The sixth-annual St. Gianna Molla Pregnancy Outreach Center banquet offered a witness of the saintly testament to the value of life. Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, a friend of the Molla family, spoke about the legacy of the saint who died rather than abort her daughter.
Gianna Molla was just 39 when she became pregnant with her fourth child. During her second month, she developed a fibroid tumor in her uterus. Rather than have an abortion, Gianna chose to give birth than have the tumor removed. Seven days after giving birth, Gianna died of septic peritonitis in 1962.
Pope John Paul II beatified Gianna Molla, whose husband and children were still alive. Father Rosica thought it would be good to the family of a saint.
"A lot of us go around, especially if you're Italian, saying, 'My mother is a saint,' but this one can mean it," he told the group of 340 gathered at the Millennium Hotel in Cheektowaga for the Feb. 15 banquet.
While serving at the University of Toronto Newman Center, Father Rosica wanted to complete a wall of stained glass windows with new saints and blesseds. Gianna was among those 12 new images to be rendered in glass.
In 1999, while in Rome preparing for World Youth Day, he decided to march into the office of the saints at the Vatican and try to contact the Molla family. After being given a phone number, he called the husband, Pietro Molla, and asked for permission to use Gianna's likeness in the window. This would be the first public display of this saint in North America. He then rode a train to Milan, where he met Mr. Molla and his daughter.
"I spent the most fascinating 24 hours of my life with the husband of a saint," Father Rosica said. "He gave me all this stuff, wedding pictures. I saw the laboratory and everything else. I said, 'We want to put your wife in the window. Would you give me permission?' 'Absolutely, provided that my son and daughter can come over when you have the dedication of the windows.'"
On the Feast of All Saints 1999, he unveiled nine of 12 windows at the Newman Center.
"In a chapel that is only supposed to hold 450 people, we had over 1,000 people come to the ceremony," he said. "I got in big trouble with the fire marshal."
Guests attending the unveiling included the son and daughter of Gianna, the niece of Pier Giorgio Frassatti, Mother Teresa's doctor, and a priest who was with Archbishop Oscar Romero when he was shot. "It was like a glimpse into heaven. I'll never forget that," he said, adding that he asked for Gianna to be among the 10 saints and blesseds to be patrons of WYD 2002.
After World Youth Day in Toronto closed, Father Rosica was told to go to start a television network in Canada - Salt and Light. Not long after, he heard from Gianna's husband asking him to make a movie about his late wife. "Love is a Choice" came out in 2004. Sifting through the photos and home movies of the Molla family was like "touching the flesh and blood of a saint."
"What really struck me about my relationship with Mr. Molla, who died in 2010 at the age of 99, we talked every Sunday on the phone," Father Rosica said. "We had dinners together. I took my mother to see him. It was an unforgettable moment, Mr. Molla begged me, 'Please, do not let my wife's story fall into the wrong hands of people who will manipulate her story and say she is the saint against abortion. My wife was a lover of life from the earliest moments to the final moments.' Even before the word was a coined word, he said, 'My wife stood for the consistent ethic of life. So please, whenever you talk about my wife, remind people of that.' In many cases, her story had been railroaded. She's the anti-abortion saint."
Father Rosica closed his keynote address by offering an affirmation to the pro-life workers in the Diocese of Buffalo.
"What you're doing in this diocese, and I know many dioceses in this country and Canada and the English-speaking world, I know many dioceses with outreach and pro-life activities," he said. "What you do here is not simply anti-abortion activities, but it is pro-life from the earliest moments to the final moments. It is about accompanying people, that wonderful word of St. Francis. It's about integrating people. It's about starting with their situations. It's not about, 'Sure, we'll help you have the baby, then our hands are washed.' It's about getting people and making then part of the family.
"What you have done, and what you continue to do, especially under Bishop (Richard J.) Malone's leadership, is you created field hospitals; that wonderful word that Francis uses that comes from St. Ignatius of Loyola, who used the word 'field hospitals' to describe the messes in which we find ourselves. The Church is in the middle of a battle right now, the battle against the dignity of human life. This diocese deserves a gold medal because it is one big field hospital for poor, for the immigrants, for those who have trouble with pregnancy, for those in the final stages of life. I'm very proud to be born in upstate New York and to know what is happening in this big field hospital called the Church of Buffalo."
In a surprise announcement, Cheryl Calire, director of the diocesan Office of Pro-Life Activities, said the diocese will be teaming up with the Knights of Columbus to put hand-held ultrasound machines into various location in Erie and Niagara counties. Seeing an image of an unborn baby has been known to help women on the fence about having an abortion, to choose life.
"These are the kinds of things that make a difference," Calire said. "The sonograms have really turned things around for us. All too often, I literally have taken somebody by the hand and said, 'Let's go and check this out. Let's see what's going on. It will help you make that decision.' Time and time again, when they see that life and it is undeniable, it is something that definitely pushes things over the edge."
Bishop Malone opened the evening by saying he was "delighted" to see the 340 in attendance.
"You are truly disciples of the Lord in many, many ways, especially as its manifest in your commitment to the cause of human life and the work of the St. Gianna ministries. Thank you," he said. "We all know the challenge we continue to face. Besides what we're doing here, which is supporting this beautiful ministry and the great work that Cheryl and David (Calire) and others do, we also need to be strong in advocacy."
The first St. Gianna Molla Pregnancy Outreach Center was dedicated in Buffalo in 2010. Since that time, satellite locations in the Chautauqua area and Niagara area have opened. The combined centers have served thousands of pregnant women and their babies.