The recognitio was released by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome. Here in the United States, the news was welcomed by the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of that committee, said, “I can think of no better day to announce this news than on the feast of the Annunciation, when we remember Mary’s ‘yes’ to God and the incarnation of that child in her womb that saved the world.”
The Blessing originated in 2008, during the tenure of then-Bishop Joseph Kurtz in Knoxville, Tennessee. Bishop Kurtz—now leader of the Archdiocese of Louisville KY—petitioned the Vatican to approve this simple prayer when he found no other rite in use to bless the unborn. An English- and a Spanish-language version should be available by Mother’s Day.
As I learned of the new Rite, I was re-reading Karen Garver Santorum’s 1996 autobiographical book, Letters to Gabriel: The True Story of Gabriel Michael Santorum. In it Karen, wife of presidential candidate Rick Santorum, tells the sad story of her pregnancy with the Santorums’ third child, Gabriel, who suffered from a rare congenital anomaly and was destined to die shortly after birth. Karen chronicled the story through a series of letters she wrote to baby Gabriel, from the time she first learned that she was pregnant, through the terrible diagnosis, the untimely delivery, and finally, the days following the infant’s burial. Karen wrote poignant letters to the child growing in her womb, assuring him of her love and prayers.
I was struck by the generous love of the Santorum family, the attitude of appreciation toward others, the faith in God’s providence even in times of great sorrow. Most of all, though, I was struck by the fervent prayers of Rick and Karen, as evidenced in Karen’s deeply personal letters.
“Daddy and I pray every day that you have found a safe home within me,” Karen wrote to her unborn child on July 10, 1996, just after learning that she was pregnant. “Elizabeth also prays with her hands folded and in her sweet voice, ‘Dear God, please bless the baby in Mommy’s tummy.’ ”
On September 4, Karen followed her letter to Gabriel with a prayer to God: “Lord, I tell my children You have given us a most precious gift. Please help me to always speak of Your love and to follow Your examples so they may abide in You. Thank You for my children, Lord, for they are the light of my life.”
Later, on October 1, this time knowing of the extreme risk facing her unborn child, Karen again prayed for the baby growing within her: “Lord, I place my life and the life of my baby into Your loving care. Father, I pray that You will bless and protect the baby growing inside of me. I pray that this child will be healthy, strong, wise, and close to You.”
Just four days later, Karen wrote to Gabriel about her experience as they tested for the problem which would signal that the pregnancy could not end with the birth of a normal, happy child. With a mother’s love, she wrote: “Daddy held my hand and we prayed silently all through the bladder tap as we anxiously watched the sonogram screen…. We could see the tip of the needle entering your bladder, and we prayed that God would make it painless for you.”
And the same day: “Daddy and I prayed that you would be under the watchful care of the great Archangels. We prayed that Archangel Gabriel would comfort all of us in these trials and sufferings and give us God’s strength. Daddy and I recalled how the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God’…. We must place our lives and your life into God’s hands, and He will take care.”
“When Daddy returned home in the evening,” Karen wrote on October 7, 1996, “we prayed together as a family for you, Gabriel, and the surgery tomorrow. When we pray the children always include their own prayers expressing what’s on their minds. Elizabeth and Johnny prayed, ‘Dear God, please take care of our little brother. He is a special boy, and we love him so much.’ ”
Little Gabriel, we now know from news reports during the 2012 presidential campaign, lived only two hours after birth. Rick Santorum, knowing that his son’s life would be brief, baptized Gabriel as soon as he was delivered. Then the Santorums held him, kissed him, until he died in their arms.
Letters to Gabriel is an inspiration, and paints a picture of a married couple strong in their Catholic faith, seeking to serve God in their lives, seeking to teach their children to love Him.