Only on turnto10.com: Baby Angela turns 18 months old
During his visit to Washington, Pope Francis spoke to Congress about the importance of protecting the most vulnerable people in the world.
"We have to remember the Golden Rule: 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,'" he said. "The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to defend human life at every stage of its development."
His words resonate in the soul of Sonia Morales, a parishioner of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Providence.
Each day, she does her best to follow his example.
"He is an amazing person and offers a light of hope for people of every generation," said Morales.
A year and a half ago, Sonia and her husband, Rony, received heart wrenching news, as they learned that their unborn baby suffered from anencephaly, which is the absence of a major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp that occurs during embryonic development.
Doctors told them their child would probably be stillborn or only live a few hours to a couple of days. Morales said councilors also informed them that many women decide to have abortions after such a poor prenatal diagnosis.
"When we got this diagnosis, the first thing that we were offered was abortion," she told NBC 10 News.
But Morales and her husband kept their baby, who they named Angela and baptized Catholic 20 minutes after her birth. Since being born on March 23, 2014, Angela has made headlines across the nation, as well as throughout the world, as she is still alive and continues to thrive despite medical challenges.
She turned 18-months-old on Wednesday.
"Angela is defying the odds," said Morales.
When Angela was less than two months old, she endured surgery. Doctors removed an encephalocele, a sac-like protrusion of the brain, before closing the opening at the top of her head.
These days, Sonia said Angela is as healthy and energetic than ever.
"She's growing every day," said Morales. "Right now, the doctors are just amazed by her."
On Thursday, a day after Angela celebrated her 18-month birthday, Morales planned to board a bus to Philadelphia with fellow parishioners to see the pope. However, she didn't end up going, as Angela developed a cold.
"I prefer to stay with her because if I go I will not be happy there knowing she is sick," Morales said.
Still, Morales is thrilled Pope Francis is visiting America. She said she admires Pope Francis deeply, especially for his generosity towards people who have disabilities.
"Pope Francis radiates Christ. You can really see God in him," Morales said. "He is doing what God is telling us to do. I think he's challenging all of us to love others no matter what. We just need to love them as Christ loves us."
In 2013, the pope greeted about 600 people in wheelchairs as part of a gathering in which rows of seats were removed from a Vatican auditorium to accommodate disabled guests. He's also frequently seen embracing people with ailments or illnesses.
"I see the pope kissing disabled people or people who are left alone," Morales said. "Every life is precious. Every life is valuable."
Before experiencing life with Angela, Morales said she often felt sorry for people with disabilities. Now, she views them in a whole new light.
"I see these people differently. I see God in them," said Morales. "We should just be compassionate to these people and embrace life. They can live life to the fullest and we should help them reach their potential. We just need to love them. It doesn't matter that they are disabled. They are valuable. Every child - even unborn - is a gift from the Lord."
Angela, said Morales, is a blessing.
"She's not a burden," said Morales. "That's what these kids teach us. If we receive them with thankfulness, they are going to grow. They will find peace in spite of suffering and pain."
To raise awareness about caring for children with disabilities, Morales created a Facebook account shortly after learning about her daughter's diagnosis. The page has more than 16,000 "Likes," and is filled with photos and videos of Angela and her family.
According to Morales, the page sends a strong pro-life message, as she said women often reach out to her and express remorse because they aborted a child that was given a poor prenatal diagnosis.
"With my experience, I have met many, many women who really regret their abortions," said Morales. "I always tell them that there is always healing for the brokenhearted. There is healing for the mothers and fathers who have aborted their child. My prayer is that through Angela's story, they will find some comfort."
She also hopes people living in America will find peace, acceptance and understanding though Pope Francis. His message of respecting life also transcends to the issue of immigration, as he urged lawmakers on Thursday to embrace "the stranger in our midst."
"We are all Christ's children," said Morales, who came to America from Guatemala when she was 15-years-old. "We are all immigrants. We are all human beings and we should all be treated with dignity and respect. I really pray that he is going to change many things in the United States."
Morales said the pope, along with her experience with Angela, has taught her family to live each day to the fullest.
"We don't think about tomorrow because tomorrow may never come," she said.
She and Rony, along with their oldest daughter, Elizabeth, who recently turned 6-years-old, enjoy spending time with Angela. One of Angela's favorite activities is going to the beach.
"Angela smiles when the wind hits her face," said Morales. "She feels the sun and her hair blows in the wind. It's so beautiful to see because she's very aware of that. And Angela's eyes just shine when she hears Elizabeth's voice. She smiles and she coos when she's playing with Elizabeth."
Though Morales is sad she was unable to make the trek to Philadelphia to see the pope, she is grateful to be home with her loved ones. Through it all, she said Angela has taught them many valuable lessons about life.
"I thought we were saving Angela," said Morales. "But in reality, she is the one who saved us."