In a testimony at the Vatican’s Jubilee for the sick and disabled, the husband of the late Chiara Corbella Petrillo – who died after rejecting medical treatment in order to save her unborn child – spoke about his wife’s joyful faith in the face of terminal illness.
“Chiara was beautiful. She was bright. She was happy. She was already saying ‘I love you’ to everyone. She was happy to have lived a full and incredible life. She was happy to have loved.”
Enrico Corbella, who stood in front of the altar with their son Francesco, now four years old, addressed the rain-soaked crowds who had gathered in St. Peter’s Square for Mass with Pope Francis.
He told the crowds that in order to “make room for grace,” one must be willing to welcome what he referred as the logic of “unjust love.”
“Is it just that I am a widower? Is it just that Francesco does not have his mother? Is it just to be sick? Is it just to be disabled?”
“Is it just that the Son of God died on the Cross? No, it is not just, but this is love: a wonderful injustice.”
Chiara Corbella died June 13, 2012 at age 28, after choosing to reject treatment and save her unborn baby when a tumor was discovered during their third pregnancy.
She and Enrico had been married since September 21, 2008, having met in Medjugorie six years earlier. The couple had already endured the deaths of their first two children, Maria and Davide, who passed away shortly after birth.
“We always felt loved,” Enrico said in his testimony. “The Lord gave us two special children to be accompanied at the gate of paradise. We saw them fall asleep and pass from our embrace to that of the Father. We thought, where is the misfortune? They were born ready.”
Shortly after becoming pregnant with their third son, Francesco, Chiara received the diagnosis of terminal cancer.
Chiara rejected any treatment that could have saved her life during pregnancy because it would have risked the life of her unborn son.
As the cancer progressed, it became difficult for Chiara to speak and see clearly, causing her excruciating suffering.
Enrico recounted the “most beautiful” months spent together, receiving the sacraments and praying for physical healing, even though it never came. However, they realized that it was more important to ask for salvation.
In a letter that Chiara wrote to their son Francesco, Enrico recounted, she recalled the line from the Gospel: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
However, Enrico admitted that as he watched his wife become consumed by her illness, he had difficulty with this notion.
“It was around 7 on her last morning, before the Tabernacle, and I asked her: ‘Chiara, is this Cross really sweet like the Lord says?’ She smiled at me, and with a frail voice replied: ‘Yes, Enrico. It is very sweet.’”
“That sweetness was for her, not for me,” Enrico said. “It was she who was dying, not I. The Lord, in fact, gives grace at the right moment. And so, I watched her die happy. She knew very well where she was going.”
“Brothers and sisters, we too can die happy, if we make space for his grace,” he concluded. “The Lord is not a liar. This Cross is very sweet. Trust that it is worth it.”