Catechism teaches us: “Just as Jesus prays to the Father and gives thanks before receiving his gifts, so he teaches us filial boldness: ‘Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it and you will.’ Such is the power of prayer and of faith that does not doubt: ‘all things are possible to him who believes’ (No. 2610). With that in mind, I continued my prayer campaign with fervor and confidence.
Gabriella Nicole was born Sept. 14, 1999 — feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. She spent three months in the neonatal intensive-care unit, very near death at times. Her parents had to make some crucial and difficult decisions regarding her treatment. She has required reconstructive surgery to repair internal organs and replace missing bone and muscle tissue, and she'll need more surgeries in the future. She's small for her age and needs some special care. Yet her parents never wavered from their conviction that this child has a purpose and that the gift of prayer would see them through whatever God has in store for them.
After the birth, I sent an e-mail to those on the prayer chain, regretfully telling them that we had not gotten the miracle for which we had prayed. Shortly thereafter, I received a phone call from Gabriella's father. He gently admonished me, saying that the life of Gabriella was a miracle itself and that the prayers offered worldwide were a miracle that brought them courage and comfort. He made me realize that I had used prayer as a bribe rather than the instrument of God's grace.
Today, Gabriella Nicole is a feisty, intelligent and determined bundle of delight — one who, in spite of her prosthesis and walker, easily keeps up with her 6-year-old sister. I still receive e-mails inquiring about Gabriella and her family and offering more prayers, sacrifices, and good wishes. The “prayer heard round the world” continues to circle the globe and is a reminder that prayer is not a matter of manipulating God, but a way of opening hearts to the fact that he knows best.
Happy 4th birthday, Gabriella Nicole!
Marge Fenelon writes from Cudahy, Wisconsin.
- September 19-25, 2004