ARGENTINA, Mónica Pared •
A group of people from Corrientes has taken on the task of going on mission with Our Lady of Schoenstatt to entrust premature babies and infants in danger of their lives to her for a speedy recovery and to accompany the parents in this challenging situation. —
November 17 was the International Day of Premature Babies, a date that aims to draw attention to the high risk of mortality that premature babies have worldwide. On this occasion, the newspaper “La Época” from Corrientes published this article, which we reproduce here in English translation with the kind permission of the author. Every year, fifteen million babies are born prematurely worldwide: the most vulnerable are those born before 28 weeks, considered extremely premature. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), prematurity is the leading cause of death among children under five, causing nearly one million deaths in 2013. The goal is to address causes of preterm birth, but also to help children and their families through this situation. For the parents and families of a premature baby who is fighting for his or her life, going through this process means a time of great fear and uncertainty.
The “Campañita”, the “Campaign of the Little Ones”
So, a group of missionaries in Corrientes work in the “Campaign for Babies and Children in Danger of Their Lives,” better known as “La Campañita,” “Campaign of the Little Ones.” It is a mission of prayer and accompaniment for these families with the image of the Blessed Mother, patroness of premature babies, who visits them and remains with them as spiritual support.
Débora Gago Pérez is the coordinator of this modality, and she told the newspaper “Época” what it is about. “I am 47 years old, married and mother of four children. Together with my husband, we have a company where we work together,” she says about herself and her family. “We belong to the Family Branch of the Schoenstatt Apostolic Movement, and one of our apostolates is the mission in the ‘Campaign for Babies and Children in Danger of Their Lives,’ a modality of the Rosary Campaign,” she said.
Débora elaborates, “The founder of the Schoenstatt Movement, Father Joseph Kentenich, was born on November 16, 1885, in Gymnich, Germany, the son of Katharina Kentenich, and came from a very humble working-class household. His single mother, who had to go to work, was forced to leave eight-year-old Joseph in an orphanage. On that day, Katharina went before an image of Mary in the orphanage and consecrated her son Joseph to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, asking her to care for him and protect him, to be his mother; and she offered her only precious possession, a small medal, a souvenir of her First Communion.”
About the origin of the apostolate she coordinates, Débora said, “The Little Ones Campaign originated in Corrientes, its founder is Martha Liotti, a missionary of the Rosary Campaign and a member of the Apostolic League of Mothers. In September 1996, her first grandson, Patricio Andrés, was born at 32 weeks of pregnancy, with very little chance of survival. Seeing the anguish and pain of her daughter-in-law and son, Martha, inspired by the story of Father Joseph Kentenich, repeated Katharina’s devotion to the Blessed Mother and consecrated Patricio Andrés to her Immaculate Heart during Mass on September 18 in the City Shrine in Buenos Aires, so that Mary would take care of her grandson and intercede with her Son, Jesus Christ.”
Débora: “From that day on, and as Patricio developed well, the idea of taking the Blessed Mother to other children born in difficult circumstances, and to transmit this experience to the parents, took more and more shape. Today, after 27 years, Patricio is a young man full of life and La Campañita is a worldwide mission. This modality was officially launched on October 18, 1998, and is now spread to almost every continent,” she said.
A network of prayer and solidarity
“The main objective is to accompany parents in the difficult moments they go through and to assure them that they are not alone. Mary is the one who accompanies them, she is also the woman of expectation, she knows the sufferings that a child, a family can go through, and she does not want to abandon them, as she did with Jesus during his Passion, his death on the Cross and his Resurrection,” Debora said.
At the same time, she explained the modality: “As a special feature, the Schoenstatt picture of Mary goes on pilgrimage in a white basket that resembles the bassinet for babies, and it is crowned by a rosary with ten beads; we also give the parents a notebook in which they can leave their testimonies, photos, names, addresses and telephone numbers so that if the Lord wills it, we can invite them to the celebration of life,” she explained.
The coordinator of the “Campaign of the Little Ones” continued, “The parents are asked to consecrate the baby to the Immaculate Heart of Mary with the prayer of consecration that they receive along with the picture. The presence of the Blessed Mother with the parents awakens a sense of security and hope.” A prayer chain then begins in which all the missionaries learn the name of the baby and his parents “so that they can include them in their prayers; not only do the missionaries participate, but especially parents who have experienced the visit of the Pilgrim MTA in a similar situation and who have expressed interest in collaborating. The missionary takes care of the child’s condition and development almost daily and accompanies the parents throughout the process. Often not only with prayer and listening, but also with material help – for example, if the parents have come to the hospital from the interior of the country – or assistance in caring for the siblings. When the child has recovered and is discharged, the picture returns to the missionary. If a child is sick longer or there is a longing for more visits, the “baby mission” image is exchanged for a “normal” campaign image,” she said.
The role of faith
When the life of a loved one is at stake, in this case an infant helpless and fragile because of his health condition, it is undoubtedly important to cling to faith. “We firmly believe that God accompanies us constantly and, especially in the difficult moments of life, assists us, strengthens us and cares for us. We are called to be instruments of God and His Mother, in this way we carry His protection and closeness,” Debora said. “We have great respect for God’s holy will, so the missionary is careful not to make predictions and promises, because only God in his infinite love knows them. ‘Some blessings of God break all the windowpanes when they come,’ says a phrase by Paulo Coelho,” says Débora.
“The family, overwhelmed by the deep pain of a child threatened with death, cannot see the ‘little miracles’ happening around them. Doctors, nurses, medical staff, friends, and relatives who care for this life form a community of hearts united in a community of destiny. With each other, for each other and in each other,” she emphasizes.
Débora knows what she is talking about. She had to experience a difficult moment when her daughter Martina was torn between life and death. “We, as a family, were protected and cared for by the Blessed Mother. Our youngest daughter, Martina, was born on May 20, 2003, with a congenital heart defect (the partition between the chambers of the heart had not formed). This brought her to the brink of death; the chances of survival were practically nil. When she collapsed, she was 15 days old, and since that moment, the Blessed Mother has given us signs that she is by our side,” she begins her story.
“As we were on our way to the hospital, we came across the Auxiliary of Our Lady of Schoenstatt, and while we were in the intensive care unit, her crib was in front of the picture of Our Lady of Schoenstatt that had been placed there exactly one week before. That same day, at three o’clock in the afternoon, while we were overwhelmed with fear and despair at the possibility of losing her, the Auxiliary arrived at the hospital where the rosary was prayed for all the terminally ill children.”
“We felt that she accompanied us. We did not know what God had prepared for us, but we felt her presence. That is how we learned about the Campaign for Babies and Children in Danger of their Lives. The work of the Missionaries for Babies is so great that we have been talking about it ever since. Martha Liotti was our missionary. She not only brought the Pilgrim MTA in a basket, but she also accompanied us; many people prayed for Martina and through her we understood that God uses people of good will to reach those in need. Martina is now 19 years old and after two surgeries and much suffering, she is a young woman full of life,” she said with emotion. “We knew the Blessed Mother, but after these events, the whole family became closer to Mary and Jesus, and we built our home shrine. Therefore, we firmly believe that the true miracle was not only to save Martina, but the entire family,” he explained.
Seven missionaries for babies in danger of their lives
Currently there are seven missionaries, “and we are supported by many women from the mothers’ group in the maternity ward of Vidal Hospital, where they have restored the chapel that is in the maternity ward. They prepare the trousseau for the babies, there is a priest who celebrates Mass on Wednesdays, and they listen to the needs of the mothers who have their babies in the hospital,” says Débora.
“I had the image 84 days in my house”
Luján Sena is 33 years old, comes from the capital of Corrientes and works as a journalist. The greatest treasure of her life “came early” and her little one Ainhoa was born in the 25th week of pregnancy. “In the neonatal unit, Fr. Esteban Gamarra, pastor of the Divino Niño Chapel, gave my daughter the ‘water of salvation’ (note: emergency baptism), and he told me that Our Lady of Schoenstatt, who was in the hospital’s oratory, was the patroness of premature babies and that I should entrust myself to her. I went to the oratory and prayed to the Blessed Mother for my daughter. Then I was introduced to the image of the modality of the Campañita, who accompanies families in these difficult moments from a spiritual point of view in our homes. A lady named Rita brought the little image to Vidal Hospital and then we brought her to my home.”
The young woman stressed, “From the moment Our Lady of Schoenstatt set foot in my home, everything became a feeling of security and a constant devotion. I prayed every night after I came to the hospital, and of course I saw the improvement of my daughter in the intensive care unit. It was something incredible that only those of us who have faith and truly entrust ourselves to God and Mother Mary know what it means. I had that picture in my house for 84 days. I prayed to her every day and every night, even when I arrived tired because I was in the hospital from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” she said.
“The effect it had on us was to grow in faith, pray with all our strength and go to the hospital the next day to see and especially feel that everything was going to be OK. You cannot put into words what you saw and felt,” Luján said of her experience.
“Giving birth to a premature baby is difficult. I already knew I was going to have an early pregnancy because the doctors had warned me. I had a rest period in pregnancy so that my baby would not be born prematurely and to avoid this in any way possible, but Ainhoa was going to come at 25 weeks. I started having contractions, she was born naturally on October 29, and then the big struggle began,” she recalls. “After she was born, everything was strange, it was like a rush, everything happened very fast and you’re in a state of shock. Like any mother, you make plans and this experience of early birth changes everything and helps you learn,” she said.
“I experienced days of great anxiety when I saw her so small and with so many devices”
Perla Acosta is 31 years old and comes from Corrientes. “I got to know La Campañita when my baby Abigail was in the neonatal unit. I learned about it from a mother who had her baby in the same place in the hospital,” she told Época. “The process of giving birth to a premature baby was very difficult, something completely new and something I had already thought about, since I had severe preeclampsia in my third month and was in the hospital for a long time,” she explained.
“My biggest fear was knowing if she would be okay when they decided to take her out at six months. She was born at 850 g, and we have come a long way from that day. Thanks to God and the strength of family and friends who always prayed for my baby’s health, she made it. I cannot thank enough the entire neonatal team of the Eloísa Torrent de Vidal Hospital, the doctors and nurses who were always there for every little thing,” she said.
Maria, 34, also saw the image of the Virgin when she had her baby girl in the neonatal unit. “We were told she was Our Lady of the Premature Infants,” she said. “Through another mother, the image of Our Lady came to me. I was told about the shrine here in the city of Corrientes, but I have not had the pleasure of visiting it yet. There were also people who went to the hospital and told us about this mission of faith.”
“I experienced days of great anxiety when I saw my baby so small and with many devices connected. There were mixed emotions, living day after day with your baby who has little chance of life. There were days when she moved forward and others when she regressed. I spent all day in the hospital, and it was hard to go home because my baby was retarded. The fear was returning and finding bad news, but at the same time the hope of coming home at any moment. It was three months of struggle, and the family always supported us, which is very important in this situation, but thank God we are now at home enjoying the antics of our baby,” Maria says about her daughter Luz Maria.
Source: Diario Época, Corrientes, Argentina, 11/20/2022. With kind permission of the author.
Original: Spanish, 3.12.2022. Translation: Maria Fischer @schoenstatt.org