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Faith in hand
Catholics venerate relics of St. Gianna Molla during presentation on the saint.
Local Catholics had a rare opportunity to see second-class relics from the life of St. Gianna Molla last week during a special night in honor of the saint at Our Lady of Angels Church in Woodbridge. Taking place on the feast of the Annunciation, the night consisted of a Mass in honor of the saint followed by a presentation about her life.
During the Mass, Father Michael Duesterhaus, parochial vicar, spoke about the Annunciation and gave examples from St. Gianna’s life to show the importance of saying “yes” to God’s plans. During Mass, he wore vestments made with bits of fabric from the saint’s wedding dress. The vestments were on loan from the Society of St. Gianna Beretta Molla in Philadelphia.
After Mass, Joseph Cunningham, founder and president emeritus of the society, gave a presentation on the saint’s life. He described St. Gianna, who loved from 1922-62, as a person who enjoyed life — a skier and mountain climber who painted and played piano and liked to dress fashionably. She was an average student who pushed herself to become a doctor and dedicated her career to helping mothers and families. She was herself a mother, and she gave birth to three children before having two miscarriages. When she became pregnant for the sixth time, doctors advised her to have an abortion because of complications that put her life in severe danger. She refused, and delivered her fourth child successfully, but died seven days later, April 28, 1962. She was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2004 and has been named the patron saint of mothers, unborn children and physicians.
“St. Gianna is very important for our age,” Cunningham said. “She’s a regular person and she’s somebody you can ask to intercede for your situation, for anything.”
After the presentation, Cunningham invited attendees to venerate the vestments, along with a pair of St. Gianna’s leather gloves. The relics were donated to the society by St. Gianna’s husband, Pietro Molla, who gave them on the condition that people would be allowed to handle them and pray with them. Pietro died on Holy Saturday last year.
Approximately 60 Catholics, including several families with young children, took turns fingering the fabric from St. Gianna’s wedding dress and holding and smelling the leather gloves. Many appeared visibly moved by the rare opportunity for such a close and personal encounter with a saint’s relic.
Mary Cuellar attended the night’s events with her husband, Hector, and daughter Lissa. She said she first heard about St. Gianna through Lumen Christi, her home-schooling group to which Cunningham had given the same presentation the night before. She said handling the relics gave her a feeling similar to electricity and left her shaky. Together with her husband, she encouraged her daughter to hold one of the gloves to her throat, while praying for a cure for her heart and thyroid problems.
Another parent in attendance at the presentation was Anthony Catabui, who prayed with St. Gianna’s gloves while holding his daughter Emma Gianna in his arms.
“I was introduced to (St. Gianna) moments before her birth,” he said. “It was a tough one, but everything came out OK and she came out OK and we promised to name her after Gianna.
While visiting the area last week, Cunningham also gave talks about the saint at Pope John Paul the Great High School in Dumfries and a meeting of the Our Lady of Angels Parish mothers’ group in Woodbridge. On Friday afternoon, he stood with pro-life protestors outside of an abortion clinic in Manassas, holding up a tapestry of St. Gianna.
According to Sharon Willoughby, the coordinator of the Spiritual works of mercy for Lumen Christi, St. Gianna is an important saint for families because she can give parents “so much to relate to.”
“Motherhood needs some help right now,” Willoughby said. “St. Gianna helps us regain our dignity as mothers.”
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First-class relics are items directly associated with Christ’s life or the physical remains of a saint — bones, hairs or limbs. Second-class relics are items that a saint owned or wore. Third-class relics are items that have touched first- or second-class relics.