Saint Gianna Beretta Mola

 Yesterday Pope John Paul II canonised Gianna Mola, a mother who died because she refused to have an abortion. The following article was first published in Bible Alive magazine in February 2003. It is reprinted with permission of the editor. She was a beautiful, dark haired woman with a strong honest face. Everyone who met her remembers her warm smile and cheerful personality. Gianna Beretta Mola was a wife, a mother, and a doctor who specialised in working with poor families. On April 28 1962, she died, at the age of 39, after giving birth to her fourth child which doctors had advised her to abort. On April 24, 1994, this child, called Gianna Emanela, who was now 32 years old, together with many other members of the Mola family, attended a ceremony at St Peter's Square in Rome, in which her mother was beatified by Pope John Paul II. The story of this twentieth century saint began in Magenta (Milan), Italy, on 4 October 1922, when she was born, the tenth of the 13 children of Alberto and Maria Beretta. Five children died young but the rest grew up and followed outstanding vocations. Two became priests, one became a nun and doctor, two more became doctors (including Gianna), one is an engineer and one a pharmacist. The Beretta family were very devout, praying together each each day, and Gianna was very committed to her faith from her earliest childhood. As a schoolgirl she joined 'Catholic Action' a group of lay people who did practical work with the poor, sick and elderly of Milan, as well as studying, praying and socialising together. In the Spring of 1938 when she was 15, Gianna attended a retreat organized around the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. At this time she wrote some notes and prayers. In one prayer, she wrote: "I promise You, Jesus, to submit myself to all that You permit to happen to me. Let me know Your Will." Around that time Gianna composed her own prayer of consecration to Mary. She also made a series of resolutions, promising to pray each day, morning and night and offering her entire life to God. For Gianna, prayer was much more than words and ritual. It was the practical dedication of every moment to God. She also wrote: "If one were to consider how much Jesus suffered, one would not commit the smallest sin." A very bright student, after high school, Gianna went to the University of Pavia where she obtained a medical degree in Surgery with honours. Three years later she earned an additional degree in paediatrics. She especially loved working with women and children. During her college years in Milan and in Pavia, Gianna always attended daily morning Mass, and prayed the rosary after dinner. If she had a spare moment, she would drop into church for a quiet prayer in between classes. After qualifying, she worked with her brother, Dr Ferdinando Beretta, in the family GP practice. They weren't rich. Many of their patients came from the poorest parts of town and they often treated people without charge. Gianna also reflected on her vocation. In 1954, she went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, with a group of sick people and prayed over what she should do with her life. Soon afterwards she met Pietro Molla an engineer and industrial director of the Saffa of Milan. She confided at the time to a friend: ''I have been to Lourdes to ask Our Lady what I shall do: to go to the missions or to marry. I reached home...and Pietro came in!" The couple were soon engaged. She told Pietro: "I want really a Christian home, where God is like one of the family; a little cenaculum where He can reign in our hearts, enlighten our decisions and guide our programmes." They were married on 24 September 1955 in St Martin's Basilica in Magenta. Gianna continued her work as a doctor. Their first child, Pierluigi was born in 1956. Maria Zita arrived in 1957 and Laura was born in 1959. After the baptism, each child was entrusted to the special protection of Our Lady of Good Counsel. As well as running a home and working as busy doctor, Gianna found time to help her local church's St Vincent de Paul Society. In her work, she was particularly concerned about her poorer patients. If one became sick and was unable to work she would help them find a less tiring job. She and often gave people money. Colleagues remember that she was always very approachable and a good listener. Women patients particularly used to wait to see her, to discuss their troubles. Gianna and Pietro's early married life was not easy, as they both worked very hard juggling family life and careers. Pietro often had to travel abroad, so they were often apart for long periods of time. However, they were very happy. Gianna simply said: "One earns Paradise with one's daily tasks.... I have always been taught that the secret of happiness is living moment by moment and to thank God for everything that in His goodness He sends us, day after day." In the summer of 1961, Gianna became pregnant for the fourth time. She and Pietro were delighted as they had always wanted a large family. But two months into the pregnancy the doctors discovered that she had developed a painful life-threatening uterine tumour or fibroma. The couple was faced with three choices. They were advised that the safest option for Gianna was to remove the fibroma in an operation which would terminate the pregnancy and end all hope of future pregnancies. A second possibility was to remove the fibroma, terminating the pregnancy, but leaving open the possibility of future pregnancies. The third solution was to remove the fibroma in such a way that would not interrupt the pregnancy. But they were warned - this could put Gianna's life in grave danger. Gianna chose the third option. After the operation she made a good recovery, went back to work and the pregnancy continued normally. But she was always concerned for the baby's health, and told the doctors repeatedly: "If you must choose between me and the baby, no hesitation: choose - and I demand it - the baby, save him!" Her labour began on Good Friday, April 20, 1962. The medical examination revealed a large, healthy baby but also a life-threatening septic peritonitis. She gave birth on April 21, but then began to suffer tremendous pain as the peritonitus took hold. As a doctor she realised what was happening. She was going to die. Gianna was very distressed at the thought of leaving her children orphaned. She prayed constantly but refused pain medication, as she said she did not feel it would be to appear before the Lord without much suffering. On April 26 and 27, Gianna could not receive Holy Communion because she could not swallow. Gianna begged that the Sacred Host at least be placed on her lips. She repeated continuously, "Jesus, I love You." Gianna was finally returned home by ambulance. She died there on Saturday, April 28, 1962 at 8:00 am. The funeral, held at the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel was a very emotional event. Dr Jolanda Botti, a paediatrician, said: "I believe that the memory of Gianna will be a seed that will bear fruit. We cannot think that God has taken away from this world such a noble and dear lady without a very great motive which we cannot understand now." Pietro told their children: "The life of Mamma was an act and a perennial action of faith and charity; it was a non-stop search for the will of God for every decision and for every work, with prayer and meditation, Holy Mass and the Eucharist." From the time of her death, women around the world began to ask Gianna to pray for them, particularly for family problems and during difficulties with childbirth. In 1977, a young Protestant woman in Grajau, in Brazil, was close to death from complications after giving birth to a still-born baby. She was so ill doctors said she needed to be treated in a specialist hospital 600 kilometres away - but they feared she would not survive the journey. The founder of the hospital was Fr Alberto Beretta, one of Gianna's brothers. A picture of Gianna happened to be on a table near the patient's bed. One nurse, Capuchin Sister Bernardina di Manaus, asked Gianna to intercede for the patient. Within a short time she had completely recovered. Cardinal Giovanni Colombo, Archbishop of Milan, studied Gianna's case for many years. In April 1988, with the Bishops' Conference of Lombardy, he asked for Gianna to be considered for beatification. On July 6, 1991, Pope John Paul II, issued a 'Decree of Heroicity of Virtue' for her. On December 21, 1992 the Decree of the Miracle was proclaimed. And on April 24, 1994, during the Year of the Family, Pope John Paul II beatified Gianna Beretta Molla at St Peter's Square in Rome. Many members of Gianna's family attended the ceremony. After greeting the family, during his homily the Pope said: "Blessed Gianna had the grace of a united family, rich in faith and love. She was a happy mother, but a great trial touched her in the course of her fourth pregnancy. In the dramatic choice between saving her life and that of the child which she carried in her womb, she did not hesitate to sacrifice herself. What a heroic witness is her true chant for life, in violent contrast with a certain mentality pervasive today! May her sacrifice infuse courage in all those who participate personally or communally, in the Movement for Life and in other similar organizations in order that the intangible dignity of every human existence is recognized, from the moment of conception up to natural decline, as a primary and fundamental value in respect to every other human and social right." She is now a patron of the pro-life movement, doctors, nurses and lay professionals. After the beatification ceremony, Pietro Molla told reporters how joyful, loving, and caring his wife had been. But, he said: "In the seven years I lived with her, I never realized that I had been living with a saint!" If Gianna were alive today, she would be 82 years old. Josephine Siedlecka

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