Enrico Petrillo: “Chiara wasn’t a courageous woman, her strength came from Someone else”

Today is the anniversary of Chiara Corbella’s death, born to Heaven in 2012 at the age of 28 for a tongue carcinoma. I have got to know her story via Tommaso, a friend of mine from Milan, who one afternoon texted me saying: “If you can, please attend this girl’s funeral for me as well”. Along with these few words there was a video featuring Chiara and Enrico, her husband, giving a testimony at a Roman parish. This is how I know their story.

Soon after their wedding in 2008, Chiara gets pregnant but unfortunately since the very first ultrasound the baby girl is diagnosed with an anencephaly. The spouses welcome Maria Grazia Letizia with joy and accompany her to her birth to Heaven only after 30 minutes after her terrestrial birth.

A few months later the Lord gives Chiara and Enrico another baby, a baby boy, Davide Giovanni. They find out that he does not have legs and suffers from severe malformations that are incompatible with life. This time again, the young couple lovingly welcome their second child and soon after they accompany him to his birth into Heaven.

The third pregnancy does not prove problematic, the baby boy is in perfect health, but unfortunately during the fifth month of pregnancy Chiara is diagnosed with a tongue carcinoma. Despite this sad news, the couple isn’t disheartened and defends Francesco’s life, even if this entails risks for the mother, who starts to receive treatment only after Francesco’s delivery.

All this comes back to my mind while I am on the phone with Enrico, whom I thank for his availability. We have chased each other a bit, or actually, I have chased him – I hope not to have proved too annoying – and while his son Francesco is asleep, we manage to talk.

Hello Enrico, among the many things that I would like to ask you, the first one that I would like to know about concerns faith. Has Chiara lived a particular experience of conversion?

Chiara hasn’t had a moment of conversion, she has always believed. But there is a moment for everyone, I believe, when faith grows and you have to choose what direction you want your life to take. And she confirmed what she was living. Since she was a child, when she was 4 years old, together with her mother she attended the Renewal in the Holy Spirit Movement meetings, we can say that this has been the air she breathed, her formation. Me too I participated in the Renewal in the Holy Spirit Movement but I belonged to a different community. The very beautiful and important experience she had within the Renewal Movement has taught her to have a simple and direct relationship with the Lord. Her path of faith has grown also thanks to the Assisi friars, who have been precious especially at the turning point we lived during our dating years, and thanks to Father Fabio Rosini who has further enriched our faith.

Has there been a precise moment in which you have embraced the cross?

Chiara and I have wept a lot together, but honestly we never lived the moment when we rejected the cross. The Lord gave us the grace of seeing a straight path ahead of us since the very first moment; we didn’t have decisions to make but only to welcome His will. It was hard, painful, but we knew that the Lord was there. You do not improvise yourself as Christian; life is a path, in order to die happy as Chiara has, you have to set forth. During this journey the Lord sends things to be welcomed because He knows that He can ask you this, He wants your good, He does not give you a cross in order to squash you, but in order to make you open up to something else, something you cannot imagine. We had no doubts that this was the case. We were in a relationship with God and therefore we knew that what He asked was good for us, because this had been the case on other occasions. All the hardships were instrumental to meet Him again.

We have recently celebrated the solemnity of Pentecost. In the final passage of the “Come, Holy Spirit” we say: “Give virtue and reward, give a holy death, give eternal joy”. Did Chiara ask to have a holy death?

Certainly. That was a grace we prayed for, we very much liked the invocation to the Holy Spirit. The holy death is the moment of truth; when you are about to die, you are about to jump over, to make that step, and it’s there that what’s in your heart is seen. For this reason, from how somebody dies you can tell who is father to that person. The Roman centurion must have seen many people die, but before Jesus he said: “This man truly was the Son of God”. In my own small way, I saw Chiara being afraid of many things, but not of dying because she knew that on the other side there was the Lord waiting for her, for this reason she was happy. Perhaps someone thinks that a holy death means a healthy death, but there is a “t” in the middle that makes the difference [in Italian holy death is translated with ‘morte santa’, whereas healthy death is translated with ‘morte sana’, ed.] – “san(t)a” – a “t” that is in the shape of a cross and it is that letter that makes you become saint.

We think of Chiara as a strong, courageous woman… We have watched many videos as well as photos, read numerous testimonies… However, we would like to “know” her through your words: what was Chiara like?

To me she was most beautiful. The first thing that would strike me of Chiara, and that would attract the others as well, was her elegance. She was a princess; she carried herself in an elegant manner. Once I introduced her to a friend of mine’s mother who told me: “Enrico, where did you find this princess?” These were the comments. Beside her elegance, she was a nice girl, sociable and cheerful, a person of company who would put everyone at ease. Chiara wasn’t courageous. For example, one silly thing that could however convey this concept is that at school she would never raise her hand in order to volunteer for an examination; this is something she used to often tell herself. She wasn’t a courageous woman who wanted to face things, no she wasn’t; she was a woman of faith. That she was. Faith and courage are not the same. In faith, strength is given to you by Somebody else; for what courage is concerned, it is you who muster up the courage. She owned Somebody else’s strength.

How did you manage to stay united in pain?

Chiara and I have walked together, each knowing what our place was. Chiara was getting ready to die and God gave her the grace to do so, and I was given strength to stay at the foot of the cross. We wept together, despaired together, prayed together and we would always find refuge in the Lord. This has been our strength! We have always been united, always together; we really have lived the grace of the sacrament of marriage. During our dating years this hasn’t been the case; once we got married, however, we received the grace of God. Knowing our place, each one of us has done what the Lord would ask of him or her. We have always known that death didn’t have the last word; the heart of our faith is Jesus who rises from the dead and so we also will rise. Our whole life has been in the light of this. We were born and we will never die again.

How do you live your story nowadays?

Today I love Chiara, but in a different way, because she is not physically here. I know that when I will be in Heaven, hoping I’ll go to Heaven, we will recognize each other. Many people, however, have a far too romantic idea of widowhood. When my wife died, many people told me: “Don’t worry Enrico, you will feel her close, you won’t miss her”. I have never felt her close, and I have always missed her. The one who comforts me is the Lord. Then, if you really love, you try to let go; I try to let Chiara go and as a matter of fact I am happy that she is becoming more and more of others and a bit less mine.

(Aleteia, Silvia Lucchetti, 13 June 2017)