Pope Francis has advanced the cause for sainthood of a young mother who sacrificed her own life to save her unborn child.
The Pontiff recognised the “heroic virtues” of Maria Cristina Cella Mocellin, who died from cancer in 1995 at the age of 26 years after she refused chemotherapy for herself so her unborn son, Riccardo, could live.
The proclamation by the Holy Father means that she is considered “Venerable” and the Church will now seek two miracles to recognise her as a saint, the first required to beatify her as “Blessed” and the second for her canonisation.
She was one of three candidates whose sainthood causes were advanced by the Pope on Monday following an audience with Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
The others were Enrica Beltrame Quattrocchi, the daughter of a couple beatified in 2001, and Placido Cortese, a Franciscan friar who died under torture by the Gestapo in Trieste 1944 after he was caught helping Jews and Allied prisoners escape from occupied territory.
Maria was born in the Milan province on August 18 1969 and met Carlo Mocellin, her future husband, at the age of 16.
Two years later, a sarcoma was discovered in her left leg but following treatment she married Carlo in 1991 and they had two children.
When she was pregnant with their third, however, it was discovered that the cancer had returned. But she refused chemotherapy because she did not want to put the life of her unborn baby at risk.
She left a letter to the child, Riccardo, who was born healthy, in which she explained why she was willing to sacrifice her own life for him.
“With all my strength I resisted giving you up, so much so that the doctor already understood everything and did not add anything else,” she said.
“Riccardo, you are a gift for us. 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? 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.”
Her heroic example resembles that of St Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian paediatric doctor, and an “outstanding” wife and mother who so loved her unborn daughter that she was willing to sacrifice her own life to save her.
St Gianna fell ill in 1961 during the second month of a pregnancy, having developed a tumour in her uterus.
She required surgery but directed that nothing should be done to harm the foetus. Doctors were able to remove the tumour and the pregnancy proceeded to full term, with the baby, Gianna Emanuela, born by Caesarean section on April 21, 1962.
The mother developed peritonitis, however, and died a week later, on the morning of April 28, amid unspeakable pain and after repeated exclamations of “Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you”. She was 39 years old.
A decade later, Pope St Paul VI recalled the heroism of Gianna, describing her as “a young mother from the diocese of Milan, who, to give life to her daughter, sacrificed her own, with conscious immolation”.
Gianna was beatified by Pope St John Paul II on April 24, 1994, during the international Year of the Family, and held up as a model wife and mother, and canonised by the same pope a decade later.
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