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Path to Sainthood Begins for Roman Woman Who Died for Her Child

By Claire Giangravè

The Diocese of Rome formally opened the sainthood process for Chiara Corbella Petrillo, a young Italian wife and mother who avoided inducing a premature birth and invasive treatment for cancer while she was pregnant. The diocese described Corbella as a “beacon of light of hope” and “an example of a love greater than fear and death” in the document opening the process July 2. Shis is pictured in a 2012 photo in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia. (CNS photo/Cristian Gennari, courtesy Petrillo’s family)

ROME (Crux) – In a Sept. 9 statement, the diocese of Rome announced the start of the beatification and canonization process for an Italian woman who refused cancer treatment so as not to jeopardize her pregnancy.

“On June 13, 2012, the Servant of God Chiara Corbella died at Pian della Carlotta (Manziana),” said a statement signed July 2 by the Vicar of Rome, Cardinal Angelo Di Donatis. A lay woman and mother, wife and mother of great faith in God, who always confided in the Lord’s Providence even when pain entered her life.”

The official opening of the cause will take place Sept. 21 in the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. The day would have also marked her 10th wedding anniversary with her husband Enrico Petrillo.

Over 1,000 people went to her funeral Mass at the parish of Santa Francesca Romana, to celebrate and remember the mother who gave her life for her child with a constant smile on her lips. To this day, faithful make a pilgrimage to her tomb at the Verano Cemetery in Rome to bring flowers and prayers.

Constant Challenges

Corbella’s life presented no small number of challenges. She met her future husband at the Marian site of Medjugorje and they had a normal on and off relationship until their wedding. Their first child, Maria Grazia Letizia, lived only 30 minutes after being born. The second, Davide Giovanni, also died soon after birth due to serious deformities.

“In our marriage, the Lord wished to gift us with special children,” Corbella wrote in her personal notes, “but he asked us to accompany them only until birth, he allowed us to embrace them, baptize them and hand them to the hands of the Father with an unsettling serenity and joy.”

When she became pregnant a third time, Corbella would have had plenty of reasons to have little faith or optimism. It was her faith that led her, upon discovering that she had cancer five months into the pregnancy, to forgo treatment in order to save her child, putting her own life at risk.

To those around her who mourned her and tried to change her mind, she would laughingly say in a Roman accent: “It’s all ok, the challenge, the disease, but if you make these faces I can’t do it!”

After giving birth to a healthy boy, Francesco, Corbella died from the disease at the young age of 28.

“Her oblation remains as a lighthouse of hope, witness of the faith in God, Author of life, example of a love greater than fear and death,” said the diocesan statement.

Now, five years after her death, the young woman begins her journey to earn her halo. Making it easier is Pope Francis’s 2017 Motu Proprio “Maiorem hac dilectionem” (No Greater Love), which added a new category to achieve holiness, requiring the offering of one’s life for God or neighbor.

The next steps, according to Church law, are establishing the conviction of Corbella’s holiness among the faithful (fama sanctitas) and establishing the effectiveness of her intercession (fama signorum).

“The fame of holiness is always inspired by the Holy Spirit,” said Father Romano Gambalunga, who is the postulator of the beatification cause, in an interview with Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire.

“There is a design by God that indicated this person, her experiences and ways of facing life as a possible inspiration model for the faithful,” he said.

Concerning intercessions to God by Corbella, many faithful and non-faithful alike claim to pray to her in order to receive graces and blessings. The Chiara Corbella Pietrillo association was founded this year to promote the beatification cause and collect the necessary information.

The organization was founded by 12 families that were next to Corbella and her husband during her final years and joined them once a week to pray the rosary.

“We tried to make her story known by answering the requests for testimonies from within and outside Italy, knowing that we had received in Chiara a great gift for us and for the entire Church,” said Massimiliano Modesti, founder of the organization, in an interview with local media.

Modesti described Corbella “as a good travel companion toward the heavens,” and expressed the hope that people be inspired in their faith by her life and strength.

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