As Christians reflect on Jesus’ death this solemn Good Friday, some also are giving special attention to Terri Schiavo – particularly Roman Catholics who count Schiavo as one of their own, and whose church has been increasingly vocal this week in calling for the reinsertion of a feeding tube into the brain-damaged Florida woman.

Eternal Word Television Network, an Alabama-based Catholic cable service that reaches more than 100 million homes worldwide, is interrupting previously scheduled sacred programs for a Friday evening broadcast that expects to treat the Schiavo case through interviews with a family member and a neurologist.

News Director Raymond Arroyo said the network’s “extraordinary” programming switch was driven by the public outpouring of concern over both Schiavo’s plight and the frail health of Pope John Paul II.

“You have a collusion of events that I think only the spiritually blind would ignore,” Arroyo said. “It’s not hard to see the similarities between the pope and what Terri Schiavo is going through, to some extent, and the sufferings of Christ that we commemorate Good Friday.”

The Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, visited Schiavo last month. He said many of the hundreds of clergy affiliated with his group planned to preach about Schiavo on Good Friday.

Pavone’s own sermon will “speak about her suffering and what is happening to her under the law, and to compare that to what happened to Jesus under the law on Good Friday.”

A Catholic who attended a parochial high school, Schiavo has gone about a week without hydration or nutrition, in accordance with what her husband says would be her wishes. Schiavo’s parents dispute that and have been fighting desperately to have the tube reinserted.

Earlier this week, the Vatican newspaper said Schiavo was an innocent person condemned to an “atrocious death: death from hunger and thirst,” and many Catholic clerics in America have raised their voices in agreement.

The Rev. George Rutler, who leads a parish in New York City, was among those planning to mention Schiavo during the traditional three-hour service that recalls Jesus’ torture and execution.

It’s “particularly poignant,” he noted, that she is dying of dehydration on the day when Christians meditate upon Jesus’ statement “I thirst,” one of his seven last words from the cross.

Rutler also draws the parallel between Schiavo and John Paul.

“The pope is now dying and he is dying the way God wants,” Rutler said. “He has shown the world how to live, and now he’s showing us how he dies and that may be one of his most important sermons.”

On Palm Sunday, too, some clergy cited the Schiavo case, among them Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony who said at Masses that she should be provided with nutrition. The following day the U.S. Catholic hierarchy addressed another public issue, announcing a new campaign against the death penalty.

Mahony’s spokesman, Tod Tamberg, said it’s fitting to raise such matters during Holy Week: “There are examples of the Christ in need, the suffering Christ all around us. Certainly Terri Schiavo would fit into that category of someone in desperate need of help. Reminding people of that on a holy day is certainly appropriate.”

By coincidence, this Good Friday is the 10th anniversary date of John Paul’s 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”), which called euthanasia “a grave violation of the law of God” and also decried abortion and most applications of the death penalty.

The pope distinguished between directly intended mercy killing and the morally allowable halting of “aggressive medical treatment” that is “disproportionate to any expected results” and prolongs life “when death is clearly imminent and inevitable.”

On Thursday, Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, said Schiavo is suffering death by starvation when “she needs only basic care and assistance in obtaining food and water.”

Also Thursday, Chicago’s Cardinal George said Schiavo’s case doesn’t involve “letting a terminally ill woman die a natural death” but “ending the life of a person with a significant disability prematurely.”

The Rev. D. James Kennedy, of the 10,000-member Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., planned to address peoples’ grief over Schiavo’s suffering at midday Good Friday services, though in an announcement period rather than a sermon.

“The death of Christ is more important than any human being, as tragic as this is,” Kennedy said.

Just before a Maundy Thursday communion service, Kennedy issued a statement calling on Gov. Jeb Bush to overrule courts and direct that Schiavo receive nourishment on grounds that the right to life and protection for the disabled are absolutes under the Florida constitution.

In a different sort of Good Friday event, the Interfaith Allliance planned an afternoon news conference for Baptist, United Church of Christ, Unitarian and Reform Jewish clergy to critique “the political manipulation of religion” in the Schiavo case.

AP-ES-03-25-05 0247EST


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