Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

NICARAGUA: A CHURCH IN THE SWAMP (PART 2)

Interview With Auxiliary Bishop David Zywiec of Bluefields

BLUEFIELDS, Nicaragua, MARCH 7, 2010 (Zenit.org).- It is easy to become isolated in the problems of one’s own nation, but a bishop working with the poor in Nicaragua says it is important to remember that we live in a global community and form part of the universal Church.

Capuchin Bishop David Zywiec is the auxiliary bishop of the Vicariate of Bluefields, which serves almost all of the eastern half of Nicaragua, including what is known as the Mosquito Coast.

The 62-year-old prelate is a native of East Chicago, Indiana, and he recently spoke of the life of the Church in Nicaragua with the television program “Where God Weeps” of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need.

Part 1 of the transcription of the interview appeared last Sunday.

Q: You learned the Miskito language — how long did it take you?

Bishop Zywiec: I’m still learning it! They say to learn a language it takes about 1,000 hours. One of the difficulties I find is that you almost have to be immersed in it or speaking the language all the time. And one of the things I find difficult here is that I’m in the Miskito area for a while and in the Spanish area for a while.

Q: You are one of the few missionaries who actually speaks the language.

Bishop Zywiec: That’s right, and the thing is, we are blessed in the vicariate because we’ve got five Miskito priests, and then there are some young Miskito men in the seminary. So I think that this is God blessing us in a way to build a native church.

Q: What would be your appeal? What would be your call now for your work, for the diocese, for the vicariate?

Bishop Zywiec: One thing of course would be prayer because we are called to pray. Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries of Latin America. We’ve been through civil wars, and hurricanes, and so prayer is important. A lot of times, I feel that I read a newspaper in Nicaragua and they just talk about Nicaragua …you go to the States, they just talk about the States. We are part of a global community now; we are part of the Catholic Church. So, I believe that this is an important thing too. And also we’ve had, you might say, partnerships with different parishes and I believe that this is an important way of not just saying: “OK we’ll pray for Nicaragua”; and also not to say … I know this person there, or this family there, so that it isn’t just helping a certain person or a certain anonymous area, but this particular person, this particular family with their needs. I believe, that makes one … it kind of hits you in the heart … and I think this is a way of living the brotherhood and sisterhood that God calls us … that Jesus calls us to live, as followers of Jesus.

Q: We’re talking about a really rural area where you are: swamps, lots of swamp areas, mountains. How would you characterize the social development of the people? Are they still very traditional in their practices or are they becoming more modernized, so to speak. How would you characterize that?

Bishop Zywiec: I’d say a lot of things have changed in the rural area. When I first worked there, I was working with the Spanish-speaking settlers — Spanish-speaking farmers — and you know older missionaries said that, when they’d have a mission, the priest would come like every year, every six months, there were some women who wouldn’t understand when another man talked to them because they lived so isolated and the only man’s voice that the woman would hear was the husband’s voice. And now in some of the same areas you don’t just have radios, you know, battery powered radios, but with solar panels you now have television. And so things have changed there … slowly, not all of a sudden … not over night… but one of the things I noticed too is when I came there 30 years ago the children as a sign of respect would fold their hands and say “Santito,” [holy one] and now they don’t do that and this is something that you might say is just a little sign of how things have changed a little bit.

But then on the other side there have been some good changes. I find, for example, people are very gifted as far as making up songs. When I first came there, if we came to a chapel and there was a man there who played the guitar this was really great! Now there are chapels were they will have a guitar, and a guitaro — and a little guitar — an accordion and a trumpet, or maybe even a keyboard; so things have changed … you know, a mixture of good and bad, but I think, these things here give more life to our celebrations in the rural area.

Q: You mentioned earlier some of the social challenges — particularly schools. You’ve been working very hard for the development of a grade school system for young rural children that wouldn’t otherwise have access to education. Why did you see this as a priority?

Bishop Zywiec: If you’re going to live in the world today, you need to know how to read and write. And another thing that we find is that, lots of times, there is migration, from the country to the towns. For example, one of our seminarians comes from a rural family — he is one of 16 children. Now most likely a lot of them will move to towns and then if you do not know how to read and write, what are you going to do? You are just going to have menial jobs, or else you might be tempted to rob. So at least, if a person has the capacity to read and write, that person can get a job more easily and make a living in an honest and dignified way.

Q: What other priorities, what other projects would you see as very important now for this vicariate?

Bishop Zywiec: I believe that this whole business about education, because there has been too much history of non-involvement by the government in this area — so it goes way back, 40, 50 years — that the Church has had to get involved in education. Right now there is a school system of over 400 schools with over 20,000 children in grade school. I believe another step is to get involved in a type of high school, but technical high schools so that people are able to work in agriculture…

Q: To have skills, vocational training …?

Bishop Zywiec: That’s right, vocational training. … Another challenge in the whole line of human promotion is health, because there are so few doctors. Doctors want to stay in the cities. They do not want to go out in the country, and so we have, lots of times, small health clinics … that’s a challenge too. As I mentioned, our whole work for evangelization — that’s an important priority, and our lay leaders, that that they are ever better trained so that as people become more educated, that our lay leaders are able to give quality leadership and be able to explain the faith with more capacity, and I believe too, one of the things that we have to do is to work for the common good, the sense of community.

I think, lots of times, people get into certain situations in politics or business or even in the Church, where they think: “Well, I have this particular job and let’s see what I can get out of it for myself,” rather than say, “I’m here as a public servant, as a servant of God.” As Jesus said: “I came not to be served but to serve.” This whole spirit of service is one of the big challenges that we have. You might say, to have a mentality of service … a service attitude like that of Jesus, is part of evangelization. I think that is an important challenge that we have in Latin America and in the Bluefields Vicariate.

Perhaps, one other thing too, as you mentioned, with the Miskito area, is the whole inculturation of the faith, being able to express the faith we have in Miskito. For example, now we have a Miskito Bible, we have a song book, and to be able to help the Miskito to express their faith, their feelings, their love of God in their own way and that this becomes part of their Church structure — in the rural areas too — with the music and so forth, becomes part of their way of expressing their faith and their love of God.

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This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps,” a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

BLUEFIELDS, Nicaragua, FEB. 28, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Nicaragua is a country that has been ravaged by civil war, dictatorships and natural disasters. Today it is one of the poorest countries in the Western world.

Capuchin  is the auxiliary bishop of the Vicariate of Bluefields, which serves almost all of the eastern half of the country, including what is known as the Mosquito Coast.

The 62-year-old prelate is a native of East Chicago, Indiana, and he recently spoke of the life of the Church in Nicaragua with the television program “Where God Weeps” of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need.

The transcription of the interview will appear in two parts. Part 2 will appear Monday.

Q: Bishop can you tell us, how did a Polish-American ended up in Bluefields, Nicaragua?

Bishop Zywiec: My grandparents were the ones who came over from Poland about 100 years ago. I was interested in becoming a priest and I was attracted to the Capuchins. They seem to be a very happy group.

I went to the seminary and I heard stories about the missions in Nicaragua, and so I volunteered. My superiors responded, “We need you there.” I was ordained in June 1974, and in January 1975 I was in Nicaragua.

Q: What was your first impression when you arrived?

Bishop Zywiec: When I arrived I was a little surprised. I came with a classmate of mine. We came driving down in a jeep that was a donation. We were bringing it down to Nicaragua and I thought we’d get a kind of heroes’ welcome.

But the thing is, about a week before we came there was a kidnapping and the president imposed Marshall Law and a curfew in the country. We didn’t know that. So, we arrived at about 9 p.m. We are crossing the border right before it closed.

The other Capuchins said: “What! You’re coming in at this time? Don’t you know that there is curfew? Some half-crazy soldier could have shot you and left you for dead on the side of the road.”

So it was a realization of the violent reality there, and that was our first impression.

Q: Have you ever been threatened or felt threatened at all during your time in Nicaragua?

Bishop Zywiec: Well, one time when I was working in the jungle. When I first arrived they sent “the older missionaries to the towns, the younger ones to the jungle.”

That was also at the time the Sandinistas, the organization rebelling against the government; they were hiding there [in the jungle], and I heard there were bombings over there and I was kind of afraid.

I said to myself, “My mom and dad are paying taxes to help the U.S. government, and the U.S. government is helping the Nicaraguan government, and they are dropping bombs on this area here, against the guerrillas.”

Well I never saw any of these bombs, but it made me a little afraid. But God is good, and I am here right now.

Q: What was the most difficult thing that you had to overcome or adapt to in your new life in Nicaragua?

Bishop Zywiec: I arrived in 1975, and this was right after the Second Vatican Council. When I went through the seminary — studying theology — I felt pretty good, you know, because we had new theology, something about pastoral counseling. I felt I was up-to-date compared to these old missionaries.

But then the government army came and took some of the people prisoners and tortured them. Some “disappeared,” or we found out later they were killed. Over a two-year period of time we found that there were 300 people who were missing because of the government.

What do you do in situation like that? We never even had training for that!

Q: You never dreamt to you would confront this.

Bishop Zywiec: No, we never talked about this in theology class! We talked about pastoral counseling, and youth apostolates and so forth, and this was a crisis. The only thing I was able to do is just take the information and pass it to the bishop — Bishop Schlaefer — and I felt very supported by him.

Q: In the Bluefields Vicariate there is what is called the “Mosquito Coast.” Where did this name come from?

Bishop Zywiec: The Eastern part of Nicaragua, which is in the Bluefields’ Vicariate, was never conquered by the Spanish, and so the Miskito Indians who lived there were autonomous.

And they also were able to, you might say, have an empire that went all the way from the Caribbean Coast of Panama through Costa Rica along Nicaragua into Honduras. So they were powerful back then, in the 1700s.

Q: Vicariate Apostolic of Bluefields is an area of 22,825 Square Miles. It’s enormous! What does a typical pastoral visit look like for you in your travels to the villagers — in seeking out your parishioners?

Bishop Zywiec: Usually what I tell the people is that I like four things: I like time to hear confessions. Then I celebrate Mass and then a confirmation or some other sacrament is requested, such as a baptism or a marriage.

And then I like to have a meeting with the church board: It gives me more of a chance for dialogue.

Then I say: “I’d like something to eat.” Generally, you know, when the bishop comes — since there is no electricity — lots of times they’ll kill a cow or a pig because there is no refrigeration. So there is food for everybody, and everybody eats!

Q: Vicariate Apostolic of Bluefields is almost half of all of Nicaragua. You are 25 priests. Are you not a bit overwhelmed?

Bishop Zywiec: Yes, that’s a problem. We have roughly 1,000 chapels and 14 parishes. A small parish would have one priest with about 30 chapels to take care of. There is a priest from north of Milwaukee; he is in his late 70s and he visits over 100 chapels.

Every Sunday in the chapels, we’ll have a celebration of the Word, so those who lead these celebrations are called “Delegates of the Word.” Usually we’ll have two of them in each chapel so in case one gets sick or one can’t make it, we always have a back up.

Then we have a catechist for baptism, a catechist for first Communion and confession, catechist for confirmation, and catechist for marriage.

We have training courses usually once a year for these different catechists. Some parishes will have courses for musicians. And then there are movements — we call them retreat movements — and it’s a way of helping the faith grow, you know, preparing leaders. So we depend a lot on the laity.

Q: How many missionaries are you? You mentioned that you have a number of missionaries that are getting older. Where is the new generation of priests coming from? Are there vocations coming from Nicaragua?

Bishop Zywiec: The priests that we can count on would be the priests who come from the Vicariate of Bluefields; there are missionaries and there are people who help, but our native diocesan priest are the ones we are able to count on more, and we find that a lot of our vocations come from families that are leaders in the community.

For example, where there is a married deacon, or a Delegate of the Word, there is this Christian commitment and that’s fertile ground for vocations, not just to the priesthood but also to the religious life. For example, in one town of about 10,000, in the past 20 years, 15 girls have gone to the convent. I think that’s a beautiful thing to see something like that.

Q: What expressions of popular faith or devotions are there in the vicariate?

Bishop Zywiec: We have lots of processions. In my experience in the United States processions are usually held inside, but in Nicaragua it’s a warmer climate and the people are use to having processions outside, such as during Holy Week.

For Holy Week in some of the towns they have processions for the Way of the Cross, and for the Easter Vigil there is the blessing of the Pascal candle outside and then the procession into the church.

For our patronal feasts as well we have a procession with the statue of the patron saint going through town, singing songs, praying the rosary. This is a normal, normal part of church life. We just pray it doesn’t rain too much.

Q: Other than the size of the territory, what would you say is the greatest challenge to evangelizing the Miskito people?

Bishop Zywiec: Although the territory is big, it is perhaps not so much a problem of size, but of transportation and communication. I think in that whole area, we have about 100 kilometers (62 miles) of paved road and the rest is gravel road. It rains a lot, and lots of times there are places where you get stuck.

Another thing is that of the 1,000 chapels, 100 are Miskito-speaking; the rest are Spanish-speaking. They are mainly farmers — subsistence farmers — involved in dairy farming or cattle farming.

Perhaps one of our main concerns is that people are not only able to receive the sacraments — to be baptized — but also that they learn their faith and what it means in their daily lives to live a deeper evangelization. I believe too, vocational promotion is an important thing for us so that we have available priests for the future.

And human promotion is an important thing in the form of schools, in the form of our health programs so that people not just hear the Word of God, but are able to live a human life and be able to be involved in the national life, and not be, you might say, forgotten — to be able to participate and participate conscientiously.

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This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps,” a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

By Robert Moynihan

WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 1, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Since the moment on Good Friday when Jesus, speaking from the cross as he was about to die, said to the Apostle John, “Behold your mother,” the maternal role of Mary has been a central element of Christian faith and devotion.

The depictions of Mary’s sorrow in works of art such as the Pieta by Michelangelo have suggested a profound emotional truth: When any believer is confronted with great sorrow or suffering, we can turn to Mary, our spiritual mother, for consolation, because she experienced such great suffering.

The great Marian apparitions, especially at Lourdes in 1858 and at Fatima in 1917, suggest to thoughtful observers of the mystical life that Mary continues to “draw near” to the “little ones,” to children, to encourage them and to share with them a message of maternal comfort and exhortation.

Over the centuries, the theological reflection of the Church has come to grant special and particular titles to Mary, to make clearer who she is, and why she is worthy of our filial devotion.

Presently, the Church has proclaimed four dogmas regarding the Mother of Jesus: (1) her maternal role in the birth of Christ, the Son of God, making her truly Mother of God (“Theotokos,” Council of Ephesus, 431); (2) her Perpetual Virginity (First Lateran Council, 649); (3) her Immaculate Conception (Pius IX, “ex cathedra” proclamation, 1854); and (4) her Assumption into heaven (Pius XII, “ex cathedra” proclamation, 1950).

For almost a century now, there has been a small but growing movement in the Church in favor of the proclamation of a fifth Marian dogma regarding the role of the Blessed Virgin as the Spiritual Mother of All Humanity.

On March 25, the Vatican Forum of Inside the Vatican magazine and St. Thomas More College, in a meeting room close to St. Peter’s Square, will invite an international group of bishops and theologians to discuss whether now is the appropriate time for a fifth solemn definition or “dogma” to be pronounced regarding the Virgin Mary.

Years in the making

The movement within the Church for a fifth Marian dogma concerning the Virgin Mary’s role in our salvation is well over 90 years old. The Belgian Catholic ecumenical leader, Cardinal Désiré-Joseph Mercier, initiated it in the 1920s, with the support of the then Father Maximilian Kolbe.

Since that time to the present, more than 800 cardinals and bishops have petitioned various Popes for an infallible definition of Mary’s special maternal role in the salvation of humanity. In addition, more than seven million petitions from faithful throughout the world have been gathered by the promoters of this devotion.

The Popes who promulgated the two modern Marian dogmas, Blessed Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) and Pope Pius XII (1939-1958), both acknowledged in a positive way the role petitions from members of the hierarchy and laity had played in their respective Marian definitional “bulls.”

During 2009, cardinals and bishops from every continent have petitioned Benedict XVI to consider promulgating the dogma of Mary’s spiritual Maternity under its three essential aspects as co-redemptrix, mediatrix of all graces, and advocate. This came after five cardinals wrote to the world’s bishops in request of petitions to the Holy Father for the fifth Marian Dogma.

Those signing the request included Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi, India; Cardinal Luis Aponte Martínez, retired archbishop of San Juan, Puerto Rico; Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, major archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly, India; Cardinal Riccardo Vidal, archbishop of Cebu, Philippines; and Cardinal Ernesto Corripio y Ahumada, retired archbishop of Mexico City.

Some bishops, particularly in the West, see a Marian definition as potentially counterproductive to ecumenism. Two of the five cardinals who in 2009 wrote to the world’s bishops for this potential Marian dogma, Indian Cardinal Telespore Toppo and Cardinal Vithayathil, archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, have responded publicly to this ecumenical objection by stating that proclaiming the whole truth about the Mother of Jesus will only bring about authentic Christian unity based on a unity of Christian truth and faith, coupled with the renewed intercession of Mary, Mother of unity, as a result of a papal proclamation of her role as universal spiritual mother.

John Paul II used the co-redemptrix title on at least six occasions during his papacy.

Benedict XVI, without using the title, has repeatedly emphasized the doctrine of Mary’s co-redemption or “co-suffering” with Jesus, particularly in his World Day of the Sick addresses and his 2008 prayer for the suffering peoples in China addressed to Our Lady of Sheshan.

Beginnings

In reflecting on the beginnings of this movement for a Marian dogma, it is worth noting that Cardinal Mercier (1851-1926), the archbishop of Malines, Belgium, from 1906 until his death, was a key Church leader in his time. In addition to the heroic leadership he demonstrated during World War I, Cardinal Mercier hosted the famous Catholic-Anglican dialogue known as the Malines Conversations, and obtained the establishment of the liturgical feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces with its proper Mass and Office. His spiritual mentor was Blessed Dom Columba Marmion.

Here, in his own words, is the daily spiritual exercise Cardinal Mercier recommended. It still is valid today.

He wrote: “I am going to reveal to you the secret of sanctity and happiness. Every day for five minutes control your imagination and close your eyes to the things of sense and your ears to all the noises of the world, in order to enter into yourself. Then, in the sanctity of your baptized soul (which is the temple of the Holy Spirit), speak to that Divine Spirit, saying to Him: ‘O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do. Give me your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me and accept all that You permit to happen to me. Let me only know Your Will.’

“If you do this, your life will flow along happily, serenely, and full of consolation, even in the midst of trials. Grace will be proportioned to the trial, giving you strength to carry it, and you will arrive at the Gate of Paradise laden with merit. This submission to the Holy Spirit is the secret of sanctity.”

And it was this submission to the Holy Spirit, of course, which was the distinguishing mark of Mary’s life, especially at the moment of the Annunciation (March 25), when she said, “Let it be done to me according to Thy will.”

Dialogue

Panelists for the March 25 Day of Dialogue will include Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa, Philippines, president of the Marian-Mariological Society of the Philippines, Carmelite Father Enrique Llamas, president of the Mariological Society of Spain. Also presenting will be Dr. Judith Gentle, Anglican theologian, author, and member of Our Lady of Walsingham Mariological Society from the United Kingdom.

The morning session will constitute brief presentations by panelists discussing the issue of appropriateness of a fifth Marian dogma at this time, while the afternoon session will consist of a dialogue by panelists, press, and audience concerning the topic.

The Pontifical Marian Academy was invited to participate in the dialogue, but later notified Inside the Vatican magazine that members of the Academy would not be participating. The event, which is free and open to the public, begins at 10:00 a.m. at the Via Borgo Pio, #141.

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Robert Moynihan is founder and editor of the monthly magazine Inside the Vatican. He is the author of the book “Let God’s Light Shine Forth: the Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI” (2005, Doubleday). Moynihan’s blog can be found at www.insidethevatican.com. He can be reached at: editor@insidethevatican.com.

Interview With Cardinal Lozano Barragán

ROME, OCT. 5, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Technology without ethics is like a Ferrari without a steering wheel, according to Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán.

The cardinal is the president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, which recently co-sponsored a congress with the Acton Institute titled “Health, Technology and the Common Good.”

In this interview with ZENIT, the 74-year-old cardinal comments on the definition of health and the development of health care technologies.

Q: Today there is a lot of confusion about the concept of health. In your opinion, what is the right definition?

Cardinal Lozano Barragán: The “Declaration of Alma Ata” on primary health care says that health consists in a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not simply care for sickness or infirmities. This state of perfect well-being is utopian, based on nonexistent foundations.

Pope John Paul II, in the “Jubilee Message for the World Day of the Sick” in 2000, says in Number 13 that health is a process toward harmony, not just physical, mental and social, but also psychological and spiritual. It is, therefore, that which enables a person to fulfill the mission that the Lord has entrusted to him, according to the stage in life they are in.

A person is truly healthy when he is harmonic. A society is healthy when it is harmonic. This is a very important aspect to develop and one in which eternal health can be found, because earthly health is not distinct from eternal health in that sense.

Q: What are the opportunities and challenges caused by the rapid development of technologies in the field of health care?

Cardinal Lozano Barragán: The challenges for the new technologies lie in the fact that their end is not the true promotion of health. This is the very destruction of health! And we can see this in all of the biogenetic technologies that are often directed toward the killing of the human person.

Life is being ended with euthanasia and with the murder of children in the womb, calling them fetuses, which is just a way to camouflage the killing of human persons.

These are the fruits of the Malthusian mentality that disguise killing under various names. John Paul II — and Benedict XVI as well — spoke of this when speaking about the “culture of death.”

Q: Today’s culture defines health as a perfect state of well-being, but paradoxically fights life itself through abortion and euthanasia. What conditions are needed to promote the person’s well-being and the common good?

Cardinal Lozano Barragán: Perfect well-being does not exist on this earth because the Lord promised us happiness, not well-being. Therefore, the basic error of this type of postmodern concept is the confusion between well-being and happiness.

The person cannot be well and still be happy, or be very well and yet be very unhappy, as the high suicide rate in highly developed countries shows.

Q: What are the consequences of the “culture of death” that humanity today refuses to see or recognize?

Cardinal Lozano Barragán: The “aging” of certain countries, of the world. For example, Italy’s population is the oldest in the world, and that’s because there are very few births.

Q: What link exists between the promotion of health, the development of technologies and the promotion of the common good?

Cardinal Lozano Barragán: There should exist a very close link, in the sense that technology should be based on ethics: Technology as such has, in fact, possibility as its law, while ethics has an aim, a goal.

If we leave technology as only possibility, it remains neutral. It can destroy or build up. Ethics gives it direction. Therefore, highly developed technology without ethics is like a Ferrari without a steering wheel.

Q: What are the priorities in your work at the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry in this regard?

Cardinal Lozano Barragán: To give the world, as spokesmen of the pontifical magisterium, the meaning of suffering, the meaning of pain and the meaning of the death and resurrection of the Lord.



Debate Continues Over Euthanasia

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, SEPT. 24, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The issue of euthanasia came to the forefront of news again recently, with the publication of a note Sept. 14 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The statement, written in reply to questions sent to the Vatican by U. S. bishops, stipulated that providing nutrition and liquids to people who are in what is often termed the vegetative state is, with rare exceptions, morally obligatory.

 

After the fierce debate over the 2005 Terri Schiavo case in Florida, news came from Arizona a few months ago about a man who unexpectedly woke up from a coma. Jesse Ramirez suffered brain injuries in a May 30 car crash, reported the Arizona Republic newspaper June 27.

On June 8 his wife, Rebecca, had asked his doctors to remove the tubes providing him with food and water. Jesse’s parents objected and obtained a court order to reconnect the tubes. Subsequently, Jesse suddenly woke up from his coma.

Earlier this year another case was reported, from Denver, Colorado. Christa Lilly had been in coma since the mid-’80s in the wake of a heart attack and stroke. In the past, Lilly had woken up for brief periods, but until this year the last time was on Nov. 4, 2000, reported the Denver Post newspaper March 8.

According to the article, a neurologist from the University of Colorado Hospital, James Kelly, thinks that Lilly might have been in a “minimally conscious state” during these years, as opposed to a persistent vegetative state.

Killing machines

Euthanasia came up for debate in Germany recently, after the announcement by Roger Kusch, ex-justice minister in Hamburg, that he has designed a machine to help people commit suicide.

According to a report in the Sept. 9 edition of the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera, a simple push of a button injects a lethal solution into the terminally ill patient. German federal law prohibits helping someone commit suicide, but does not make illegal the actual act of suicide by the person involved. So with his machine Kusch hopes to avoid any legal difficulties in helping people die.

News of the invention drew immediate criticism, both from politicians and Archbishop Werner Thissen of Hamburg. Kusch is a candidate in Hamburg’s October elections.

Meanwhile, in Switzerland, protests by residents in a Zurich suburb have forced the assisted-suicide group Dignitas out of its premises, according to a July 13 report on the Web site of the German magazine Spiegel Online.

Since 1998, around 700 people have come to the Dignitas center to put an end to their lives. According to the article, the largest group of clients is from Germany, with Britain in second place.

Earlier, in June, the Swiss Senate called on the government to draft a law aimed at improving controls of organizations offering assisted suicide. The National Commission on Biomedical Ethics, a government advisory panel, has also recommended increased state supervision of organizations such as Dignitas.

July also saw a court in the Swiss city of Basel sentence Peter Baumann to three years in prison for having helped three people with psychological problems commit suicide, the agency Swissinfo reported July 6.

Baumann, a retired psychologist, helped the people die between January 2001 and January 2003. According to the court, Baumann acted out of egoistic motives, hoping to obtain public recognition of his methods. The judges, however, defined his conduct as “inhuman,” and criticized his behavior as negligent.

Care, not death

During his trip to Austria, Benedict XVI raised the issue of euthanasia in his Sept. 7 speech to members of government and the diplomatic corps. Saying that the issue was of “great concern” to him, the Pope added that he feared tacit or explicit pressures on the elderly and ill to put an end to their lives.

“The proper response to end-of-life suffering is loving care and accompaniment on the journey toward death — especially with the help of palliative care — and not ‘actively assisted death,'” the Pontiff stated. He also called for reforms in the social welfare and health systems in order to assist people who are terminally ill.

Some of Canada’s bishops also addressed euthanasia earlier this year. In April the Ontario episcopal conference published a brochure titled “Going to the House of the Father: A Statement on the Dignity and Destiny of Human Life.”

“It seems a cruel twist of history that societies with such great medical capabilities are turning against the disabled and sick — with lethal results,” the introduction stated.

The bishops insisted that protecting life is not just a Christian or religious argument, but a basic human right. “To permit the killing of the disabled, frail, sick or suffering, even if motivated by a misplaced compassion, requires a prior judgment that such lives are not worth living,” they said. “No one forfeits the right to life because of illness or disability.”

“Unless the right to life is secure, there can be no sure foundation for any human rights,” they added.

The statement also explained that there is a difference between deliberately causing death and unduly prolonging life. We are not morally obliged, the bishops said, to prolong life if the means used are unduly burdensome or cause additional suffering and when there is little hope of recovery.

The bishops also recommended that Christians not neglect the soul and that they should draw comfort from the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. Suffering and death for Christians, they continued, is not only a matter for medicine.

Disabled concerns

Another source of opposition to euthanasia comes from groups representing disabled people, as the Los Angeles Times reported Aug. 6. According to the article, one of the reasons why legislative proposals to allow medically assisted suicide have failed in California in the past few years is the hostility of the disabled’s rights movement.

A combination of legalized euthanasia and pressure to cut increasing costs in the health care system could lead to the withdrawal of treatment for the disabled. The Los Angeles Times quoted a number of disabled people, active in groups who have fought against assisted-suicide proposals.

“The conditions I have are expensive to treat, and it would be a lot cheaper for the health care system to just let my health go to the point where I would want to die,” said Los Angeles activist Laura Remson Mitchell, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, kidney disease and diabetes.

Legal leniency

Other concerns arise from the increasing reluctance by some courts to punish family members who help a sick relative commit suicide. The application of the law in Britain in recent years has been eroded to the point where courts are reluctant to punish those who say they help kill someone out of love, commented Robert Verkaik, law editor for the British newspaper the Independent in an article published May 8.

Among other examples, Verkaik noted a case from October 2006, when a man who helped his terminally ill wife to die was set free with just a nine-month suspended sentence.

Earlier, in March, a French court convicted a doctor for poisoning a terminally ill cancer patient, reported the Associated Press on March 15. In spite of his guilt, the tribunal in southwestern Perigueux sentenced Laurence Tramois to just a one-year suspended prison sentence for his role in the Aug. 25, 2003, death of Paulette Druais in the nearby town of Saint-Astier.

Misguided compassion seems destined to lead to the deaths of still more people as pressures to ease restrictions on assisted suicide continue.