By Andrea De Angelis
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 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”.
From 12''' to 39'': Dr. Giuseppe Crea, father of Mariangela
"Mariangela was a very healthy child. In 1998 she caught meningitis which later became encephalitis. She has been in her own world since September 1998, but she has never stopped being a person”.
From 48'' to 1'16'': Mariangela Creazzo, grandmother of Mariangela
"Mariangela is named after me, because that's what her parents wanted. They cared so much. She doesn't talk, but her life is worth living. Being close to my niece is a joy. It's something you can't describe. Because the love I feel for my grandchild is great, immense, infinite".
From 1'21''' to 2'31'': Dr. Giuseppe Crea, father of Mariangela
"We don't know if she can hear us, or if she listens to us. She has to be fed with a nasogastric tube, but that does not she is less a person, just because she cannot eat and drink by herself. If I don't feed her, she dies. Allowing those in her situation to die of hunger and thirst is an offense against humanity. This is what makes people like my daughter lose her dignity as a person. If I don’t feed a dog, animal rights activists criticize me because I’ve killed an animal. Killing a human being by letting them die of hunger and thirst is something much more serious. But it has happened, and more than once”.
From 2'40'' to 3'01'': Dr. Giuseppe Crea, father of Mariangela
"Fortunately there's this villa which is like paradise, it's beautiful. It’s cool in the shade, and it's near our house, so we come here to get some sun and fresh air. It's good for you, isn’t it Mariangela? And so we pretend that life is normal".