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How Chiara Corbella’s witness will continue helping mothers in need

Inauguration of Chiara's House, an apartment dedicated to women with pathological pregnancies, in Rome on May 8, 2024.

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

Isabella H. de Carvalho - published on 05/13/24

On May 8, an apartment in Chiara Corbella’s name was inaugurated to assist pregnant women who need to come to Rome for specialized medical treatment.

In a quiet residential street in the north of Rome, on the third floor of a short building, there is a large apartment decorated with green walls,white and red furniture,and photos of a smiling Chiara Corbella Petrillo, an Italian mother who died in 2012 after postponing cancer treatment in order to give birth to her son.

“La Casa di Chiara” (Chiara’s Home) was inaugurated May 8, 2024, by two Italian pro-life organizations, to host and assist women with complicated pregnancies who need to come to Rome to get specialized medical treatment. Twelve years after Chiara’s passing her story continues to inspire initiatives to support mothers and the life they carry, starting from its earliest stages. 

Inauguration of Chiara's House, an apartment dedicated to women with pathological pregnancies, in Rome on May 8, 2024.
Enrico Petrillo, Chiara’s husband (center), with her mother Maria Anselma (left) and father Roberto (right)

“Chiara’s witness is eternal, it is the witness of a daughter who stays loved,” Enrico Petrillo, Chiara’s husband, told Aleteia during the inauguration ceremony, which was also attended by her parents. “This was Chiara’s secret, to know that she was loved and so to be able to welcome others, which is in the end the Lord’s secret.” 

“We are happy; this is something beautiful done in memory of Chiara, that can only please us. We hope that many mothers can benefit from this structure,” Roberto Corbella, Chiara’s father, told Aleteia with a warm smile. The inauguration ceremony was also attended by several Italian government representatives and also an auxiliary bishop of Rome, Benoni Ambarus, who blessed the apartment. 

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Chiara’s witness

Chiara passed away in 2012 after postponing cancer treatment in order to give birth to her and Enrico’s son, Francesco. The couple had previously lost two children, in 2009 and 2010, as both were found during her pregnancies to have fatal conditions. Despite the difficulties, she carried both pregnancies to term, and she and Enrico baptized the children, who both lived less than an hour. 

Her story echoes that of famous Italian saint, Gianna Berretta Molla, who also refused cancer treatment in order to give birth to her daughter. Today Chiara is recognized as a Servant of God by the Church, as a cause has been opened to investigate her life and evaluate her possible beatification and canonization.

“Chiara always did the will of God, she accepted [her pregnancies], while being aware that after a few hours she would have to say goodbye to them. It was thanks to her perseverance, her love, her strength, […] that she fought to ensure the life of her son Francesco. That is why we dedicate this house to Chiara,” said Antonio Brandi, president of the association “Pro Vita e Famiglia” (Pro-life and family) that will help run the house, with tears in his eyes. 

Chiara’s witness is in her “normality,” her father Roberto reflected. “She faced things very naturally, with a positive spirit. I think this is helpful to many struggling moms. They see their problems as insurmountable; instead Chiara faced them and overcame them.”

Giving mothers another choice

Now, her story can support new mothers diagnosed with prenatal complications who need to come to Rome for specialized treatment. “La Casa di Chiara” will be able to host up to three families at a time and has a large kitchen, two bathrooms, and a terrace. It is also aptly located just 3 kilometers (around 2 miles) from the Gemelli Hospital in Rome, one of the most important medical centers in the world.

The Gemelli also has a “Perinatal Hospice,” which specializes in maternal-fetal medicine and perinatal palliative care, meaning taking care of fetuses who are affected by severe conditions, along with their mothers.

Pro Vita e Famiglia will focus on the logistical and practical aspects of maintaining the apartment and assisting the families. Meanwhile the foundation “Il Cuore in una Goccia” (“The heart in a drop”), which works closely with the Gemelli Hospital, will take care of providing the families with adequate medical, psychological, and spiritual assistance.

According to Pro Vita e Famiglia, in the last year more than 79% of the requests for assistance made to the Gemelli Hospital’s Perinatal Hospice came from families residing outside the Lazio region where Rome is located. The families were requesting treatments for conditions such as structural malformations, chromosomal abnormalities, heart disease and more.  

“What we are told today is that you always have to pit two choices against each other, the woman’s choice and the child’s choice. With this [inauguration] today we want to say that another choice is possible […] that accompanies both on this journey, which in the end is a journey of joy, happiness, and love,” said Jacopo Coghe, spokesman for Pro Vita e Famiglia.

Be simply guardians of life

During the inauguration, Coghe also shared his own personal experience of discovering in 2014, while his wife was pregnant with their third child, that their baby was missing both his kidneys. Nonetheless his wife brought the pregnancy to term and their son, Gregorio, was born, baptized, and lived for “40 minutes of love,” Coghe explained, visibly moved. 

“From the outside these stories can seem to be stories of suffering, but instead they are stories of Love with a capital L,” he said, adding that Pro Vita e Famiglia hopes they will be able to open other houses like this one.

Other than the photos of Chiara, a small plaque by the door of the apartment features a text she wrote, recounting her life and experience. 

“We have to be guardians of life. We often guard a gift not even knowing how great it is. Roberto and Anselma guarded Chiara, but they didn’t know who she would be,” Enrico reflected during the inauguration ceremony. “We must guard [our children] not only for their own good, but also for those who do not understand this gift. […] I think our Lord desired to be guarded by Mary and Joseph, and they guarded him not only to defend Jesus, but they did it for us.” 

For the families that may be hosted in this house and will be facing, like Chiara and Enrico before them, difficult pregnancies, he said: “Don’t stop and focus only on the present, because sometimes the present can seem very, very, hard. Ask for eyes that can look beyond and can sense that we are not the masters of anything, of life itself. We are asked only to be guardians.” 

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