On the Front Lines with Terri

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On the Front Lines with Terri

It is hard to sort out the impressions from the police barricades at Woodside Hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida. Inside the building, Terri Schiavo is slowly and painfully dying. Outside there is a continuous flow of people from all over the country holding vigil.

As a member of the American TFP’s delegation, I did not know what to expect. One of the things that really has impressed me is the outpouring of support for Terri Schiavo.

Here in front of the hospice, there are people from all over the country. We have seen people from California, Ohio, Kansas and Wisconsin, to name just a few states. There have been students from Virginia’s Christendom College and Florida’s Ave Maria University. Local activists are also very helpful and are providing support and advice to newcomers.

Protesters pray to Our Lady of Fatima for Terri's life
Protesters pray to Our Lady of Fatima for Terri’s life

There is a continual flow of different people who hold this 24-hour vigil. While the numbers fluctuate according to the hour, I have witnessed as many as 350 protesters gathered at one time – a fact the media tend to ignore.

Media reports seem to have missed this very important point. Before coming down here, I had the impression that the protest was the persistent action of two or three dozen die hard protesters. Actually, there is a hard core of about 150 protesters. However, in addition to these protesters, there are literally hundreds if not thousands of others who come and go.

And so protesters keep arriving. As a sign of just how effective Church participation can be, we welcomed the arrival of two busloads of about 150 Catholics from Miami. The effort was sponsored by the Miami Archdiocese’s pro-life office. We were heartened by the presence of Sergio de Paz, the president of the Cuban-American group, Cubanos Desterrados.

The banner of Cubanos Desterrados waves beside the high flying signature red banner of the American TFP.
The banner of Cubanos Desterrados waves beside the high flying signature red banner of the American TFP.

A second observation is the overwhelming Catholic note of the protest. The American TFP delegation is here with its capes and standard. We have brought a large statue of Our Lady of Fatima and helped organized rosary processions. Indeed, the rosary is the most common prayer. The Blessed Sacrament was also brought here to the protest grounds and Mass has been offered. Notably absent is local clergy.
Many protesters here see this as a Catholic issue and not a purely emotional one. They see the religious and moral significance of what is happening here and are simply acting upon the Church’s very clear teaching about death by starvation. It is hardly the extremist portrayal given by so many media.

Meanwhile, several members of the press that I have spoken with do not seem to see the religious or moral significance of this event. In fact, they knew amazingly little about our Catholic faith. One reporter asked me who the statue of Our Lady of Fatima portrayed. Another asked me to explain the rosary.

People from California, Ohio, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania were present at the hospice.
People from California, Ohio, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania were present at the hospice.

The large number of press has contributed to what has been characterized as a circus-like atmosphere around the hospice. Sometimes there are more reporters than protesters. The pictures I have seen on the television and newspapers appear only to focus on those very few protesters that appear extreme, provocative or emotional. Nothing could be farther from the truth. What I have found are completely normal and balanced protesters. The people I met and talked with are truly concerned and reasonable Americans who will not stand silently by when an innocent woman is put to death by starvation.

While most Americans could not make the long trip down here to protest, I am convinced that the crowds I saw here represent a large number of Americans afflicted by the prolonged agony of Terri Schiavo. I am also convinced that our prayers here are united with the prayers of so many all over the country asking not only for the life of one innocent woman but asking for an end to the culture of death that has so devastated our society.

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