Padre Vito with Chiara and Enrico on their wedding day

Let Yourself Be Loved

An Encounter with Padre Vito and Chiara Corbella Petrillo.

This past fall, the CL University students at Penn State hosted a Zoom call with Padre Vito D’Amato, a Franciscan friar residing in Assisi. During this conversation, he mentioned that “eternal life is made by encounters.” Through his words, we encountered the life of Servant of God Chiara Corbella Petrillo. Serving as her spiritual father, he offered a unique perspective on Chiara’s life and her marriage to her husband, Enrico. During this call, we also watched a video about Chiara’s life made by her friends shortly after her death. Following the video, Padre Vito allowed us to ask questions about her life and his relationship with Chiara and Enrico. It was during this time that Padre Vito mentioned how his relationship with Chiara changed him from a “pagan priest” to a “Catholic priest.” This provocative claim made me want to know who this woman was and what her life could show me about my own.

Chiara was born in Rome in 1984. In 2002, while on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, she met her future husband, Enrico. After six years of dating, they were married. Shortly after their marriage, they discovered they were pregnant with their first child. Despite the baby being diagnosed with anencephaly, Chiara carried the baby to term. After naming her Maria Grazia Letizia, the baby passed away a few hours after she was born. Shortly after, they became pregnant with their second child, Davide Giovanni. Shortly after his birth, he passed away. Even with the tragedy of both of these deaths, Padre Vito said the funerals of the children were celebrations marked by peace and joy. Eventually, the couple became pregnant for a third time. This time, the child was healthy. However, shortly after becoming pregnant with Francesco, Chiara noticed a tumor on her tongue. After having this removed, the doctors confirmed the tumor was cancerous. To protect Francesco, she decided to forgo further treatments or surgeries until the baby was born. She also decided she would not deliver Francesco prematurely to receive the surgery sooner. After delivering Francesco, she eventually learned that her cancer was terminal. Chiara and Enrico moved to a small house near the sea for her to prepare to meet Christ, and it was there they received the sacraments daily from Padre Vito. She passed away on June 13, 2012, and her funeral was celebrated three days later in Rome. As Padre Vito noted, Chiara’s “funeral was joyful because the first two funerals of the kids were joyful.”

At the beginning of the call, Padre Vito asked us a question to consider throughout the conversation and video: “What is beautiful in this story?” Reflecting back on this story, there were a few things that struck our community as beautiful. First, it was beautiful to understand her approach to life and suffering. Padre Vito stressed that Chiara was an ordinary person, and that her holiness wasn’t “what she did” but rather came from knowing “that she was loved.” The one who is loved lives differently. It wasn’t that suffering was easy for Chiara or that she accepted everything that was asked of her immediately. Rather, as Padre Vito explained, her faith had to go through moments where she “had to verify that God [was] there and that He loved [her].” Her engagement period was difficult. Losing two children shortly after birth was difficult. Being diagnosed with a terminal illness was difficult. Yet, in spite of these difficulties, she lived with the certainty that she was loved. Aquinas wrote that joy is a fruit of love. From knowing she was loved, she knew that her questioning of how it was possible to live joyfully in such circumstances would be answered and a fuller joy would be shown to her.

Second, it was beautiful to see and hear about her final hours and her funeral. Part of the video juxtaposes Chiara and Enrico’s wedding day with scenes from her funeral. One of the songs that was sung at the wedding was sung at the funeral, and while I watched I found myself forgetting which scene I was watching. Before she passed away, Enrico, Chiara, and some of those who were close to the couple boarded a plane to Medjugorje to pray for and with the couple. I was struck by a moment in this section of the video when Chiara said they did not go to Medjugorje to ask for her healing. Rather, they begged for the “grace to live the grace.” The couple was confident of God’s will and His gift of grace, but they wanted to be open to receiving that gift, even if that gift was not healing. As Padre Vito explained, “Man does not live on bread alone. He lives because there is Someone who gives Him food.” The couple seemed to understand that they were loved, and that this love changed everything in their lives.

Finally, it was beautiful to see how much the life of Chiara had changed Padre Vito. I mentioned earlier that his friendship with Chiara and Enrico changed him from being a pagan priest to being a Catholic priest. He spoke about how this relationship showed him a new way to pray. He mentioned that before meeting Chiara, he would tell God about a person’s suffering as if God needed an explanation as to why He should help someone. However, over time he came to understand that God was already loving the person in front of him, prior to his own love and even more than he loved that person. He understood that the person asking his help already had everything he or she needed to be happy and that he just needed to see how God loved them.

To me, the answer to Padre Vito’s question about what is beautiful in Chaira’s story is that she was loved. Her life is a testament that there is only one thing necessary in life: to be loved and to love.

Carolyn, State College, PA