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  • An Icon of God’s Love: Bella Santorum

    by Arland K. Nichols

    Bella_Santorum

    The elections are over and I for one am relieved that the campaigns are in the rear-view mirror. American political discourse is a patience-testing experience, but I am grateful for and recall fondly one glimmer of love and joy from the political campaigns.

    Bella Santorum

    Daughter of Senator Rick and Karen Santorum, Bella, who has Trisomy 18, was featured from time to time in news coverage of the Republican primary and in the Senator’s ads. Her presence was a vivid reminder that differences in ability do not define us. Disabilities do not make a person defective, less human, or unworthy of love.

    Yet, as so many know from first hand experience, society too often treats the person with a disability unjustly—as a burden or as a barrier to success and happiness. People with disabilities are frequently isolated, ostracized, or even killed solely because they have a disability.

    Blessed Pope John Paul II often addressed the dominant culture’s opinion of people who are disabled. In Evangelium vitae he wrote that “it is possible to speak in a certain sense of a war of the powerful against the weak: … A person who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favored tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated. In this way a kind of ‘conspiracy against life’ is unleashed.”

    In a culture of death, the child with a disability is treated as if she should be (or should have been) eliminated before birth. This mentality has been evident in recent “wrongful birth” lawsuits throughout the “developed” world. This lack of acceptance was starkly noted in a recent article published in Newsweek by a writer whose friend has a child with Autism. She writes that “three generations of lives—I include his own—wrecked, for ever, by his cussed condition.” She explains that nobody will babysit except for one grandmother, the couple feels like they can’t have other children, they are running out of money and vacations and holidays are ruined. She writes of the couples “life sentence” and the plans for their future which “turn[ed] to dust.”

    She then goes on to state: “But looking on, as a relatively dispassionate observer; looking at the damage done, the absence of hope and the anguish of the poor child himself, do I think that everyone concerned would be better off if Tom’s had been a life unlived? Unequivocally, yes.”

    It is in a cultural milieu that assumes people are better off dead than disabled that so many will learn of their child’s disability or try to raise their child with disabilities.

    Society’s failure to embrace such people is why Bella’s beautiful presence in the campaign was so refreshing. One ad featured scenes of Bella with her family as Senator Santorum reflected upon how they have come to understand her presence in their lives: “Bella is an icon of God’s face, and is filled with his love as he reveals himself through her and all people with disabilities. Bella is a teacher of unconditional love, an education in the dignity of every person.”

    Would that more people were able to see and embrace the inherent dignity and “icon of God’s face” that is the child who is disabled. Or, as scripture attests, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child in her womb?” (Isaiah 49:15) Undoubtedly, raising children or taking care of the needs of adults with disabilities can be very demanding. It often involves suffering and sacrifice, but as the former senator from Pennsylvania emphatically wrote in A Special Mother is Born, “she is worth every tear.”

    The now-common and expected response to prenatal diagnosis of disability, disposing of the disabled child in the womb through abortion, is a false and wrong headed “solution” to disability. Abortion cures nobody. It only victimizes a person with disabilities and treats him or her as unworthy of life and love. Self-sacrificing love is the only legitimate solution and worthy response.

    Upon learning of the Santorums’ story, I was prompted to read Karen Santorum’s book about the son that they lost two hours after birth, Gabriel Michael. In Letters to Gabriel, Karen writes to her deceased son, “You made me realize that we should never be stingy with our love. In a very personal way, you brought home to Daddy and me the truth that love, by its very definition, can never be conditional… I have come to believe that we lose so much when we start to be selective with our acceptance and our love, both as individuals and as a society. Children are always a burden in one way or another. What happens when we start to believe that we can choose whether or not to accept the particular burdens a child brings into our lives?”

    Bella Santorum, and the open-hearted embrace she receives from her family, are a moving reminder that every human being is deserving of love, and that no one is disposable, but is rather an icon of and encounter with the God who Himself is Love.

    The views expressed by the authors and editorial staff are not necessarily the views of
    Sophia Institute, Holy Spirit College, or the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts.

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    • Judy

      Thank you for this beautiful article. We are awaiting the March birth of our 8th grandchild, a little boy who will be born without his arms. We await in the joyful anticipation that every baby deserves. In this year of Faith, this baby is for us faith in action, believing in God’s purpose in our lives, which this little guy will certainly help us to live. When the Holy Father speaks of the charity that must be part of this year, our family has certainly been given a special gift in this child.

      • Tout

        Allow me to say a prayer for a fine family.

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    • aj

      Well done.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Leticia-Velasquez/1653352466 Leticia Velasquez

      I was comforted through three miscarriages by the beauty of Karen Santorum’s book “Letter to Gabriel”, and interviewed Rick for an article on his brave pro-life stand against partial birth abortion in the Senate while Gabriel was dying. So I am very honored that Rick contributed a chapter to my book “A Special Mother is Born” about his little Bella.

    • poetcomic1

      It is a shame that you did not finish the quote from Isaiah above…. “Will a mother forget her suckling child, for pity, the son of her womb? Yes! Even these might forget, but I, I will not forget thee!” I offer this completed quote for all ‘unwanted’ children out there who were a ‘burden’ to their parents simply by living.

    • cloonfush

      I loved your article. Wish that all would read and understand. Today’s world would be so much better off. God bless you.

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    • http://www.lisagraas.com Lisa Graas

      God bless the Santorums.