25 July 2018, The Tablet

Sainthood process opened for young Italian mother

by Isabella Haberstock de Carvalho

'She was an ordinary girl who lived her daily life abandoning herself completely to the will of God'

Sainthood process opened for young Italian mother

Corbella is pictured in a 2012 photo in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia
CNS photo/Cristian Gennari, courtesy Petrillo's family

A 28-year-old Italian mother who died in 2012 after refusing cancer treatment while pregnant has taken the first step towards sainthood. 

Chiara Corbella Petrillo, from Rome, was diagnosed with a rare form of tongue cancer in 2011 while pregnant with her third child, Francesco, but refused treatment in order to protect him. She had previously lost two other children due to malformations in the womb. 

Her story has captured people’s attention in the Eternal City, with a book written about her life and death and almost 2,000 messages left on her website asking for Corbella’s intercession and explaining how she has touched them personally. 

After her ‘fame of sanctity’ grew on what has become a digital shrine, the Diocese of Rome signed an edict on 2 July asking for written works by Corbella to be sent to a diocesan tribunal for examination. This follows a Vatican decision on the 27 June to allow the formal opening of her sainthood cause.   

“She was an ordinary girl who lived her daily life abandoning herself completely to the will of God,” Corbella’s cousin Elena Bencetti told The Tablet. “Chiara can be an example for everyone”.

Corbella, who married Enrico Petrillo in 2008, died shortly after her son’s first birthday after the cancer she had been diagnosed with spread to various parts of her body.

“For most doctors Francesco was just a six-month-old foetus. And I was the one who had to be saved. But I had no intention of putting [his] life at risk,” Corbella wrote in her diaries which are recorded on her website, administered by her husband. 

Before giving birth to Francesco, Corbella had been pregnant twice and on each occasion was told her children would not develop fully physically, and would be “incompatible with life”, according to doctors. 

Nevertheless, Corbella - supported by her husband - decided to continue with her pregnancies, even though both children died shortly after birth. She wrote that “God had wanted to give us special children - Maria Grazia Letizia and Davide Giovanni - but he asked us to only accompany them until birth”.

Bencetti believes her cousin’s story has touched people “because they wanted to be like Chiara by being able to confront suffering like she did; they wanted to carry the cross with a smile while thinking that God never abandons us,” and that “many mothers in dire situations could see themselves in Chiara’s actions”.

Corbella’s death will also draw certain comparisons with that of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian woman who died in 1962 after giving birth to her fourth child having refused doctor’s advice to have an abortion. Molla, who was canonised in 2004, had been urged to have a hysterectomy after a tumour was discovered in her uterus. 

Now formally a “Servant of God” Corbella is at the first stage of the beatification and canonisation process at the diocesan level. The postulator for the cause, in this case Fr. Romano Gambalunga, is now in charge of collecting the evidence. A cause can only be formally started five years after the death of the individual. 

Once the evidence has been evaluated it is decided whether to declare the candidate as “heroic in virtue” which gives them the title “venerable.” In order for the individual to be beatified a miracle needs to be attributed to the candidate, while a second miracle is required for the person to be canonised as a saint. 

The messages on Corbella's website show that people are continuously asking for her intercession. Couples are calling on her help in order to conceive, parents are asking her to aid them through the illnesses of their children, while others simply commenting on how her story has touched them and given them strength.



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