.- The godfather of Baby Joseph Maraachli, whose fight for life has attracted international attention and support, says the terminally ill boy's recent baptism was a testimony to the eternal destiny of human life.
“It's a tremendous testimony to the sanctity of life,” said Jerry Horn, senior vice president of the Catholic pro-life ministry Priests For Life, who was Joseph's baptismal sponsor. “So many people worked together in concert to bring him here, for a purpose greater than we could anticipate.”
“We were doing what we could to save the life of a child – which is why we do what we do, in the pro-life movement,” Horn reflected. “But God's plan is eternal, and it goes far beyond ours.”
The 13-month-old boy received the sacrament from a Catholic priest in St. Louis, Missouri on March 18, two days before receiving a tracheotomy on March 21.
Joseph suffers from a rare and usually fatal neurological disorder called Leigh Syndrome. With the help of the Catholic pro-life ministry Priests For Life, he was transferred to a Catholic pediatric hospital in St. Louis, Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, on March 13.
Prior to this, the boy was a patient at a hospital in Ontario, Canada, where doctors were planning to remove his feeding and breathing tubes. The doctors' refusal of care prompted comparisons to the 2005 Terri Schiavo case, and led to an outpouring of support from pro-life advocates.
Jerry Horn discussed Joseph's baptism with CNA on March 24, shortly after Priests For Life director Fr. Frank Pavone made the news public in a March 22 media release.
Horn spoke with a sense of awe, as he described how a boy who was considered unworthy of medical treatment, was able to receive an initiation into the supernatural life of sanctifying grace.
“In so many ways, God's plan was greater than ours. The fact that he was baptized into the Church was amazingly significant.” Joseph's baptism took place around 5 p.m., meaning that it occurred on the vigil of the March 19th feast day of St. Joseph.
“No matter what happens with Baby Joseph from this point forward, he has received the sacrament of baptism,” Horn said.
Dr. Paul Byrne, a pioneering neonatologist with almost five decades of experience, took the initiative to have Baby Joseph baptized. He said the baptism was “one of the most exciting things about taking care of Baby Joseph,” and noted that the same “holds true for all sick babies” who require baptism.
Over the course of several decades, Dr. Byrne has himself baptized many infants who were in danger of death. Catholic teaching holds that anyone, not just a priest, can baptize a child in cases of necessity, as long as water and the traditional Trinitarian formula are used with the correct intention.
In this case, however, Dr. Byrne sought out a local priest. He said it was “relatively easy to strike up the conversation with Joseph's father and mother,” Moe and Sana Maraachli, to obtain their permission for the baptism.
“The father said that he himself was Muslim, but the mother is Catholic,” explained Dr. Byrne. “The father said he wanted his son to be raised in the religion of his mother.”
Barring a medical miracle, Joseph is unlikely to reach the age at which most children receive the other sacraments. Dr. Byrne said it was a “special privilege” to participate in treatment to prolong Joseph's life, “when other people were determining that he should not live any longer.”
The greater privilege, however, was in helping Baby Joseph to receive the gift of God's grace in baptism.
“When a baby is baptized, they are absolutely pure,” he said. “It's so exciting to be a part of that.”