Some See Link in Deaths of Pope, Schiavo
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Some See Link in Deaths of Pope, Schiavo

Associated Press | April 3, 2005
By CHELSEA J. CARTER

America's religious leaders remembered Pope John Paul II for his grace in life and in death, some contrasting his passing on his own terms to the legal and political battle that surrounded the death of Terri Schiavo .

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"He taught us how to die with dignity," Monsignor Scott Marczuk told parishioners Sunday at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock, Ark.

News that the pope's health had worsened dramatically came Thursday just a few hours after Schiavo's death. The bitter feud over whether she would have wanted to be kept alive with a feeding tube after a devastating brain injury riveted Americans, and it sparked international debate about end-of-life issues.

Indeed, the Vatican had weighed in, siding with Schiavo's parents — who fought to keep their daughter alive and disputed doctors' opinions that she was in a persistent vegetative state. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, said his wife would not have wanted a feeding tube.

Marczuk, however, told parishioners: "Food and water are ordinary means of the continuing of natural life. It's deemed basic nutrition and the right of every human being."

As recently as last year, the pope had encouraged research to "enhance and prolong human life" and told physicians it was a moral duty to maintain basic nutrition to patients, who retain their human dignity no matter what their circumstances.

In Florida, where the Schiavo battle played out, the Rev. Bill Swengros said Terri's parents saw a link in the two deaths.

"They can't help but notice the parallels between the Holy Father's death and Terri's death, like bookends. The Holy Father: going through a Passion, having a feeding tube, having people knowing that he's physically disabled, wondering how Parkinson's (disease) would affect his judgment," said Swengros, a priest at the Most Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Gulfport, which will host a service for Schiavo on Tuesday.

"Perhaps one of the reasons why God blessed us with Terri is the lesson she's taught us in her passing: that every life has dignity," he said.

At St. Michael Church in Worthington, Ohio, 53-year-old Nancy Benedetti agreed — and she also drew a connection between the papal and Schiavo deaths. "A lot of people say the correlation of it happening within a few days just goes to prove how the sanctity of life is very important," she said.

"The pope would have said to the judges (in the Schiavo case) 'You didn't give her life and you can't take her life,'" said 47-year-old Christopher Ziemianowicz, in New York City's Polish neighborhood of Greenpoint.

But not everyone drew a link between the deaths.

"She was connected to a tube and he decided to stay alive until God decided it was time for him to go," said Olga Medina, 70, who went to services at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles.

Others saw the passing of the pope and Schiavo as a biblical reminder not to fear death and to plan ahead.

Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in his denomination, told the congregation of the Church of the Redeemer in Rochester, N.H., that both he and his partner have living wills and plan to donate their organs. While Roman Catholic leaders registered consternation when he became bishop, Robinson said Saturday — before the pope's death was announced — that John Paul was exemplary in way he handled the end of his life.

"I hope people take note that he's not being rushed back to the hospital," Robinson said. "The pope knows, as all Christians should know, that death is not to be feared."

Standing in a line to get into Mass Sunday at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, Joan McDermott said that's part of what made the pope a great leader.

"He showed us how to live," she said, "and he showed us how to die."

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