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St. Gianna Beretta Molla: “Mater Familias” and Lover of Life

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

April 28, 2018
CNS Photo/Paul Haring
[The following is Father Thomas Rosica's Keynote Address at the Benefit Dinner for the St. Gianna Home held November 6, 2009 in Aurora, Ontario. Reader's will recall that in September, St. Gianna's daughter and her husband, Laura Molla and Giuseppe Pannuti, were in the Toronto area to officially open the St. Gianna Home.]
Dear Friends,
Human life and human dignity encounter many obstacles in Canada. When life is not respected, should we be surprised that other rights will sooner or later be threatened? If we look carefully at the great dramas of the last century, we see that as free markets toppled Communism, exaggerated consumerism and materialism infiltrated our societies and cultures. Aging population, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As Pope John Paul II wrote: "a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die."
If we desire to be witnesses to Jesus’ life and message, and prophetic agents of change in our day, we have to recognize what is wrong first of all inside of us, then outside of us, and realize all of the ways that we are confused with knowledge and speculation. Human life has a sacred and religious value, but in no way is that value a concern only of believers.
Today we are living in the midst of a culture that denies solidarity and takes the form of a veritable “culture of death”. This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents that encourage an idea of society exclusively concerned with efficiency. It is a war of the powerful against the weak. There is no room in the world for anyone who, like the unborn or the dying, is a weak element in the social structure or anyone who appears completely at the mercy of others and radically dependent on them and can only communicate through the silent language of profound sharing of affection.
Abortion is the most serious wound inflicted not only on individuals and their families who should provide the sanctuary for life, but inflicted as well on society and its culture, by the very people who ought to be society's promoters and defenders. It is important to recall Benedict XVI's words and pro-life vision at the opening ceremony of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, on July 17, 2008:
And so we are led to reflect on what place the poor and the elderly, immigrants and the voiceless, have in our societies. How can it be that domestic violence torments so many mothers and children? How can it be that the most wondrous and sacred human space – the womb – has become a place of unutterable violence?
The Roman Catholic Church holds a consistent ethic of life. The Church offers a teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and dignity of the human person. However, opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the dignity of the human person such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself, whatever insults human dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons – all of these things and more poison human society.
In Pope Benedict XVI’s recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, (Truth in Charity), the Holy Father addresses clearly the dignity and respect for human life "which cannot in any way be detached from questions concerning the development of peoples." Benedict writes, "In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other states as if it were a form of cultural progress."
"Openness to life is at the centre of true development," writes the Pope. "When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man's true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away."
Pope Benedict sums up the current global economic crisis in a remarkable way with these words: "Human costs always include economic costs, and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs." The Roman Catholic Church offers a teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and the dignity of the human person: a 20/20 vision for which we must strive each day if we claim to be “pro-life.” Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. We must strive to see the whole picture, not with tunnel vision.
Being pro-life is one of the deepest expressions of our baptism: we stand up as sons and daughters of the light, clothed in humility and charity, filled with conviction, speaking the truth to power with firmness, conviction and determination, and never losing joy and hope. Being Pro-Life is not an activity for a political party or a particular side of the spectrum. It is an obligation for everyone: left, right and centre! If we are Pro-Life, we must engage the culture around us, and not curse it. We must see others as Jesus does, and we must love them to life, even those who are opposed to us. Being pro-life in this day and age is truly prophetic, and it will bring about authentic development and enduring peace in our world.
Gianna Beretta Molla: Mater Familias and Lover of Life
We are here this evening to honor the memory of a great Saint of our own times. Gianna Beretta Molla was a young Italian pediatrician and mother of a family who died in 1962 at the age of 39, leaving behind her husband and four young children.
In September 1961, toward the end of the second month of pregnancy with her fourth child, Dr. Molla had to make a heroic decision. Physicians diagnosed a serious fibroma in the uterus that required surgery. The surgeon suggested that she undergo an abortion in order to save her own life. A few days before the child was due, she was ready to give her life in order to save that of her child: "If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: Choose the child - I insist on it. Save the baby." She gave herself entirely, generating new life.
Gianna was beatified in 1994 and canonized a saint in 2004. Her husband and children were present at each of the ceremonies. Gianna’s husband and family are very close friends of mine. When Gianna’s remaining children, Pierluigi, Laura and Gianna Emanuela, all my age, say: “my mother is a saint,” they mean it.
Dedication-Ribbon CuttingIn various parts of the world, the media and others went to town in debunking and politicizing the Gianna story, stating that her canonization was the Roman Catholic Church's full frontal attack on pro-choice people and all who support abortion. To reduce her life and vocation to "the first anti-abortion saint" is to misread her powerful story. The Church doesn't beatify or canonize people and use them as arrows or weapons to attack others for error and sin. Rather, the Church offers the lives of outstanding women and men such as Gianna to present an alternative gospel vision to what we are enduring in the world today. Saints offer us a way to put the Beatitudes into practice on a daily basis. They are models who inspire and guide us.Dr. Molla was not the typical candidate for one of the Vatican's most impressive ceremonies and most significant honours. Gianna loved culture, fashion and beauty. She played piano, was a painter, enjoyed tennis, mountain climbing and skiing. She attended the symphony, theatre and Milan's La Scala Opera. Gianna also had a passion for nice clothes and enjoyed traveling. She loved children, the elderly and the poor.
In an age when permanent commitment is widely discouraged, when human life is cheap and disposable and family life is under siege, when abortion is all too available, when sacrifice and virtue are absent in so many lives; when many in the medical profession have little concern for the dignity and sacredness of every human life; when suffering is seen as a nuisance without any redemptive meaning; when goodness, joy, simplicity and beauty are suspect; St. Gianna Beretta Molla shows this world, gripped by a culture of death, an alternative gospel way of compelling beauty.
Her action at the end of her life, in saving young Gianna Emanuela, her daughter, was heroic in that she prepared for her final action every day of her life. Her final decision for life was the natural flowering and culmination of an extraordinary life of virtue and holiness, selflessness and quiet joy. St. Gianna Molla continues to remind the church and the world of the necessity of a consistent ethic of life, from the earliest to the final moments of human life. Gianna would write and say: "One cannot love without suffering, or suffer without love."
Each of us is called to heroism by our choice of life on a daily basis. Gianna Beretta Molla is certainly not the first laywoman and mother to be canonized, but her contemporary witness is badly needed by so many people around the world today. Her life was truly prophetic. In the simple words of one of St. Gianna's closest friends, Piera Fontana, "50 years ago, before Gianna, how was it possible that only nuns, priests and friars were raised to the altar? Why were we never raised to the altar? Gianna was raised to the altar. She represents all mothers. A mother has finally arrived."
In the name of the Molla Family, I express deep gratitude to Vince and Joanne Verduci and their remarkable family, for establishing the St. Gianna Beretta Molla home for pregnant women in distress. This home is a real light in the midst of the darkness of a culture of death swirling around us. The generosity, courage and wisdom and Joanne and Vince and their team of supporters and benefactors, is outstanding. Please support this effort generously. St. Gianna’s bold courage and deep faith find a home in the Verduci family and in this great work of charity and hope.
May the Lord bless you for all you do for the cause of life.
Thank you.
Father Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt + Light Catholic Television Network