The story of the baby girl who lived for just 74 minutes quickly became worldwide news. A 13-week antenatal scan had diagnosed anencephaly, a condition which would be incompatible with life, and doctors suggested that her parents should have her aborted.
Hope's parents refused and her mother carried her to full term, along with her healthy twin brother. In the short span of time that followed, they dressed and cuddled their precious daughter, who rewarded them by holding her mother's finger in her tiny hand. Hope's story did not end with her death: her kidneys were transplanted into an adult, and her healthy liver cells would be used to treat patients waiting to receive a new liver.
Her heartbroken parents stated that in her short life, Hope had done more good than some people do in a lifetime. In making the compassionate choice for their daughter by refusing abortion, the love and selflessness of her parents also enabled others to live.
A very dear friend of mine faced the same situation. The condition that her baby had was different from that of baby Hope, but it was still a diagnosis deemed incompatible with life. She refused the option of an early induction which the baby would have had no chance of surviving, choosing instead to allow her child to live until he had made his entry into the world in his – and God’s – own time. Through the ensuing months of her pregnancy, my friend moved the hearts of every member of staff with whom she came into contact by her love for her unborn baby and her fierce determination to do whatever she could to protect him. In so doing, she gave a more powerful witness to the preciousness of every human life than any amount of pro-life campaigning might ever achieve and conveyed a strident message to anyone who leaned, even remotely, towards abortion as a choice for a child with a disability.
She made such an impression on the staff that they also became her friends, and when she sensed their unhappiness on her behalf at the inevitable prognosis, she actually did her best to bolster their spirits with her wonderful Scouse humour. When the baby was born, he was named after the priest friend who baptised him. I had the great privilege of being his godmother. He was loved into the world and he was loved back into the arms of God. Afterwards, as my friend and her husband mourned the loss of their beautiful son, she celebrated the fact that he had even existed. Her love of and trust in her beloved Lord reminded me of Our Lady, whose Magnificat rejoiced in the greatness of God.
This happened 25 years ago and, despite the death of another son, her faith remains steadfast and the sure knowledge that she will one day be reunited with her beloved children fills her with joy. We are already a month into the Year of Mercy instigated by Pope Francis. It is a vehicle for welcoming sinners back to the Church, although I prefer to describe it as the imperfect extending a welcome to the imperfect. It is the Church embracing, sharing and rejoicing in God's mercy and His profound love for everyone. My friend and the people like her are the window of this wonderful Church to which the Pope is pointing.