Santorum speaks of faith, family in appearance at Savannah Center

Rick Santorum speaks in The Villages Friday night.
Rick Santorum speaks in The Villages Friday night.

Former Pennsylvania Senator and 2012 U.S. presidential contender, Rick Santorum, addressed a near capacity crowd at the Savannah Center Friday evening. Sponsored by The Villages Conservative Action Group Florida, his message centered on the new book he and his wife, Karen, recently released entitled: “Bella’s Gift: How One Little Girl Transformed our Family and Inspired a Nation.”

Bella was born with a congenital chromosomal abnormality, trisomy-18, which is an error in cell division. Most fetuses with this syndrome die before birth, and only ten percent of those babies born survive their first year of life. The Santorums would not give up on Bella, who was a scant three and one-half pounds at birth, despite most physicians encouraging them to ‘do nothing,’ and ‘just let her go.’ The condition is considered ‘incompatible with life.’ One physician prescribed a high (and likely lethal)dose of morphine after the ten-day-old infant came home to Hospice care — ‘to calm Bella’ as she struggled to breathe. The Santorums refused to give their baby the medication.

Volunteer Bob Hendrychs helped to distribute Rick and Karen Santorum's books.
Volunteer Bob Hendrychs helped to distribute Rick and Karen Santorum’s books.

“The survival rate for infants with trisomy-18 in Japan is five times what it is in the U.S.,” Santorum stated, “because in Japan, people respect those with disabilities and treat their diseases. In America, medical care is very expensive and most doctors’ approach is utilitarian. Bella was my motivation to run for president — to have an opportunity to, among other issues, fix health care in our nation.”

The Santorums consider their daughter, Bella, who will turn seven years old this spring, both a cross to bear and a gift. “Bella taught us there are many kinds of love, and to love her unconditionally. Bella will never be able to do anything for us but love us, and that’s OK,” he said with emotion.

“She is very fragile and requires care 24/7.  Our struggle has inspired many people whose family members suffer from disabilities, including Downs syndrome.” Noting he questioned his own long-held values more than once, Santorum continued: “Bella taught us the beauty of struggle. In our lives, we grow more from pain, adversity and what we are able to overcome than we do from the good times.”

“Our book is counter-cultural,” he said. “It is raw, so you understand how real it is. It is not sugar coated. This book is about Bella’s gift to our family, and in the book, we share these lessons with readers. It is not only a book about our daughter and her disability; it is a book about marriage, about life and about love. Eighty-five percent of marriages which produce a disabled child dissolve in divorce.”

Rick Santorum prepares to be interviewed by a television crew.
Rick Santorum prepares to be interviewed by a television crew.

Santorum is a very busy and committed man these days — serving as CEO of a faith-based movie company ‘Faith, Family & Freedom Films.’ “We are Echo Light Studios. We produce a feature-length movie once a quarter. Hollywood doesn’t do faith, and when they do, they don’t do a very good job,” he asserted. “We are trying to move the cultural needle — back to more traditional Judeo-Christian values. Those of you in this room are old enough to remember what I mean; but a lot of young people don’t. I want to use my fame to try to turn the country in the right direction.”

“Our country is losing its religious liberty. Christianity is under direct assault by the government. We can worship in our churches, but when we come out, we are not allowed to mention God or religious teachings. It’s not politically correct. We are letting this creep up on us, and soon, America will be no more.” Despite this view, Santorum is a strong proponent of First Amendment rights — of free speech for all religious groups and their opinions.

In his invocation, Rev. Bustin of the Open Door Community Church praised Santorum’s values: “He lost the [presidential] race but kept his integrity. We pray for a great turn-around in this nation — for the people who love God and fear God to rise up and elect leaders who love God and love America. Ninety percent of clergy hold Biblical views on moral issues,” Rev. Bustin continued, “but the same percentage — ninety percent — say they do not preach these views in their sermons — for fear of losing congregation members and donors.”

Santorum, who served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (1991-95) and in that state’s Senate (1995-2007), drew a large crowd when he appeared at American Legion Post 347 in the Lady Lake in prior to his 2012 presidential bid. A devout Catholic, Santorum is strongly pro-life and firmly in favor of marriage only between one man and one woman. The Santorums have seven living children. A son, Gabriel, died shortly after birth. Both Rick and Karen Santorum are attorneys, and Karen is a former neonatal intensive care unit registered nurse.

After leaving The Villages Friday night, Santorum will speak in Orlando on Saturday on “Celebrating Faith, Family and Freedom” at the Awakening Conference; and later the same day, will participate in West Columbia, South Carolina, at a National Security Action Summit on the awareness of terrorism.