U.S. religious leaders remembered Pope John Paul II for his grace in life and in dying, some contrasting his passing on his own terms to the legal and political battle that surrounded the death of Terri Schiavo.
“He taught us how to die with dignity,” Monsignor Scott Marczuk told parishioners yesterday 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 Mrs. Schiavo’s death. The bitter feud over her husband’s bid to remove a feeding tube that kept her alive after a devastating brain injury riveted Americans.
Indeed, the Vatican had weighed in, siding with Mrs. Schiavo’s parents — who fought for their daughter’s life and disputed doctors’ opinions that she was in a persistent vegetative state. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, said his wife would not have wanted to be kept alive in her extreme condition.
Monsignor 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 that it was a moral duty to provide food and water to patients, who retain their human dignity no matter what their circumstances.
In Florida, where the Schiavo battle played out, the Rev. Bill Swengros of the Most Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Gulfport said Mrs. Schiavo’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 Father Swengros, whose parish will host a service for Mrs. Schiavo tomorrow.
“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. 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.
Christopher Ziemianowicz, 47, in New York’s Polish neighborhood of Greenpoint, 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.’”
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.
Standing in a line to get into Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, Joan McDermott said the pope’s death is part of what made him a great leader.
“He showed us how to live,” she said, “and he showed us how to die.”