The Day the Pope Wept

BRAZIL, OCTOBER 1997. Maracana Stadium. Gianna Emmanuela, a 35 year old woman from Italy, is speaking about her mother. Suffering from a uterine tumor, her mum refused surgery that would have taken away the life of her child.

“Thank you, mother, thank you for having given me life two times – in conception and when you permitted me to be born, deciding for my life. Intercede and help always all mothers and all families that come to you with confidence.”

The Pope could not hold his tears.

“Sowing Our Little Seeds Unceasingly”

The story started in Magenta, a small town near Milan, Italy on October 4, 1922. This was the day Gianna Beretta Molla was born. She was number ten out of a total of thirteen children. A good tree gives good fruit.

A beautiful girl, Gianna was full of life. She liked sports, especially mountain climbing and skiing. Having graduated in medicine, when she was 28 she opened a medical clinic, specializing in pediatrics.

More than a job, medicine was for her a vocation. Those were the times when medicine was not the money-making machine it is now! “If the patient was poor, Gianna not only would give him free medical examination, but also free medicines or money.”

Speaking about the characteristics of a Christian doctor, Gianna always reminded herself : “Never forget the patient’s soul.” And once, speaking to her friend, she confided, “We have many opportunities which priests do not have. Our mission does not end when medicine fails us; there is the soul which we must bring to God.”

She was very active in the Catholic Action, a Church youth association. Speaking to teenagers, she gave away her secret. “God wants to see us near Him, to transmit to us, in the secret of our prayer, the conversion of all the souls approaching us… In every day of our life we should have a moment’s time to collect our thoughts in prayer before God.”

“Let us not stop too much considering what will happen. Even if after having done our best we have a failure, let us generously accept it. A well accepted failure gives more benefit for the salvation of the soul than a triumph.”

She even considered seriously the possibility of becoming a lay missionary in South America where her brother priest was working.

She realized however that God was calling her to a different experience. In 1954, she went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, helping out as a doctor. ”I have been to Lourdes to ask Our Lady what I shall do: to go to the missions or to marry. I reached home…and Pietro came in!” They got married when she was 33.

“I want really a Christian family,” she wrote to her husband, “where God is like one of the family; a little chapel where He can reign in our hearts, enlighten our decisions and guide our programs.”

Within four years she had three children, one boy and two girls.

With uncanny simplicity she harmonized the demands of mother, wife, doctor and her passion for life. “I have always been taught that the secret of happiness is living moment by moment and to thank God for everything that in His goodness He sends us, day after day.”

She was so normal that her husband later was to confess that “I never realized that I had been living with a saint!” This is the stuff saints are made of.

“One Cannot Love Without Suffering Or Suffer Without Love”

In July 1961 she was again pregnant. This time she had many complications. She had developed a fibroma in her uterus.

All through her pregnancy, she constantly repeated to her doctor: “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child – I insist on it. Save the baby.”

Being a doctor herself, she was fully aware of what she had to face. However she did not hesitate.

On the morning of April 21, 1962 Gianna Emmanuela was born. It was Holy Saturday. Despite all efforts to save both of them, seven days later the mother died. The pain was atrocious. Her last phrase was “Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you.” She was 39 years old.

In 1994 the Pope beatified her. “After an exemplary existence as a student, as a girl fully engaged in the ecclesiastical community, as a wife and a happy mother, she offered and sacrificed her life in order that the creature she was carrying could live. Today she is here with us!”


(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.