Diocese of Rome closes first step toward sainthood for young wife and mother

Chiara2 An attendee holds a photo of Chiara Corbella Petrillo at the closing of the diocesan phase of the investigation into her life and virtues in Rome on Friday, June 21, 2024. | Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

The Diocese of Rome on Friday officially closed the diocesan phase of the investigation into the life and virtues of Chiara Corbella Petrillo, a joyful 28-year-old wife and mother who died from cancer in 2012 in Rome.

“We strongly trust that the Church, after a careful and accurate discernment of her life and virtues, will want to soon celebrate also on Earth this daughter of our Church of Rome and propose her as an example of Christian life to contemporary Christian generations,” Bishop Baldassare Reina said at the closing ceremony June 21.

Reina, vice regent of the Diocese of Rome, presided over the session in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, where the inquiry was opened nearly six years ago on Sept. 21, 2018.

Diocese of Rome officials seal documents at the closing of the diocesan phase of the investigation into the life and virtues of Chiara Corbella Petrillo in Rome on Friday, June 21, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Diocese of Rome officials seal documents at the closing of the diocesan phase of the investigation into the life and virtues of Chiara Corbella Petrillo in Rome on Friday, June 21, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Corbella, Reina said, shows us that “holiness is possible and it is the only path that makes us happy. Let us enjoy, or rather I would say, let us savor this moment, with all the processes that will be explained to us.”

Hundreds of people attended the session despite temperatures reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the city of Rome. More than 3,000 people also watched a video livestream of the event on the YouTube page of the diocese.

The servant of God’s family sat in the first row of the basilica for the ceremony and included Corbella’s husband, Enrico Petrillo; their 13-year-old son, Francesco Petrillo; her parents Roberto Corbella and Maria Anselma Ruzziconi; and her sister Elisa Corbella.

In an interview before the session, Enrico Petrillo told CNA the closing of the diocesan phase for beatification “brings me so much peace.”

“The most beautiful testimony, he said, is this one made by the Church herself, because it is necessary for the Church to say, ‘Yes, what you have experienced is really something great.’” 

During the closing session on Friday, diocesan officials tied up the documents and sealed them with wax. The beatitudes were also read and everyone sang hymns and prayed together the Our Father and the Glory Be in thanksgiving for the life of Corbella.

Diocese of Rome officials seal documents at the closing of the diocesan phase of the investigation into the life and virtues of Chiara Corbella Petrillo in Rome on Friday, June 21, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Diocese of Rome officials seal documents at the closing of the diocesan phase of the investigation into the life and virtues of Chiara Corbella Petrillo in Rome on Friday, June 21, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Corbella’s cause for beatification was opened exactly five years after her death, following the requirements of canon law.

With the closing of the diocesan investigation into her life, virtues, and sanctity, documented testimonies and other materials will now be sent to the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints for further scrutiny.

The next step in the process will be for the pope to recognize her as someone who lived a life of heroic virtue and declare her venerable. Corbella will then need two miracles attributed to her intercession to be declared a saint. 

Corbella’s life and message

Corbella met her husband at the age of 18 while on a pilgrimage to Međugorje. They married six years later in Assisi on Sept. 21, 2008. Within the first two years of their marriage, they suffered the death of two children, Maria Grazia Letizia and Davide Giovanni, both of whom died less than an hour after birth from incurable disabilities.

Friends and family of Chiara Corbella Petrillo attend the closing of the diocesan phase of the investigation into her life and virtues in Rome on Friday, June 21, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Friends and family of Chiara Corbella Petrillo attend the closing of the diocesan phase of the investigation into her life and virtues in Rome on Friday, June 21, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

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Despite receiving the terminal diagnoses in pregnancy, Corbella chose to carry her babies to term.

Enrico Petrillo told CNA on June 21 that the couple made the decision to let their babies die a natural death in their parents’ arms because “for us they were lives, they existed and they were not problems to be eliminated. ... This, in my opinion, is a core part of our experience: the fact of safeguarding life.”

Sometimes Catholics use the language to “defend life,” he continued. “Life is not even to be defended, it is to be guarded, which is perhaps a nuance, but it is a nuance that Chiara helps us to grasp, because those who ‘defend’ have enemies. We don’t have any enemies and we embraced [the story] the Lord was writing.”

Rome Vice Regent Baldassare Reina presides at the closing of the diocesan phase of the investigation into the life and virtues of Chiara Corbella Petrillo in Rome on Friday, June 21, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Rome Vice Regent Baldassare Reina presides at the closing of the diocesan phase of the investigation into the life and virtues of Chiara Corbella Petrillo in Rome on Friday, June 21, 2024. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

“That is why it did not feel right,” he said, “to substitute ourselves for what the King of History was thinking of for us, because we knew, because we sensed, that it could be the most beautiful thing.”

Corbella became pregnant for a third time with their son Francesco in 2010 and ultrasounds showed that he was in perfect health. The joyful news was short-lived as Corbella was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors removed a tumor on her tongue that turned out to be cancerous.

As the cancer metastasized, it became difficult for Corbella to speak and see clearly. A photo of her wearing an eye patch with a big smile was taken in April 2012, less than two weeks after she learned that her condition was terminal. She prepared for death by receiving the Blessed Sacrament daily.

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Corbella died on June 13, 2012, at home in her wedding gown, surrounded by her family and friends, one year after her son was born. Hundreds of people packed into the filled church at her funeral three days later.

“The most beautiful message” Corbella reveals to the world “is that we are all children like her,” Enrico Petrillo told CNA.

“And so, these years and all that we experienced help to make people understand that Chiara is not a holy card to put on an altar,” he continued. “She is like us, she is a daughter like us, she is not ... a heroine or a superhero, but she is simply a girl who knows that she is loved by God and because of that she can do anything.”

In a speech at the closing session, Reina, who is also an auxiliary bishop of Rome, recalled an important moment in the young life of Corbella. During a difficult period before her marriage to Enrico, a spiritual adviser told Corbella: “When God opens a door, no one closes it, and when God closes it, no one opens it.”

It was a reference, Reina said, to Revelation 3:7: “‘The holy one, the true, who holds the key of David, who opens and no one shall close, who closes and no one shall open.’”

Corbella wrote that “this word changed my life,” Reina said. “From that moment on, Chiara understood God as the king of history, but above all as the king of her own personal story.”

“That which God thought good, beautiful, or holy for her life, he would realize, and because of this, she should not be discouraged, nor have fear, because despite sin, trials and tribulations, sickness, and death, God is faithful!” the bishop continued.

“That verse of Revelation,” he said, “would be the hermeneutic key to understanding everything that would happen: The Lord would give to her the husband, children, time, and health in the measure that he always thought of for her.”

“Her desire to be a wife and mom, to grow old together with her husband and to raise their children, would not be realized according to her human aspirations, but in the measure and way that God had planned and without depriving her of his happiness,” the bishop said.

Corbella’s father, Roberto Corbella, told CNA on June 21: “I always say that we are lucky parents, because every day, in the news, we hear about young kids who have died in violent situations ... meanwhile [Chiara] left with a smile, meanwhile she left after telling us all, ‘I love you.’”

“Then, the fact that we see that so many people in the world rely on her helps us to accept [her death] better, in the sense that it’s clear that I would rather ... still have her sitting on my lap,” he said with tears in his eyes. “But seeing so many people ask for help certainly makes us accept everything much better.”

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