By Michael H. Brown

Back in 1992 I stayed for two nights in the home of a poor little eight-year-old child named Audrey Santo in Worchester, Massachusetts. I had been invited to speak in the area by her mother, and had the opportunity to visit with Audrey, who had been comatose, or at least unable to communicate with the outside world, for about five years, since nearly drowning in a swimming pool in 1987. It was a heartbreaking story, and her mother, Linda, had courageously kept the child alive -- providing her with meticulous and round-the-clock nursing care.

There was little Audrey, a symbol of life, and thank God, she is still with us today. Many are those who claim miracles occur around her: statues that exude oil or Communion Hosts that bleed. Audrey has what's called akinetic mutism, and is fed through a tube in her stomach. She couldn't communicate with me back in 1992, but there were vague hints of awareness, and when I posed a question to her about someone, a tear formed in her eye, as if in response to the query. I stayed in the room directly across from her and ventured to her bedside on occasion to say a Scriptural Rosary for and perhaps with her.

This was years before Audrey became well-known. She has since been featured in The New York Times and on national TV. Many of you know her story. She is considered by her family as a victim-soul, and her room is full of holy objects. Thousands have stopped by Worcester to glimpse at her through a pane. The bishop has investigated, and has neither confirmed the alleged miracles nor rejected them. "Although we canít explain why oils and claims of blood are appearing on religious articles in the home, there is no obvious evidence of chicanery," said a report in 1999, noting that further study was needed.

"The most striking evidence of the presence of God in the Santo home is seen in the dedication of the family to Audrey," said Bishop Reverend Daniel P. Reilly himself. "Their constant respect for her dignity as a child of God is a poignant reminder that God touches our lives through the love and devotion of others."

Think of this: a child who for 14 years now has been motionless on a sickbed with absolutely constant nursing attention. She might succumb within minutes without it. But her family didn't let that happen. She is a symbol of human dignity in the very same city where a firm, Advanced Cell Technology of Worcester, has taken the exact opposite route by cloning the first human embryo (or at least the first publicly announced) -- which is possibly the most undignified thing that has been done to the human race. 

I think this is Audrey's true mission. I think this is why she has lived so long in such a state. I don't know about the oiling pictures or statues or whatever (although I am certainly open-minded), but it is her very existence in this society that is the true miracle -- and a beacon to the rest of the world at a critical time in the history of homo sapiens.

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