Human Interest

Mother refused cancer treatment, sacrificing her life for her son

A young mother is being considered by the Catholic Church for sainthood after willingly sacrificing her life to save her preborn child. Maria Cristina Cella Mocellin refused to undergo chemotherapy and risk her child’s health, allowing her son, Ricardo, to survive, even though she ultimately died.

On August 30, Pope Francis advanced Mocellin’s cause for her “heroic virtue,” with the Church now recognizing Mocellin as Venerable. This status comes after being declared a Servant of God by a bishop, and is the next step towards sainthood.

Born in 1969 in Milan, Italy, Mocellin originally considered religious life before meeting her husband, Carlo. In 1991, she and Carlo married, even after doctors discovered a sarcoma in her leg. But with treatment, she recovered and successfully completed high school before getting married. The couple happily welcomed two children, Francesco and Lucia, before Mocellin’s cancer returned. But Mocellin was already pregnant with her third child, and she refused to put her baby boy at risk.

READ: ‘A happy ending’: Woman gives birth to healthy twins, despite cancer diagnosis

In a letter she wrote from the hospital, she made it clear that she treasured her son’s life and wouldn’t entertain doing anything to hurt him. “Dear Riccardo, you need to know that you are not in the world by chance. The Lord wanted your birth despite all the problems there were,” she began. “When we found out about you, we loved you and wanted you with all our heart.”

Despite her courage and her joy, the injustice of her situation was not lost on her. “My reaction was to say over and over: ‘I am pregnant! I am pregnant! But doctor I am pregnant,'” she wrote of finding out her cancer had returned. “To face the fear of that time we were gifted with a limitless will power and desire to have you. I fought will all my power and did not give up on the idea of giving birth to you, so much so that the doctor understood everything and said no more.”

Mocellin seemed to understand that through her marriage, she would be able to give the world the gift of children, individual human beings with limitless worth and dignity. “Don‘t you think it’s extraordinary?” she asked her husband. “If it weren’t for you and I who love each other, the world would lack that something that no one else in our place could give.”

When Riccardo was born in 1994, Mocellin began chemotherapy. But by then the cancer had spread to her lungs, and she died on October 22, 1995, at 26 years old. But earlier, after choosing not to undergo chemotherapy, Mocellin wrote of feeling that she knew her son was grateful for her sacrifice, and that his life was worth it.

“It was that evening, in the car on the way back from the hospital, that you moved for the first time,” she said. “It seemed as if you were saying, ‘Thank you mamma for loving me!’ And how could we not love you? You are precious, and when I look at you and see you so beautiful, lively, friendly, I think that there is no suffering in the world that is not worth bearing for a child.”

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