by Fredi D’Alessio
I will never forget my pilgrimage to ‘calvary’ in Pinellas Park, Florida on behalf of my sister Terri and her family. I was so very blessed to have been able to be there to support them and to advocate for Terri’s right to life. I cherish them and the people who stood in solidarity with them, mostly having come from long distances. Of the many fine people I was privileged to meet, I remember with special fondness a young family of eight from Ohio who put aside every other concern and without much planning hurriedly loaded their van with bare essentials and began the long drive to Pinellas Park.
Along with harboring warm feelings for the Schindler family and their supporters, my heart grieves Terri’s cold-blooded murder. Being present at the scene of that crime – in the midst of or close by the victims, the intervenors, the perpetrators, the politicians, the police, and the news media – subjected my whole being to a rivalry of emotions and a variety of experiences and encounters. But rather than reflect on what being there was like, I have chosen to reflect on what being there was about.
So many, if not most, of those who have spoken or written about Terri’s plight have missed the point. It matters not in the least what Terri’s physical condition was. No justification could be made for taking her life no matter who the ‘experts’ are or how many words they spout.
Of my twelve days and nights in Florida, most were passed in prayer outside the hospice in Pinellas Park. A few days were spent in support of Terri in Tallahassee at Florida’s House and Senate committee hearings, and lobbying at Senator and Governor offices. I also participated in two candlelight prayer vigils outside the Governor’s Mansion during which we pleaded with the Governor via an intercom at the gate to do everything possible to save Terri.
I do not agree with those who have proposed that our role, as non-Floridians, was to support Terri and all those concerned for her well being with our prayers. Yes, of course we should have supported them with prayers, but not merely with prayers of petition. God wants to communicate with us when we pray. The petition He wants most from us is that we may obtain the graces and virtues that are necessary to not only know his will, but also to actively abide by it. He wants us to be his instruments of love, mercy, justice and peace.
Terri is sister to each and every person on earth. God entrusts each and every human life, not only to parents, but also to each and every one of us. To be an authentic disciple of Christ Jesus each of us must accept that responsibility.
The universal Church must be united in the acceptance of that responsibility. Neither borders nor domains, even if they exist within Her own structure (as in dioceses, provinces and regions), can excuse Her (us) from actively reaching out – not merely speaking out. This is particularly so when the ‘local Church’ has been negligent in Her duties and discipleship (as it was in Terri’s case). Supporting those who are in error is not unifying; it is destructive.
When bishops, priests, deacons and laity neglect to intervene on behalf of those at risk and fail to boldly, emphatically and persistently preach the Gospel of Life and correct and admonish those in error about grave issues such as abortion, euthanasia, cloning, embryo production and destruction for any reason, or any other crime against humanity, the stage is set for all of these tragedies to occur. We have been stagehands for decades now, having embraced a disregard for human life and even become desensitized to millions of murders of unborn babies. One of the ways in which that disregard and insensitivity is demonstrated daily is by our lack of intervention at the numerous baby-killing centers throughout our country where thousands of babies are murdered every day. Every bishop and pastor in the nation should have been preaching about Terri’s right to life from the pulpit and imploring us to become actively involved with her family in their fight for her life.
Pope John Paul II could not have made that point any clearer in his encyclical (Evangelium Vitae) to bishops, priests, deacons, men and women religious, and lay faithful, which begins with: “The Gospel of life is at the heart of Jesus’ message. Lovingly received day after day by the Church, it is to be preached with dauntless fidelity as ‘good news’ to the people of every age and culture.” The introduction closes with: “To all the members of the Church, the people of life and for life, I make this most urgent appeal, that together we may offer this world of ours new signs of hope, and work to ensure that justice and solidarity will increase and that a new culture of human life will be affirmed, for the building of an authentic civilization of truth and love.”
In ‘A Note On Liturgical Norms for Homilies’ Fr. Frank Pavone points out: “Liturgy is, ultimately, a life-giving encounter with God. There can be no more appropriate setting in which to proclaim and defend the gift of life. The liturgical laws of the Church certainly leave the door wide open for such a proclamation and defense!”
Those who stood as advocates for life at ‘calvary’ in Pinellas Park, Florida did so with the “dauntless fidelity” called for by the Holy Father. They came with hope that Terri’s life would be saved and with love to help the Shindler family carry their cross.
I don’t think there is a better way to close this reflection than with the following excerpt from Pope John Paul II’s farewell message given during the official departure ceremony for him at the Detroit Airport on 19 September 1987:
“America, your deepest identity and truest character as a nation is revealed in the position you take towards the human person. The ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenseless ones. The best traditions of your land presume respect for those who cannot defend themselves. If you want equal justice for all, and true freedom and lasting peace, then, America, defend life! … Every human person – no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or how old, no matter how healthy, handicapped or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society – is a being of inestimable worth created in the image and likeness of God. This is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival – yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenseless ones, those as yet unborn.”