I noted a lovely little item on Rome Reports TV news agency for yesterday: Italian athlete, Valentina Vezzali, asking the Holy Father to bless her unborn child. In the YouTube clip she is seen with her hands held by his, saying “Holy Father, I wanted to ask you for a special blessing…I’m expecting a child.” The Pope then asks her how far advanced the pregnancy is and she replies “He is due in May. After the Olympics, the Lord gave me this victory which is greater than any Olympic gold medal; it’s a blessing…I hope to be a good example for youth and to be a good Christian.”
This interchange is so touching: both the fatherly solicitude of the Pope and the trusting request of Valentina. When she indicates that having a baby is a much greater thing than winning Olympic medals she, more than most people, knows what she is talking about: I had to look her up in Wiki to discover that she has won gold medals in fencing at four consecutive Olympics – Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London – for her prowess in the Individual Foil event, not to speak of achieving other gold medals at sundry World and European championships.
But like her Majesty the Queen who, according to actress Kate Winslet, told her at a recent celebrity show business line-up that being a mother “is the best job”, the athlete knows that worldly success, fame, rank, medals and crowns are less important than the privilege of being a mother. Although the Queen got some flak from the commentariat for allegedly using the word “job”, she was accurate as far as it goes, in what was probably a 20-second exchange: motherhood is a job; it is also a vocation, a lifelong commitment, a life-changing experience and everything else. When Miriam Gross, the well-known London literary editor, gave birth to her son in the mid 1960s, it was assumed she would returned to her full-time position on the Observer newspaper; tellingly, this committed feminist comments in her recently published memoir, “The thought of going back to full-time work seemed an affront against nature.”
Blessing expectant mothers, as Pope Benedict did to Valentina Vezzali, is one way, as the Life Reports agency states, of helping to “show the dignity of life” as well as becoming “a source of happiness and calm for mothers, knowing their child has divine protection.” It seems that this kind of informal, reverent acknowledgement of unborn life is being increasingly adopted at a local level. During the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, the vice-president of the American bishops’ conference, Joseph Kurtz, proposed that this blessing be carried out as a matter of course in parishes around the world. It is not before time.