A new pro-life saint? This Italian mother sacrificed her life for her unborn baby
PHOTO COURTESY OF MARIA CRISTINA CELLA MOCELLIN – VENERABILE FACEBOOK PAGE
By Katie Yoder
Catholic News Agency
September 20, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C.— “Riccardo, you are a gift for us.” These are the words a 26-year-old Italian mother wrote to her newborn 26 years ago. They were words she was willing to live by – and die for.
On Aug. 30, Pope Francis advanced the sainthood cause of Maria Cristina Cella Mocellin, who sacrificed her life for the sake of her baby. Catholics already are comparing her to another saint, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, because both women refused medical treatment that would have endangered their unborn babies, according to EWTN Pro-Life Weekly. After close examination, the Church now recognizes Maria Cristina as a “venerable” for leading a heroically virtuous life.
This is the story of that life.
Maria Cristina was born in 1969 in a town called Cinisello Balsamo, located in Milan. According to La Stampa, she grew up next to the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joan Antida Thouret, and served as a catechist and youth leader. She strongly considered religious life while still a young teenager.
“Lord, show me the way: it doesn’t matter if you want me as a mother or a nun, what really matters is that I always do your will,” she wrote in her spiritual diary in 1985.
Her vocation became clear when, at 16 years old, she met Carlo Moccellin. She was called to marriage – a marriage with him. She never wavered from that conviction, even when doctors discovered a sarcoma in her left leg, Vatican News reported.
“I realized that everything is a gift, even a disease, because if lived in the best way it can really help to grow,” she wrote to Carlo in 1988.
She was successfully treated, and finished her high-school education before marrying Carlo in 1991. They soon welcomed two children into their home, Francesco and Lucia. They were expecting a third – Riccardo – when they found out that her cancer had returned.
Her first thought was of her unborn baby boy.
“My reaction was to say over and over: ‘I am pregnant! I am pregnant! But doctor I am pregnant,'” she wrote in a 1995 letter to her little Riccardo. “I fought with all my power and did not give up on the idea of giving birth to you, so much so that the doctor understood everything and said no more.”
Maria Cristina refused the chemotherapy treatments that would have threatened her unborn baby’s life. Instead, she waited until after Riccardo was born, in 1994. But at that point, the cancer had already spread to her lungs and caused her tremendous suffering.
“I believe that God would not allow pain if he did not want to obtain a secret and mysterious but real good,” she wrote. “I believe that one day I will understand the meaning of my suffering and I will thank God for it.”
On Oct. 22, 1995, she died at 26 years old.
But her story – and her baby – live on. In her letter to Riccardo, which she penned a month before she died, she stressed the beauty of his life.
“Dear Riccardo, you need to know that you are not in the world by chance,” she began. “The Lord wanted your birth despite all the problems there were… when we found out about you, we loved you and wanted you with all our heart.”
“It was that evening, in the car on the way back from the hospital, that you moved for the first time. It seemed as if you were saying, ‘Thank you mamma for loving me!’ And how could we not love you?” she added. “You are precious, and when I look at you and see you so beautiful, lively, friendly, I think that there is no suffering in the world that is not worth bearing for a child.”
Maria Cristina wrote regularly, and kept a spiritual journal, according to The Associazione Amici di Cristina (Friends of Cristina Association), which promotes the dignity of human life in honor of its namesake. The association’s website includes excerpts from her diary and from her letters.
“Lord I only want You! I only love you! I’m just looking for you!” the organization quotes her as saying. “What does it matter to suffer in life if you are around the corner waiting for me to give me immense joy?”
Joy appears repeatedly in her writings.
“It is my motto: ‘Do everything with joy!'” she stressed in a 1985 letter to Carlo. “Even if sometimes it costs me a lot, especially when my morale is low or when … ‘it seems to you that all things are against you …’ as you say, in your beautiful letter. But, as light comes after darkness, so, after despair, rediscover joy.”
This joy shaped her love of God and her love for Carlo.
“Don’t you think it’s extraordinary?” Maria Cristina asked Carlo in 1987. “If it weren’t for you and I who love each other, the world would lack that something that no one else in our place could give.”
She also wrote of God’s love – and the call to perfection.
“I become holy to the extent that I empty myself of everything, I remove every impediment from my mind, heart and life to allow myself to be completely penetrated by the love of God,” she stressed to Carlo in 1990. “More concretely, it means living everyday life with great simplicity, in the family, in the study, in the relationship with you, Carlo. My place is in the simple and ‘routine.'”
In the simple, she found the miraculous. In the ordinary, she discovered the extraordinary.
The year that she died, she wrote in another letter that “Although my health is precarious… I AM HAPPY!” She concluded, “I am ashamed to ask the Lord for anything else, for us the miracle is already there: if He loves us and we love each other, nothing else matters.”
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