Mary my Mother
A Choice For Life
by Patricia Keane
It was Saturday 26th May 2018, and the Pro-Life advocates around Ireland were reeling from shock as the results from the 8th Amendment Referendum were being delivered blow-by-blow, county-by-county. By 10 pm Irish time on polling day, the results from the Exit Polls had reached the Western Shores of America and as far East as Brisbane, Australia. My phone was buzzing with Pro-Life friends from around the world asking was this for real or was the Exit Poll a true reflection of what was about to happen. Then my phone rang at 11 pm, and it was my friend Angela from Mostar, a Muslim convert to Catholicism.
I wrote her remarkable story in my book Journey Of Ten Thousand Smiles, in a chapter called The Summerhouse. It was the greatest Pro-Life story ever told. Angela’s story of courage, bravery, tenacity and healing had reached the hearts of men, women and children. It had changed the minds of those who thought that it was all right to end the life of a baby conceived through rape or who had foetal abnormalities.
“What’s happening to your people?” she asked with tears in her voice. “They’re just about ready to kill babies.” “I know”, I said. I couldn’t contain my tears. “Let’s wait until tomorrow and see if the Exit Polls are accurate.” I held little hope that such a vast gap could be bridged in the gloomy count pending the next morning.
Angela’s baby boy was conceived and born in the most devastating circumstances one could ever possibly imagine. It was the year 1993, and the scene was set in Janja, a multi-ethnic town close to the Serbian border. The ethnic Muslim population were being expelled from the town, forced to surrender their properties to the Serbs under intense intimidation. Angela’s father was a Pharmacist who owned and ran a family business. He was forced to hand over the keys of his premises and his day’s takings with a gun stuck in his head. He was then captured by Serb Forces and sent to do hard labour in a prisoner-of-war camp and from there much like all the professionals he disappeared. Angela was only 16-years-old, and she and her brother, Nik were now grieving the loss of both parents after her mother died from septicemia two weeks after her father disappeared. Their comfortable, secure and middle-class life was wiped out overnight, and her dream of becoming a Paediatrician who would work with babies and save their lives would never happen.
Their aunt who lived in the neighbouring city of Tuzla took them in. When Angela’s aunt noticed her distended tummy, she took her to a doctor who confirmed her worst thoughts. Her aunt was adamant that this baby could never be brought into the world as there was far too much shame and disgrace attached to the pregnancy. Their country was divided in three, and ethnic hatred was rife. The thoughts of her niece carrying the baby of a Serb boy fuelled her aunt’s to desire to get rid of the pregnancy and to never speak of it again.
Life was sacred with Angela, and she’d been taught that by her devout and faith-filled Muslim parents. As much as Angela was in shock at her circumstances and her aunt’s admission and rage she decided to accept her aunt’s command that if she didn’t abort the baby she had to leave her home and the city of Tuzla. Rather than killing her unborn she left and boarded a bus for the city of Zagreb where her family had Croatian Catholic friends who moved to the city from Tuzla.
Her friend Ana who’s aunt was a Franciscan nun, was dealing with many Bosnia girls experiencing war-induced crisis pregnancies. Ana’s family looked after Angela until it was time to give birth. Her baby boy was delivered safely, and while Angela hovered on the brink of death post-partum, a senior nurse on the ward made sure her baby boy didn’t go out for adoption. She’d seen Angela look at all the babies wrapped up in white sheets lying on gurneys waiting to be sent to homes in America and Europe. The thought of never seeing her baby boy again tore at her heart. Sr Mira arranged for the baby to be sent to an orphanage and for a Croatian couple in their sixties who had lost their two sons in the war to provided accommodation for Angela.
In the meantime Angela’s brother, Nik had gone missing from Tuzla. He’d left the house to search the city after he heard his aunt yell at Angela and tell her to get out of her home. The family had previously made arrangements to go to Hungary and thinking that’s where his sister had gone he took a bus to the largest refugee camp in Europe. Angela spent weeks looking for Nik, and after a futile search she returned to Zagreb and went to visit her son. He had developed eczema, and his little fingers were raw and bleeding. She lifted her infant up from the soiled crib and held him close to her chest. A surge of love pierced her heart and filled her being. “You are the only thing I have left in this world”, she whispered to him as she kissed his cradle-cap covered scalp.
That was the moment she knew that her baby son was hers to keep. Not knowing how she was going to manage she told Sr Mira that she would keep her baby. Sr Mira suggested that she leave him in the orphanage and visit him until God made his will clear to her. Then one day her Croatian adopted family, Ivo and Vesna asked Angela to bring her baby to visit them. Their eyes filled with tears when they saw his poor condition. Vesna took the baby into her arms and became his adopted grandmother. Angela wanted to honour their kindness and named her son Ivan after Ivo. It wasn’t long before they suggested that Angela take Ivan home permanently. His presence in their lives filled their broken hearts with joy, and when Angela taught her son to call them Djed, (grandfather) and Baba, (grandmother) their faces broke into smiles.
With the help of Ivo and Vesna, Angela was able to take English lessons with the idea that she could work as a city tour guide. The devout couple prayed the rosary every night and while they were praying Angela was studying. She could hear them pray for the souls of their deceased sons and Angela’s mother and the safe return of her father and brother. The words of the Hail Mary slowly permeated her mind, and in her heart, she could feel the presence of Our Lady. Everything good that had happened to her in the previous three years was thanks to Croatian Catholic people. Angela decided to accept the offer of Roman Catholic instruction, and six months later Ivan and Angela were baptised into the Catholic faith making Ivo and Vensa proud godparent’s.
In December 2008, Angela received a phone call from her brother Nik. He had tracked her down after she’d registered him missing with the Red Cross.
Angela currently lives in the city of Mostar and works as a tour guide. Her son Ivan is now a doctor and works in Emergency Medicine saving lives.
Angela’s full story can be found on ind the book Journey of Ten Thousand Smiles by Patricia Keane and can be purchased here
Patricia Keane is the author of the critically acclaimed book Journey Of Ten Thousand Smiles and is an inspirational speaker and witness to her inner healing in Medjugorje. She hosts a weekly programme, Health and Faith Matters on Radio Maria and blogs at www.journeyoftenthousandsmiles.org. She submits a monthly article for the Medjugorje Messenger and a bimonthly to Shalom Tidings.
She received two International Awards for her humanitarian work with the ethnically displaced families of Bosnia-Herzegovina through her tireless work the charity Rebuild for Bosnia.