A Pro-life Icon to Be Canonized

Gianna Molla Gave Her Life for Unborn Daughter

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 13, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Among the six people to be canonized Sunday is Gianna Beretta Molla, who accepted the risk of dying rather than undergo a medical treatment that would have caused an abortion.



"She lived her marriage and maternity with joy, generosity and absolute fidelity to her mission," the prefect of the Congregation for Sainthood Causes, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, said last December, at the ceremony to recognize the miracle that opened the way for Molla's canonization.

Molla is the first woman of Catholic Action who will be proclaimed a saint. She was born in Magenta, Italy, on Oct. 4, 1922, in a family of 13 siblings. She studied medicine, a family tradition.

The fruit of her faith was reflected in her apostolate in Catholic Action and the St. Vincent de Paul Society, where she dedicated herself to young people and charitable service to the elderly and needy.

She received her doctor's degree in medicine and surgery in 1949 from the University of Pavia, and in 1950 opened an outpatient clinic in Mesero. Two years later, she specialized in pediatrics at the University of Milan.

In her medical practice, she paid special attention to mothers, children, the elderly and the poor. She considered the exercise of her profession a "mission," and said: "Just as the priest can touch Jesus, so we doctors touch Jesus in the bodies of our patients."

Her work did not impede her from engaging in her favorite sports, skiing and mountain climbing.

On Sept. 24, 1955, Gianna married engineer Pietro Molla, also a member of Catholic Action, in Magenta.

Gianna had her first child, Pierluigi, in November 1956. In December 1957, she gave birth to Mariolina, and in July 1959 to Laura.

In September 1961, in the second month of her pregnancy with her fourth child, she was diagnosed to have a tumor of the uterus. Surgery was necessary. Aware of the risk, Gianna begged the surgeon to save the life of her unborn child at all costs.

The baby's life was saved. In thanksgiving to God, Gianna spent the following seven months before the birth with "incomparable strength" of spirit and dedication to her duties as mother and doctor, the biography issued by the Vatican says.

A few days before the birth, she said she was ready to give her life to save that of her child. "If a decision must be made between my life and the child's, don't hesitate. I insist you choose the child's. Save it," she told her husband and the doctors.

On the morning of April 21, 1962, she gave birth to Gianna Emanuela. Complications started shortly after: Septic peritonitis caused her much suffering. On April 28, amid pain and repeating the prayer "Jesus, I love you; Jesus, I love you," Gianna Beretta Molla she died a holy death. She was 39.

She was beatified by John Paul II on April 24, 1994, the International Year of the Family.

That day, her husband Pietro -- now 82 -- remembered his wife, describing her on Vatican Radio as "a wonderful woman who very much loved life; a normal woman, but at the same time a woman of great faith; a woman full of joy, personality, with a strong character, and with the courage to live the Gospel to the end."

"Above all, I remember her total trust in Providence and her full and perfect joy at the birth of each child," he said.

"Gianna's decision to offer her own life to save that of her child had deep roots: in marriage -- which she felt to be a sacrament, the sacrament of love --and in the heroism of her maternal love and her total conviction that the right to life of the unborn is sacred," Pietro Molla added.

The miracle attributed to her intercession was experienced by Elisabete Arcolino Comparini. In early 2000, the third child Elisabete had conceived began to have serious problems.

In the third month of pregnancy, the young mother lost all the amniotic fluid. Without that natural protection, the fetus should have died. But the baby girl was born in May 2000, an event inexplicable to science. Her parents, who had decided to pray through the intercession of Blessed Gianna, called the baby Gianna Maria.