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Dear St Catherine, humble virgin and Doctor of the Church, in thirty-three years you achieved great perfection and became the counsellor of Popes. You know the temptations of mothers today as well as the dangers that await unborn infants.

Intercede for me that I may avoid miscarriage and bring forth a healthy baby who will become a true child of God. Also pray for all mothers, that they may not resort to abortion but help to bring a new life into the world. Amen.


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On April 24, 1994, Pope John Paul II declared “blessed” a present-day Italian woman physician who accepted death rather than undergo an operation that would imperil the life of her unborn child. In beatifying this contemporary pro-life heroine, the Holy Father gave to the world a saintly intercessor against the international cruelty of abortion.


Gianna Beretta was born in Magenta, Italy, on October 4, 1922. She was the tenth of the 13 offspring of admirable parents, who gave to their children a strong sense of prayer and trust in God’s providence.

Gianna, a highly talented young woman, called, as she felt, to the medical profession, won doctoral degrees in medicine and surgery in 1949 at the University of Pavia. The following year she opened a clinic at Mesero, near Magenta. Two years later she took advanced studies in paediatrics at the University of Milan. Thereafter, Dr Beretta specialised in the care of mothers and babies and also the elderly and the poor.


Gianna undertook the medical profession not simply as a means of support, or even as simply a philanthropy. For her the practice of medicine was a spiritual “mission”. All during her student years she had carried out voluntary service to the needy and aged as a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society. As a physician she increased her generous service as a form of “Catholic Action”: lay volunteerism according to the mind and needs of the Church. But there was nothing of the “fanatic” about Dr Beretta. She was a young woman of vigour and good cheer, a daring skier and mountain climber.


Marriage in 1955 merely gave Dr Gianna a chance to expand her “missionary” efforts. Gianna and Pietro Molla were a joyful couple. She bore him three children in the next four years. A woman of balance and common sense, she successfully harmonised her careers of mother, wife, and medic.


However, when she became pregnant again in 1961, the doctor suddenly learned that a fibroma was developing in her womb. The baby was now in its second month.

Scientist and paediatrician as she was, Dr Molla appreciated the threat that the growing tumour presented to her life if she did not undergo an operation. But the uterine operation would have meant death for the unborn baby.

It was a classic case that the Church has always pondered. Moral theology, although forbidding direct abortion, has taught that while surgeons should try to save both mother and child, it is permissible to remove a diseased womb to save the mother, even though the child is thus deprived of life.


Gianna at once pleaded with the surgeon to save the life of the child. During the next seven months she forced herself to keep busy with her various duties, meanwhile praying as never before that God would preserve the little one. She added a special prayer that the child itself would suffer no pain from the malignancy. A few days before the birth was due, Gianna told her doctors, “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate; choose the child. I insist on it. Save the baby.”

The baby, Gianna Emanuela Molla, was born in good health on April 21, 1962. But despite every effort to save Dr Molla, who bore her unspeakable pain in constant prayer, she died on April 28. A sad end, but a glorious one: is not a mother’s love essentially a vocation of self-giving?

At the beatification ceremony, the Holy Father greeted and blessed at his throne those whom the heroic paediatrician had left behind in God’s good hands: her husband Pietro, one of their older children, and Gianna Emanuela Molla, just turned 22. The Pope blessed the young woman, but Gianna Molla knew she had already been blessed from conception by the hand of God.
Note: Gianna Beretta Molla was canonised on May 16, 2004.
– This article by Fr Robert McNamara was published in the “Divine Mercy Newsletter” 2011, Vol. 61. For subscriptions and donations, please contact: Divine Mercy Publications, Maryville, Skerries, Co Dublin, Ireland.


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O Mary, Mother of Jesus and Mother of us all, we pray today for all mothers who are afraid to be mothers. We pray for those who feel threatened and overwhelmed by their pregnancy.

Intercede for them, that God may give them the grace to say yes and the courage to go on. May they have the grace to reject the false solution of abortion.

May they say with you, “Be it done unto me according to your word.”
May they experience the help of Christian people, and know the peace that comes from doing God’s will. Amen.
– Adapted prayer from Priests for Life


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When you’re a priest in a large church, you know people by sight. But the truth is, you don’t always get to know everyone’s name. In a parish like mine, with over four thousand families, you’re fortunate to learn a few hundred first names. Some people understand this; others don’t. They’ll come up to you and very aggressively ask, ‘Do you know my name, Father?’ I used to say, ‘Sure’, and try to change the topic. But too often they’d call me in on it. So now I just tell the truth: ‘No, I know your face, but your name escapes me.’ Some get a little miffed. ‘But you did my sister’s wedding three years ago,’ said one. ‘That,’ I responded, ‘was three hundred weddings ago.’ A similar moment happened recently, but I was happy for the confrontation.

An attractive young woman approached me after Mass. She waited until all the other folks had left before asking, ‘Do you know who I am?’ I didn’t. So I asked, ‘Have we met before?’ ‘Well, yes, in a very unusual way.’ Now she had my curiosity aroused. ‘Tell me where and when,’ I asked. ‘My name is Samantha. I’m eighteen. You actually knew my mother back when she was pregnant with me. So that’s when we met, it just wasn’t face to face.’

I asked her to tell me more. ‘My mother raised me alone. She had very little financial or emotional support. Her parents didn’t like my biological father. He apparently left the scene once Mum became pregnant. So here she was, just nineteen at the time – pregnant, alone, poor and scared.

How, I wondered, did I fit into this story? Samantha continued: ‘I recently asked my mother why she didn’t get an abortion. She said she almost did. But she happened to come upon a priest who gave a talk on the beauty of human life, and the need to protect it. You. She looked for you after Mass and you two talked. Just like we’re talking now. My Mum says she expected you to get angry at her when she said that she was pregnant and considering an abortion. But you didn’t. You just hugged her and offered to help her to have me. She said that when she cried with fear about raising a child alone, your eyes filled up too.’

I asked Samantha to tell me more. ‘My Mum says you two talked for over an hour. And then, as Mum said she needed time to think about her options, you offered her a blessing and prayed for me too. Mum says that blessing made her realise that there really were two of us. Mum and me. I stopped being a problem and became a SOMEONE to her for the first time. I stopped being a crisis and became her child.’

I wish I could say that I knew or remembered the encounter, but I don’t. I wish I could say that I knew just the right words to say back then, but I didn’t. Like many times in my life as a priest, I think God just used me as His instrument, and it’s foolish to claim credit for saying the good stuff!

Samantha concluded, ‘When I heard that story I had to find out where you worked. I just needed to tell you that I’m grateful that you and my Mum met when you did. She needed someone to listen, someone to care. She needed not to be condemned for what she was thinking of doing, but to be loved enough to see the positive possibilities. You did that and I think that’s why I got to be born. So, listen, when you’re tired or having a bad day or when all the scandal stuff in the Church gets you down, please don’t forget that sometimes your life has more meaning than you know. Thanks for being there for my Mum. Thanks for being there for me.’

I’m going to pay more attention to those faces from now on. Sometimes they have the most beautiful stories to tell.

– By Mgr Jim Lisante; publ. in the ‘Crusader Magazine’, issue December 2012; for subscription etc. contact the Crusader Magazine at “All Saints Friary, Redclyffe Road, Manchester M41 7LG, United Kingdom”.


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