At the funeral this week of Italian mother Azzurra Carnelos, who died last week after refusing cancer treatment in order to save the life of her unborn son, she was hailed for her courageous sacrifice and for her love of life.

Speaking at Carnelos’s April 17 funeral, Father Massimo Rocchi, director of the Brandolini Rota Institute in the northern Italian town of Oderzo, noted that she would have turned 34 the next day, telling her family, “She will celebrate heaven and you will celebrate here on earth.”

“Yes, she will always be with you,” he said, noting that while Carnelos’s family and friends gathered to mourn her passing, “above all we celebrate and celebrate for the great, dazzling light she transmits.”

“Live in this light: a light of courage, a light of strength, a light of love. There is no greater gift than giving your life,” he said.

Carnelos, a former student of Rocchi’s, was a senior financial analyst at a bank who died of breast cancer after refusing to undergo treatment in order to save her unborn child, Antonio, who is now eight months old.

She was first diagnosed in 2019 after having a premonitory dream of her grandmother, who died from the same disease, which prompted her to get a scan that showed she had a tumor, so she began chemotherapy treatment, and her cancer went into remission.

Three years later, she married her husband, Francesco, in 2022 and despite fearing that she would never be a mother due to her previous cancer treatment, in February 2023 she discovered that she was pregnant.

By July of that year, however, Carnelos discovered that her cancer had returned, and instead of heeding doctors’ advice and beginning chemotherapy again immediately, she opted to delay her treatment in order to carry her baby to term.

Her husband left his job and cared for Carnelos full time, sleeping and having all of his meals at the hospital until she finally passed away on April 13 at her home in Oderzo.

During her funeral Tuesday in the Oderzo cathedral, a photo of Carnelos smiling after giving birth to her baby was displayed.

Rocchi in his homily said the words “The souls of the just are in the hands of God,” read aloud in the first reading chosen by Carnelos’s mother, “express both the pain for Azzurra’s departure for heaven, and the great faith that as a family all of you are bearing witness to.”

Referring to Carnelos’s parents, Antonella and Fabrizio, and to her husband Francesco and infant son Antonio, he said they embodied “a faith in the risen Jesus, who gives all of us a new, eternal, endless life.”

He noted that in the traditional Marian prayer of the Salve Regina, “we often say to the Madonna: We turn to you, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.”

“Yes, I think Azzurra’s illness was a valley of tears, between warning signs, treatments, hopes and relapses, but this valley now is illuminated by a dazzling light, by a large bright rainbow that unites the earth to the sky,” he said.

Carnelos provided her family a witness of “A light full of love, a light full of hope,” he said, saying she “has written a page of the Gospel.”

Rocchi noted that Carnelos met her husband, Francesco, at university in 2015, and that “Their love was not stopped by the news of the illness in 2019…She faced treatments with determination. And she was momentarily healed.”

After Carnelos’s marriage to her husband in 2022, “Her first thought was that she wouldn’t be able to become a mother due to the treatments,” Rocchi said, noting that instead, “Antonio arrived, a gift from God from heaven.”

“But the disease returned, stronger and more aggressive than before and with very little hope,” he said, noting that Carnelos’s greatest desire was to become a mother, “and this desire was so great as to even give up her health. A painful choice shared with her husband, but her gaze was on the gift of life.”

At the funeral Mass, Francesco said of his wife, “With her sacrifice she gave us life. She had one desire: to give birth to our Antonio.”

Carnelos’s mother recalled how the cancer caused her to lose her sight, but said her daughter was determined to see as well as she could, “to admire her son.”

She said the family “always prayed a lot, we always came to Mass on Sunday evenings,” where they were assured that Carnelos was being prayed for.

Some of Carnelos’s final words, her mother said, were, “Don’t worry mom, everything will be fine … you teach Antonio the prayers and then leave it to Francesco, Francesco will take care of it.”

Rocchi in his homily addressed the family directly, saying, “A mother who gives birth to a child, always gives life, even more when this could compromise her health. And Azzurra did not hesitate to do so.”

“Now she is the angel of your family, the angel of her little Antonio and her husband. An example for all of us, a testimony that life is stronger than death and that, as Jesus told us, ‘there is no greater love than giving life,’” he said.

Several years ago, in 2012, a similar story touched the hearts of the world when Italian speaker Chiara Corbella Petrillo chose to delay cancer treatment in order to carry her unborn child to term after two previous children died shortly after birth.

She passed away in June of that year at the age of 28, and her cause for sainthood was opened in 2015, five years later.

One of Italy’s most famed saints, Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, died in a similar way, passing away in 1962 after refusing to terminate her fourth and final pregnancy to treat a benign tumor on her uterus.

These stories are particularly potent in Italy, which suffers from a staggeringly low birth rate that Pope Francis has often referred to as a “demographic winter,” calling on Italians to be open to life and to have more children.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on X: @eliseannallen