Commemorating 'Terri's Day': We Must Mourn, Pray and Act. Terri Schiavo, Martyr of the Culture of Death


Deacon Keith Fournier


CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) – I received an E Blast this morning. I am grateful for the reminder. I almost forgot, with all the preparation for the Holiest three days in the Christian calendar. Yet, it is precisely the timing of Terri´s death which should serve as a reminder. I remember what I called the "Passion Play in Pinellas Park". I pledged then I would never forget. I am grateful to Father Frank Pavone for not only keeping Terri´s memory alive but for helping all of us who know the truth and were forever changed by her life and death, to rededicate ourselves to building a new Culture of Life and Civilization of Love.

Here is the Press Release from Ave Maria, Florida:

"Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, will be the celebrant and homilist tonight at the Annual National Mass for Terri´s Day at the Ave Maria Oratory of Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida. "On March 31, five years ago, Terri Schiavo died a court mandated and government enforced death," said Fr. Pavone.  "I saw for myself, as I held her hand and prayed at her bedside that this death was not ´peaceful´ and ´beautiful´ as euthanasia advocates want us to think. Moreover, as health care is placed more and more in the hands of the government, we have to be more vigilant than ever to protect the Terri´s of today and tomorrow." 

"Terri´s Day" was established by Terri´s family and Priests for Life to foster education, prayer, and activism to counter discrimination against the disabled. We urge Churches, schools, organizations, families, and individuals to observe this day. Suggested prayers and activities are at Terri's Day. The  National Mass for Terri´s Day will be held tonight, March 31, at 5:00 pm, at 5050 Ave Maria Boulevard, Ave Maria, FL 34142.  A light reception will follow."

I am also grateful for the heroic witness of her beloved brother, Bobby Schindler. His article in Townhall today, entitled "Remembering Terri Schiavo: A Five-Year Anniversary Marked By Cruel Bigotry", served as another reminder. Bobby wrote: "I wish I could say things have changed for the better since my sister´s death or that people with cognitive disabilities are now better protected in response to the horror she had to endure. Tragically, however, it seems the rights of the brain-injured, elderly and others are still being violated.

"All one has to do is look at what happened just last week. On March 21st, Fox aired an episode of The Family Guy that featured a "sketch" called "Terri Schiavo: The Musical." I was astonished at the producer´s cruel bigotry directed towards my sister and all cognitively disabled people. Sadly, although more offensive than what my family has seen in the past from the media since Terri died, the bald-faced ignorance expressed in that episode of The Family Guy was nothing new. In fact, all signs indicate that we have embarked on a very disturbing path. …"

I remember that dark day, March 31, 2005. The news out of Pinellas Park, Florida broke the hearts of all decent people. It shook us to the core. Terri Schiavo was dead, intentionally deprived of food and water, with the force of the raw power of government holding the hands of the executioners. She was killed deliberately, by starvation and dehydration. No Court, Legislative body or Chief Executive had the courage to stop this killing. She was deprived of her substantive due process rights by every branch of government.

Terri was not dying. She was not receiving any "extraordinary medical treatment." She was being fed and given water, as many disabled people are at this very moment, with assistance. She had trouble swallowing because she was disabled by damage to her brain. She would have lived for many, many years, bringing great joy to her family and changing the world. But she was killed by the complete abject failure of a system that has lost its soul.

The Greek word for "witness" is "martyrion". In our use of the word over centuries of Christian history, we have emphasized those who shed their blood for the faith. However, there is also a tradition of "white martyrs", those who live sacrificial lives that change the world. That is what Terri did. None of us will forget her smile. We all adopted her beautiful family. We must mourn her loss and keep her memory alive. We must rekindle the righteous outrage we felt at the sheer evil of that killing and we must act.

Terri Schiavo was a martyr. She had her life taken away by the enforcers of a New Rome. Remember, the old Rome also had an elaborate system of courts and a highly developed legislative system. It prided itself on its culture, its arts and its claims to "civilization." Yet, it legally sanctioned horrors such as the practice of exposure, where children, the disabled and other "unwanted" persons were left on rocks to die by exposure to the elements or to be killed by hostile passersby. We now do something similar in the United States of America and throughout the West.

Terri was killed while "the law" was unwilling to intervene. Her death stripped away the veneer of civility painted on the face of the culture of death. It was a diabolical event, plain and simple. The rejection of the inherent value of every human life as a foundation of our understanding of ordered liberty is a clear and present danger. We face a risk to both life and liberty when reference to the truth is removed as the measuring stick for our behavior. Authentic freedom has been replaced by a counterfeit. The very moral foundation of our social order is being shaken.

To honor Terri we must build a new society, a culture of life and civilization of love, where the dignity of every human life is the polestar of all public policy; marriage and family will be protected as the first mediating institution and defended against those who aim to replace and eradicate them; authentic freedom will be exercised in reference to truth and within a moral constitution, and our obligations in solidarity to one another, and most especially those who have no voice, will be upheld by elected and unelected public servants.

Bobbi Schindler continued in his Townhall article by asking two probing questions and giving us an important reminder with which I conclude:

"…How did the tremendous courage and kindness we saw when we were fighting for Terri´s life have faded? How can any of us abandon this issue when all signs are that things are getting worse? There are still many who support our efforts, who recognize the erosion of the value and dignity of the medically weak and who believe in protecting the life and liberty of all human beings.

"The problem is their voices are often drowned out by the din of the pro-death lobby that claims death is the only dignified answer to a complicated problem. Meanwhile the pro-death movement has not fallen silent. Rather, it has grown more vocal. The issue for them did not die with Terri. Indeed, their success in killing her seems to have only bolstered their determination to gain wider acceptance among the American people.

"There will always be people with needs, there will always be others who work tirelessly to help them, and there will always be those who turn the other way; or worse – sit behind their drawing tables, disseminating cruel bigotry and hatred toward the disabled and vulnerable. Until we all recognize that our inherit worth doesn´t change because of life´s circumstances, illness, disability or other events, we will continue to rob our most vulnerable of their right to fairness, justice and the ability to guide their own course in life."

We Must Remember.We Must Mourn. We Must Act: Terri Schiavo was a Martyr of the Culture of Death. Let us honor her by building a new culture of life.