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Chiara Corbella’s spiritual father talks about her last days

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© Cristian Gennari

Aline Iaschine - published on 09/25/23

Italian Franciscan Fr. Vito d'Amato tells Aleteia about his time with Chiara Corbella Petrillo (1984-2012) and the joy that characterized her final illness.

On September 21, 2018, just five years ago, the beatification process for Chiara Corbella Petrillo was opened. A few months earlier, Cardinal Angelo de Donatishadproclaimed her a Servant of God.

A life of love and suffering

In the course of her life, Chiara (1984-2012), a young Italian woman, and her husband Enrico experienced some very difficult situations, including the death of their first two children shortly after their births.

During her third pregnancy, she was diagnosed with cancer, but refused certain treatments in order to protect the life of her third child. Her son Francesco was born in perfect health in May 2011. Chiara began chemotherapy, but the disease persisted and was never cured. She died in 2012, at the age of 28, leaving behind her a testimony of love for others and self-sacrifice. 

Aleteia met Chiara’s spiritual father, Fr. Vito d’Amato, who was present at the most important moments of Chiara’s life. He officiated the marriage of Chiara and Enrico, baptized their three children, and celebrated her funeral.

Interview with Fr. Vito d’Amato

Aleteia: Father Vito, can you tell us what stage has been reached in the process for the beatification of Chiara Corbella Petrillo?

Fr. Vito d’Amato: In 2018, Chiara was proclaimed Servant of God. She may be proclaimed Venerable if her heroic virtues are recognized. She can then be proclaimed Blessed if a miracle is also recognized. We are now in the final part of the diocesan phase. Then we should move on to the so-called “Roman” phase, i.e., the Vatican phase.

How did you meet Chiara and become her spiritual father? 

Fr. d’Amato: I met Chiara in 2006. She had come to one of our youth courses at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels in Assisi. I met her during confession and that’s when she chose me as her spiritual father.

Can you tell us about Chiara’s life of faith? 

Fr. d’Amato: Chiara’s faith journey began with the Charismatic Renewal. From childhood, she learned to pray and to have a daily relationship with the Virgin Mary and with Christ. But during her engagement to Enrico, she could no longer find the answers she was looking for in the Charismatic Renewal.

So she came into contact with us, the friars, and Franciscan spirituality. She really became attached to this spirituality and it was a spiritual turning point for her. She began to abandon herself totally to God. Even in her only letter to her son, she quoted St. Francis several times. She said that St. Francis had changed her life. That’s also why she named her son Francesco.

Chiara and I laughed right to the end. She made us laugh even in those dramatic moments.

Chiara also made many pilgrimages. One of the places she became most attached to was Medjugorje. As a child, she had heard of other children talking to the Virgin Mary, and had been struck by the very direct relationship that could be established between them and the Virgin.

She met Enrico in Medjugorje, and when she had doubts or moments of crisis, she would visit this landmark, as she attributed the gift of Enrico to the Virgin Mary. Even when she learned of her illness, she organized a pilgrimage to Medjugorje with all her friends and relatives. Everyone’s intention was to ask the Virgin Mary for the grace of her healing, but Chiara’s intention was to ask the Virgin to help her understand what God’s will was.

Happy and fulfilled in the midst of suffering

What is your fondest memory of Chiara and Enrico? 

Fr. d’Amato: I remember many conversations and situations in which we saw God’s work through Chiara. Especially on her last night: She was happy, and she saw her life as fulfilled. It was as if she had found her place in the history of salvation. Seeing her so happy was a great privilege for me. Chiara’s last two months were Paradise: Through her, we tasted it, and we continued to taste it even in the most difficult and painful events of those last two months. It was as if we were in another dimension. Every moment was precious.

How do you explain Chiara’s joy despite her great suffering?

Fr. d’Amato: Chiara was suffering a lot because her body was full of metastases. She was totally aware of her situation, but in the end, she exploded in incredible joy. She hugged everyone, saying: “I love you! What a grace the Lord has given us! How beautiful is what we’re experiencing!” Chiara and I laughed right to the end. She made us laugh even in those dramatic moments. 

In those moments, she felt the presence of God, of Christ. She had also wanted me to come and pray with her. She hadn’t even dared to ask me, but Enrico did. She understood that it was only by uniting herself with Christ that she could get through this suffering. On the eve of her death, Enrico asked her: “Is this cross truly sweet?” and Chiara replied: “Yes, it is truly sweet.”

She understood that it was only by uniting herself with Christ that she could get through this suffering.

How did her husband Enrico cope with the situation?

Fr. d’Amato: Their marriage and the births of their children united Chiara and Enrico more and more, and the moment of illness even more so. Enrico suffered, but one day he said, “If Chiara is going to the One who loves her more than me, why should I be sad?”

What can Chiara teach us today? 

Fr. d’Amato: I believe Chiara can be a real source of inspiration for the future of the Church. Christians can show through their lives another presence, another love. Everything, through Chiara, has revealed Someone else. She manifested Christ, she felt loved by Christ and she loved others. I think this is the central message of Chiara’s life, which can inspire us all today.

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