Fourth anniversary of Terri Schiavo's death memorialized at Ave Maria
By John Osborne
Naples Daily News, Naples, FL
April 1, 2009
AVE MARIA — A picture of a radiant Terri Schiavo dressed in a snow-white wedding
dress and accompanied by a depiction of Jesus Christ superimposed at her side
sat on the steps leading up to the altar at the Ave Maria Oratory.
“The National Mass for Terri’s Day” on Tuesday marked the 4th anniversary of the
Florida woman’s death.
Schiavo became the center of a global controversy when her feeding tube was
removed and she died of dehydration at the age of 41 following a seven-year
legal battle on behalf of her husband, Michael, who said that his wife would not
want to continue living in the state she was in. Terri’s parents, Robert and
Mary Schindler, who were present at Tuesday’s Mass, argued that their daughter
was conscious, and fought vigorously to keep the feeding tube in place,
eventually receiving help from former President George W. Bush, who in March
2005 signed legislation designed to keep Terri alive.
The Supreme Court of the United States four times declined to hear the Schiavo
case. On March 18, 2005, a local court’s decision to remove Schiavo’s feeding
tube was carried out. Schiavo died of dehydration 13 days later in a Pinellas
In February 1990, Schiavo collapsed in her St. Petersburg apartment after
experiencing cardiac arrest and was eventually determined to be in a “permanent
Schiavo’s brother, Bobby Schindler, who was also present at Tuesday’s Mass along
with his sister, Suzanne Vitadamo, said the weeks leading up to the anniversary
of Terri’s death are always difficult for his family.
“It’s always hard in the two weeks before (the anniversary), especially for my
parents,” Schindler said on the pristine steps of the ornate oratory shortly
before Mass began. “I still can’t explain how it felt to see Terri go through
what she went through. I just can’t make sense of a decision that denied
hydration to a person with a cognitive disability.”
On the previous three anniversaries of his sister’s death, Schindler and his
family held memorial masses near their St. Petersburg-area home. This year, he
said the family wanted to do something on a larger scale.
“I couldn’t be any more honored or delighted that Ave Maria agreed to hold the
Mass here,” he said. “I’m extremely pleased with everything, especially with the
great turnout on such short notice.”
In an impassioned homily during which his voice often quaked with anger, Rev.
Frank Pavone railed against what he termed “the culture of death.”
Pavone became a figure of national interest when he was the only person other
than family members allowed into Schiavo’s hospital room.
Addressing the Schindler family, he said, “Countless people in the United States
and around the world followed Terri’s struggle, from the Vatican to our own back
yards. We hoped when you hoped, suffered when you suffered, and prayed when you
prayed. I want you to know that we are with you. We were with you then, and we
continue to be with you now, because Terri’s fight continues through this
culture of death.”
Pavone said that, contrary to Michael Schiavo’s claims, Terri Schiavo would not
have wanted to have her feeding tube removed.
“We live in a society where, if you’re vulnerable, you’re disposable,” Pavone
said. “But people of faith are called to have trust. We can endure. ... It
wasn’t Terri who asked for death – it was someone else, and it was carried out
on the authority of a government that imposed this death.”
Pacing frenetically, Pavone also raged against the legal battle the Schindler
“How were they subjected to these legal matters?” Pavone asked. “How? It was
simply because they loved their daughter and they loved their sister, that’s
Expressing disgust with the legal decision that prompted the removal of
Schiavo’s feeding tube, Pavone said the Catholic Church and its followers are
subject to a higher power than that of human courts.
“Any human decree of law that denies the sanctity of life has no authority, it
has no validity,” he said. “These self-styled pro-choice politicians, including
our President (Barack Obama) have yet to learn the purpose of public service. It
is our responsibility to make sure that no one like that gets into office in the
Recalling Schiavo’s final days, Pavone said the circumstances in her hospital
room underscored the “absurdity of the culture of death.” “There were policemen
around her bed making sure that she got no water when flowers in vases full of
water were just inches away from her parched lips,” he said. “That’s the
absurdity of the culture of death.”
Schindler family friend Patricia Bucalo of Naples said the act of removing
Schiavo’s feeding tube constituted murder.
“It’s hard to use such strong language, but I’m afraid that’s exactly what
happened,” she said. “It was the worst government crime ever, and it was
committed by many people in many different parts of the government. It’s
terrible that the state of Florida succeeded in murdering her.”
The Rev. Paul O’Donnel, also a Schindler family friend, said Tuesday’s Mass was
an important step in keeping Terri Schiavo’s memory alive.
“I think it’s important to remember Terri, because there are others in her
condition who are also in danger of being killed,” he said. “Just as we remember
our brothers and sisters who died during the Holocaust, we say, ‘Never again.’
We have a moral and ethical obligation to provide food and hydration, even if it
is by artificial means.”
Staff writer Liam Dillon contributed to this report.