How a baby born at 26 weeks became a light of faith to his family

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“The doctor said that, if I wanted to save my baby’s life, I had to give birth in the next hour. I was only 26 weeks pregnant,” Maria Ramos recalled with tears in her eyes the painful moment in which she thought she would lose her child Mateo. Her husband, Ricardo Luna, and their two children: Judith, 11, and Ricardo, 9; with watery eyes sat beside her, remembering the four months they had spent in the University of Colorado-Anschutz Hospital, seeing Mateo fight for his life in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

And yet, amid the scene of this suffering family, their tears were simultaneously mixed with smiles of joy and hope as they recounted the moments that had sustained them along their journey, such as the times Mateo smiled at the sound of his mother’s voice and looked around to find her, or those in which he was finally rocked to sleep after feeling his parents by his side.

“He was so little when he was born. He measured 11 inches and weighed 1 lb. 7 oz. Now he weighs 8 lb. 1 oz.,” Ricardo said with a grateful smile. “If he passes the oxygen test next week, he’ll go to Children’s Hospital to have a surgery to remove two hernias, and hopefully he’ll get to come home soon after that.”

Maria and Ricardo Luna Ramos spend time with their son Mateo, who was born at just 26 weeks. With the family’s prayers, Mateo continues to get stronger. (Photo by Aaron Lambert)

“Trusting in God has sustained us in these moments. My husband and I have talked about all of this, and our prayer has always been, ‘Lord, help us.’ And there has always been a light to keep us going,” said Maria, who with her husband and children is a parishioner at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Aurora.

Everything began during a routine ultrasound Nov. 15, when the doctor told the couple something was wrong: The baby had not grown since the previous month. The doctor then asked Maria to be admitted in order to monitor her health and the baby’s.

“They said that it was because my placenta wasn’t sending enough oxygen to the baby,” Maria recalled.

The doctors had her count the times Mateo moved every hour, but one night, Maria knew something was wrong.

“I felt he was losing strength, he wasn’t moving as much, so I told my husband and the doctor I was scared,” Maria said. “That night my husband and I had a conversation and I told him, ‘My husband, we have to put ourselves in God’s hands. Our faith is being tested by God, but we will get through this.”

Maria had to give birth the following afternoon, on Nov. 18. It was the only chance of saving Mateo’s life.

“I entrusted my son to our Mother Mary that day, and I told her, ‘Mother Mary, my son can no longer be in my womb, but you can receive him in yours. Take care of him and protect him for me,” she said.

The following day, Ricardo and Maria received the sad news that Mateo’s lungs were bleeding. The doctors said they would try to do everything they could, but that he wasn’t doing well. One of the doctors and a nurse recommended that they call someone to baptize their child, if they were Catholic or Christian.

One of the nurses, who was also Catholic, even offered to help them contact a priest.

“We need to baptize him. He and we all need God and the Holy Spirit, and we can’t let anything happen to him without him being baptized,” Maria told her husband.

On that same day, Father Mauricio Bermudez from St. Michael’s Parish baptized Mateo.

The following months weren’t easy, as one day Ricardo and Maria would see their child improve and the next day worsen. Mateo was healthy except for his lungs. He was hooked up to an endotracheal tube to help him breathe and spent over two months in an incubator.

Besides the struggle of seeing their child fight for his life, the couple has  had to find creative ways to balance work, family and other responsibilities.

After work, Ricardo usually goes home to shower, eat dinner and see his wife and kids, and then heads over to the hospital, where he spends the evening, puts Mateo to sleep and leaves before midnight.

Maria takes the children to school in the morning and then heads straight to the hospital to be with Mateo. Later in the afternoon, she goes back home to cook for the family before they arrive from school or work and then takes care of her older children.

On the weekends, they go as a family to spend time in the hospital with Mateo, although his older siblings are not allowed to see him due to the age restriction at the NICU.

Ricardo Luna feeds his son Mateo while visiting him in the neonatal intensive care unit at University of Colorado-Anschutz Hospital March 17. Despite the challenges, Mateo’s family is grateful for the gift of his life. (Photo by Aaron Lambert)

Among the many ways this unexpected event has made the Luna family reflect, they feel as though the topic of abortion has taken on a different color.

“We went to Mass at St. Pius X Parish one Sunday and the priest invited all of us to go pray outside an abortion clinic,” Maria recounted.

“Later that day, looking at my son, I thought: ‘How is it possible that people can believe this human being doesn’t feel, only because he’s so little? Of course he feels! How can a mother allow someone to do that to their child? I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.

“I saw all the opposite: My child looked for me and smiled when I talked to him. He was so little and yet he was looking for my husband and me. He started doing that after he stopped being sedated, a month and a half after he was born.

“I saw that his size did not diminish his strong desire to live, and I think all babies in the womb have that same desire to live. If God is sending them, they are here for something good.”

Pedro and Maria Ramos, Maria’s brother and sister-in-law and also parishioners at St. Michael the Archangel Parish, became Mateo’s godparents for being the only family members present at the time Father Bermudez arrived to baptize the baby.

“He’s a miracle. Things like these increase our faith because we realize that, for God, nothing is impossible. When we saw him so little, we said, ‘Lord, only you know why he came into this world so little, but you also have the power to sustain him.’ And look at him, there he is,” Pedro said with a smile as he pointed to Mateo opening his little eyes for a photoshoot.

“It is an honor for me to be his godmother. He is truly a miracle. We must never lose our faith in God because he can truly act in our lives,” Pedro’s wife, Maria, added.

Beyond all their difficulties, Ricardo assured that he and his wife will love Mateo the same, even if he were to develop any type of defect from his premature birth.

“I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad child for a parent,” Maria concluded. “We have learned from this experience to live day by day, always giving thanks to God, because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. All we can do is strive to be better Christians, better spouses, and a better family.”

COMING UP: Denver’s first Catholic classical high school opens under patronage of Our Lady of Victory

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Nearly half a millennium ago, thousands of Catholics heeded Pope Pius V’s call to pray the Rosary requesting Our Lady’s intercession for the deliverance of Europe from Turkish invasion.

In a miraculous triumph, at what came to be known as the “Battle of Lepanto,” the outnumbered Christian “Holy League” overcame the Turkish forces, winning Our Lady of the Rosary a new advocation: Our Lady of Victory.

Today, Denver’s new and first Catholic classical high school has chosen Our Lady of Victory as its patroness, with the mission of developing the whole person and forming students who are holy, well-educated and prepared to engage the present culture and contribute to society.

Our Lady of Victory High School is part of the Chesterton Schools Network, which encourages parent-led Catholic schools across the nation, inspired by the life and work of G.K. Chesterton, who wrote a poem about the victory at Lepanto.

Although the school is not an archdiocesan high school, it has been officially recognized by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila as a Catholic school. This fall’s inaugural 9th grade class will launch at the St. Louis Parish School building in Denver with nearly 20 students.

“Chesterton’s model of joyful Catholicism draws upon the classical tradition but is very evangelical: It engages the culture with a joyful approach to being Catholic… rather than a reactionary one,” said Dr. R. Jared Staudt, President of the school, Director of Formation at the Archdiocese of Denver and Visiting Associate Professor at the Augustine Institute. “We want to form saints to go out and do great things for the Lord within our culture.”

The classical education approach highlights the trivium (logic, grammar and rhetoric) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy).

“We emphasize Socratic dialogue as well as the trivium: how to read texts carefully and understand them through grammar, how to think about them in a coherent manner through logic, and then how to express yourself well in writing and speech through rhetoric; but also the quadrivium: How do we understand the logical order and beauty of the universe?” Dr. Staudt explained.

The benefits of this type of education are many, he assured.

“It’s not just a practical output, but about forming strong dispositions of thinking, of being able to evaluate things, being able to form a plan of action for your life that will translate into being successful in the future.

“It’s about becoming the person that God wants us to become… We emphasize the fundamental things that shape who we are, so that, secondarily, we are also good at doing things,” Dr. Staudt said.

Part of what makes this goal possible is the communion between faith and reason. Students begin the school day with daily Mass; read Homer, Plato, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dostoevsky, G.K. Chesterton, etc.; and study the Bible and the Catechism. They participate in a curriculum where history, philosophy, literature and theology are “braided together,” as their website states.

Part of what makes it unique is also its approach to the fine arts and to mathematics and science.

“We emphasize the fine arts because we want the students to be engaged with beauty and wonder… We want to humanize them, to make them more fully alive,” Dr. Staudt said.

“I would say we also approach math and science from that perspective. We take math and science very seriously, but not as something dry and textbook based, but something that is engaging the beauty, the logic, the wonder of the universe, and the fact that we can logically understand [it] because it is itself something that is a creative work of a mind, of God’s mind, and his beauty is impressed within it.”

As part of this approach, the school has implemented in its unique formation a lot of time in the outdoors, beginning the year with a three-day backpacking trip with the students and ending with a whitewater rafting trip.
The school also plans on having retreats throughout the year, attending and hosting fine arts events and providing service opportunities for its students.

“I think that’s truly part of what makes us unique, that we want to develop the whole person: body, mind and soul,” Dr. Staudt explained.

“It’s about becoming the person that God wants us to become… We emphasize the fundamental things that shape who we are, so that, secondarily, we are also good at doing things.”

The seed for the foundations of the school began with the desire of a group of Denver Catholic parents for a holistic, classical formation for their children, also motived by the need for a Catholic high school in the South Denver metro area.

Hoping to open a Catholic classical high school for their children in the future, six dads organized a series of monthly talks titled “The First Educators” at St. Mary Parish in Littleton from September to November 2018 as a first step to help in this direction.

Little did they know that their dream would become reality only a few months later, with the help of Dr. Staudt, the Chesterton Schools Network and the support of other parents around the archdiocese.

With six experienced teachers on board, the mission-driven school is set to begin forming students in the classical tradition.

“We want them to be holy. I would say that is our biggest overarching goal, that we want to form saints in the sense that they are thinking people who are well-educated and well prepared to engage the world and make a contribution in society – but [in a way] that holiness integrates everything else that we do,” Dr. Staudt concluded.

For more information, visit ourladyofvictorydenver.com.