With words of encouragement from Hollywood superstar Mel Gibson, the family of Terri Schiavo joined a rally Saturday to continue pleading for the brain-damaged woman's life, just days before the court-ordered removal of her feeding tube.
Bob and Mary Schindler joined a crowd of about 200 people who prayed, waved signs, sang and listened to speakers outside the hospice where their 41-year-old daughter lives. Terri Schiavo has been at the center of a long and bitter court battle between her parents and her husband, who wants to remove her feeding tube so she can die.
The family was buoyed by a call from Gibson, who subsequently issued a two-sentence statement voicing his support for the Schindlers' efforts to keep their daughter alive.
"He told me we should never, ever, ever give up,'' said Bob Schindler, who talked to "The Passion of the Christ'' director Friday. "He said to hammer God with prayers and hammer him hard.''
Despite wide support worldwide from religious groups and disability rights activists, the family's attorneys has so far been unable to block the removal of the feeding tube, set for 1 p.m. Friday.
The woman's husband, Michael Schiavo, won the court order to remove her feeding tube, saying she wouldn't want to be kept alive artificially. But her parents doubt she had such end-of-life wishes and dispute that she is in a persistent vegetative state as court-appointed doctors have determined.
Saturday's gathering was hopeful.
``We will be written into the history books, because we will be successful in the end,'' Thomas Euteneuer, a Catholic priest who heads the anti-abortion group Human Life International, told the crowd.
Groups supporting the Schindlers said they would begin a 24-hour vigil outside the hospice beginning Wednesday. The activists also will be visible in Tallahassee in the coming week, lobbying lawmakers to act to save Terri Schiavo and staging rallies and vigils.
Bills that lawmakers say could save the woman's life are in the works in the Florida Legislature and the U.S. Congress. Two issues also are alive in the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which said it will rule by 5 p.m. Thursday.
The Schindlers watched their legal options dwindle in recent days. A state judge rejected three motions aimed at keeping her alive and denied the state Department of Children & Families intervention in the case.
Michael Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, didn't immediately return a call seeking comment Saturday.
Terri Schiavo's feedings have been stopped twice before and then resumed. In 2003, Gov. Jeb Bush pushed a bill through the Legislature authorizing him to resume the feedings six days after the court ordered removal of the tube. The law later was ruled unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court.
Bob Schindler said he's more encouraged this time than when the tube was removed in 2003. With so many voices speaking out, he figures something will happen at the last minute to save his daughter's life again.
``Last time we had a tremendous amount of support,'' he said. ``This time, it's quadrupled at least.''
Terri Schiavo suffered severe brain damage when her heart stopped beating for five minutes in 1990. She can breathe on her own, but depends on the tube in her abdomen for food and water.
Her parents say she laughs, cries, interacts with them and tries to talk. Doctors appointed by the court say her movements and vocalizations are involuntary, while some doctors believe she may have some consciousness