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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

St. Gianna Beretta Molla

Gianna Beretta was born in Magenta (Milan), Italy on Oct. 4, 1922. The 10th of 13 children whom only 9 lived to adulthood, she grew up in the Lombardy region where her family relocated. Raised well in the Christian faith by her parents, she actively participated in a youth Catholic Action group. She was also a member of the Vincent de Paul Society, doing apostolic work towards the needy and elderly members of her community.

In 1949, she received her diploma on Medicine and Surgery from the University of Pavia. She opened a clinic near her hometown and specialized in Pediatrics. Not a nerdy doctor, Gianna’s zest for life overflowed when skiing and mountaineering with friends.

 Bent on joining her brother, a missionary priest in Brazil, Gianna strongly believed her expertise on Gynecology could help the poor women there. But chronic poor health prevented it.  Instead, she ministered to needy women, children and the elderly in Milan. In 1954, she married Pietro Molla, an engineer ten years her senior.   After giving birth to three children, Gianna suffered 2 miscarriages. In 1961, she was expecting a baby again.  Unfortunately, a fibroma developed in her uterus. Her doctors gave 3 options: an abortion, a hysterectomy or removal of the fibroma. An abortion was unthinkable. Gianna also nixed the 2nd choice, although the Catholic Church allows removal of the uterus for health reasons.  She was well aware removal of her uterus would never let her bear children again.   Only the encroaching fibroma was surgically removed without harming the baby inside her womb -- even if it meant complications will hound her after the operation.  As expected, she did suffer from complications throughout her pregnancy. Knowing her eventual delivery would be difficult, she intimated to her family:  if a choice will come up between her life and that of her baby’s, the doctors must save her baby.

Gianna Beretta Molla’s 4th baby was born thru Caesarean section on April, 21, 1962, a Good Friday. She endured excruciating pain as infection spread throughout the insides of her body. Writhing in pain, she exclaimed repeatedly, “Jesus, I love you!” as her doctors frantically tried to save her life. On April 28, she succumbed to septic peritonitis seven days after her delivery. Only 39 when the young wife and mother died, deep sorrow pervaded her funeral. St. Gianna is the patron saint of physicians, mothers and preborn children. Her feast day is April 28, her death anniversary.


St. Gianna offered the supreme sacrifice--her own life-- so that her baby may live.  What can be more selfless than offering one’s life so that another may live? If that isn’t mother’s instinct in its fullest, if that isn’t true unconditional love, I don’t know what is.  Even as her life hung like a flimsy thread ready to snap anytime, the only words that came out of her lips was an undying love for God. The unimaginable pain she suffered then was farthest from her mind. How awe-inspiring!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Saint Gerard

Gerard, youngest and only boy of five children of Dominic and Benedetta Majella of Muro, Italy was sickly

Even at 5, he prayed in a nearby chapel and came home with bread “from a handsome boy.” Curious, his sister followed and saw the Virgin and Child come alive!  Jesus climbed down from his mother’s arms to play with the kneeling Gerard. That was only the first miracle. His first communion was given to him by  Michael the Archangel himself. Only 12 when his tailor father died, Gerard apprenticed to a cruel tailor who beat him mercilessly.  Later, as houseboy of a Bishop, the latchkey fell in the well as he fetched water. Gerard prayed as he tied a statue of Baby Jesus and lowered it into the water. Bystanders gasped upon seeing the latchkey on the statue’s hand.

Striving to be a Brother but in ill health, he was refused 3 times.  Meanwhile, he set up shop at home.  He didn’t make much because he gave away most of his income as apportioned: 1/3 for his mother, 1/3 for the poor and the lastly, Masses for the dead. He also rendered free service to the needy.  Once, fabric brought for a suit was a few yards short when measured.  Shyly, the customer admitted he had no more money.  No problem.   Gerard simply measured it again and wonder of wonders, it magically lengthened!

 At 23,  the Redemptorists accepted Gerard upon the recommendation of a priest who warned, “useless in physical work.”  He surprised everyone by doing the work of 3 healthy men, serving as sacristan, porter, gardener, tailor and infirmarian.    Impressed by his piety, wisdom and ability to read consciences, superiors allowed him to counsel communities of religious women.

Various groups claim St. Gerard as their patron saint like workingmen, expectant mothers for a happy delivery, for a good confession.  He’s also the patron of vocations.


I can’t help but be amazed at what a miracle-worker St. Gerard was.  And to think that he was such a humble, self-effacing man, how admirable! On second thought, maybe the reason God so favored him with miraculous powers is precisely because of his humility, innate goodness and lack of love for material things.
since birth. Obedient, selfless and patient, he was only 29 when  TB claimed his life in 1775.  Wonders  crammed his life, it seemed he specialized in performing miracles. Grown pale and thin thru fasting and self-denial, he got weaker but this didn’t prevent him from healing the sick.  Incredibly, he also levitated in ecstasy, bi-located by materializing in front of a superior to do his bidding even if he was somewhere else and produced loaves of bread from nothing.  A farmer who lost his crops to rats asked him for money.  Penniless himself, he commanded the pests to drop dead instead.  Seeing a boatload of fishermen tossing in treacherous waves, he walked and pulled their boat to shore! He escaped from the adoring fishermen who chased him shouting, “Saint, saint!”  

Friday, October 11, 2013

St. Helen

Born in mid-3rd century in the Middle East, St. Helen lived to a ripe old age as Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great.  A daughter of humble inn-keepers, Helena married Roman general, Constantius, who later divorced her upon becoming junior emperor to marry--for political expediency--the stepdaughter of his patron, co-emperor Maximianus.  Remaining loyal, her only child, Constantine,  succeeded his father’s throne upon his death.  When he defeated his rivals becoming sole ruler, Constantine summoned Helena to the imperial court, bestowing on her the title “Empress.” Furthermore, he honored his mother by ordering coins made with her name and portrait.    

Influenced by Constantine, Empress Helena converted to Christianity becoming even more devout than those born and raised as Christians.  Known for her charitable acts, she gave generously to whole towns, not just individuals, especially the needy. Her generosity and zeal in building churches and visiting shrines encouraged the wider spread of Christianity.   In her late 70’s, Empress Helena made a pilgrimage to Palestine. In a dream, she saw the Cross of Christ buried under a pagan temple.  She had it demolished, the ground dug out.  Helena found fragments of the Cross, recognizable for its inscription between 2 plain ones.  She sent the nails to Constantine who put one in his crown, another in his horse’s bridle, making the prophecy of Zechariah come true (14.20).  In that day there shall be upon the bells of the horses, “Holy Unto The Lord.”

St. Helen lived so long ago, legend and fact have intertwined. Legend credits her for building churches in Rome and other places and decorating them lavishly. The fact remains, as Palestine’s Bishop Eusebius asserted, she did build a church near the Grotto of Nativity in Bethlehem, another on the Mount of the Ascension near Jerusalem and embellished the Grotto.

Already past 80, Helen returned to her native land which Constantine, then residing in the East, had improved renaming it, Helenapolis.  Constantine was at her deathbed in 330, the last year known to have coins with her image.  Her body was transported to Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) to the imperial vault of the church of the Church of the Apostles. Today, the sarcophagus of St. Helen lies in the Vatican Museum.

St. Helen was venerated as a saint as early as the 9th century, devotees reaching even western countries.  Her religious pictures show her holding a cross.  August 18 is her feast day.


Let us reflect on St. Helen’s journey to sainthood.  Isn’t it impressive that she used the massive wealth at her disposal in church-building and uplifting the lives of the needy?  She could have wallowed in a luxurious lifestyle befitting a Roman empress had she been self-indulgent. Hadn’t she the pick of the finest jewelry to bedeck herself?  Couldn’t she have caroused in endless banquets and merry-making with the high and mighty? Instead, she used the resources of the empire to decorate the churches she built and devoted her time to visiting shrines and holy places.