A story of dignity and love that reflects the words of Pope Francis: “Let us not build a civilization that discards persons whose lives we no longer consider to be worthy of living: every life is valuable, always.”
The story of Mariangela Crea poses a question: who are we to starve someone to death? Hers is a story about life and defending the human person, under any circumstances. For over 20 years, her parents and doctors have been putting into practice the invitation of Pope Francis not to build a culture that eliminates people whose lives we think are no longer worth living: “Every life has value. Always”.
The little girl
You can draw a circle in many different ways, but it will always have a center. The circle can contain a radius and diameter of different dimensions, but it is always an infinite set of points equidistant from the center. Life follows different paths, respecting factors that are never the same, but it too always has a center: the human person.
Like many small children, Mariangela loved Simba, star of “The Lion King”, and the movie’s theme song, “The Circle of Life”. She watched the film again and again, while playing with the soft toy version of her cartoon hero. Everyone in the village knew Mariangela with her blond hair, green eyes, and sweet smile. Her strong and determined personality made her impossible to miss. Even at three years of age, she knew how to make herself understood.
Mariangela’s illness was first detected in January 1998. She was admitted to hospital in Reggio Calabria two months later with suspected tubercular meningitis. The next five months saw her in and out of hospital constantly, from Calabria to Trieste. Eventually, she was diagnosed with Bartonellosos, a chronic Lyme disease coinfection, and her condition deteriorated rapidly. Brain lesions appeared and in June, she went in and out of coma. Her parents took her to a specialist in Brussels, who excluded the Bartonella diagnosis and confirmed she had meningitis. When Mariangela was five year old, she underwent a series of surgical procedures. Another coma in October 1988 left her in the vegetative state she is still in today.
A different life
Her life, and the lives of those around her, changed completely. Mariangela’s mother is Mariagrazia Cannizzaro. She is doctor like her husband, but she gave up her profession to care for her family, especially her youngest daughter. Along with her husband, she felt ready to sacrifice the vocation to which she had dedicated herself for over ten years. Mariangela’s three siblings too felt the effects of the daily challenges underway in their household. Her extended family, especially her grandparents, have also been very closely involved. “Great, immense, infinite” are the words her grandmother uses to express the love she feels for the granddaughter who is named after her. She shows that love by sitting beside Mariangela, day in and day out, quietly holding her hand and praying in silence. Mariangela recently turned twenty-five.
A father’s love
Being a parent means bringing new life into the world, taking care of it, then letting it go. That letting go takes courage, responsibility, and maturity. All of the above are even more necessary when the parent is caring for a sick child who is as vulnerable now as she was when she was born. Vulnerable but dignified. Mariangela’s father defends his daughter’s dignity at all costs. “She may be in her own world”, he says, “but she has never stopped being a person”. He describes how Mariangela depends on him to survive: “If I don’t feed her, she dies”, he says. Allowing those in her situation to die of hunger and thirst is an offence against humanity, he adds. It means stripping people like his daughter of their dignity as a human person.
Pretending life is normal
Palmi is the name of the town in Reggio Calabria where Mariangela and her family live. In the center of town is a park called Villa Mazzini. There are spectacular views from here across the sea to Sicily and the Aeolian Islands. Mariangela’s parents bring her to the park, especially in summer, in the late morning when the sun is warm, but the air is still cool. Walking with their daughter through Villa Mazzini, the blue of the sea on one side, and the green of the park on the other, allows them to pretend, just for a moment, that “life is normal”.