San Diego, Calif., Jun 6, 2010 (CNA) - Three years ago, Shane FitzMaurice was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The rare neurological disorder is typically fatal within five years of diagnosis.
FitzMaurice, 54, is now confined to a wheelchair and breathing machine. His physical deterioration has progressed to the point that he now requires 24-hour assistance to do anything requiring voluntary muscular movement.
He has to be physically lifted to go anywhere, fed because he cannot lift his arms and, if he feels an itch while sleeping, he needs someone to relieve the discomfort. More recently, he has had problems swallowing food.
FitzMaurice’s ALS diagnosis seemingly came out of nowhere, which is indicative of 90 percent of those who contract the disease. No one in his family ever had ALS, nor was there anything in his lifestyle that gave any hint that he would suddenly develop it.
"Five years ago, I was healthy as you -- swimming, diving, playing tennis, skiing and bodysurfing," he said. "I was just the average 'Joe,' and if this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone."
Indeed, he was living a happy, productive life until age 49. He was running Royal Blazers, a successful National City school uniform business that services about half of San Diego County’s Catholic schools; raising four children with his wife, Lilyn Djie; and being an active parishioner of St. Brigid Parish in Pacific Beach.
But one day, while playing tennis, FitzMaurice had difficulty raising his arm to serve. He chalked it up to general athletic soreness, but the situation did not improve, and he noticed that his physical limitations were increasing. He began experiencing muscular cramping and twitching and general decreased limb coordination -- all common initial symptoms of ALS.
Initially, the diagnosis felt like a death sentence. "At first, I was in denial,” FitzMaurice said, “feeling all doom and gloom and ‘why me’?"
But then he decided to fight back. Last August, he traveled with his wife to Monterrey, Mexico, to undergo an experimental procedure that implanted his own body’s stem cells into his brain. While FitzMaurice was pleased that he took action by undergoing the procedure, he admits that it has resulted in only limited improvement.
Still, FitzMaurice believes such therapies should be more freely available in the United States. “People with a terminal diagnosis should be able to sign a waiver with FDA to be guinea pigs, because we do not have the time to wait.”
FitzMaurice added that the while "the absolute worst aspect of ALS is my total dependency on others, the disease has also led me to spend more time with my family and particularly my children, whereas before I was busy running my business.”
“I always wanted to be there for my wife and children, to impart positive energy and thoughts, and to help them build their self-esteem, to keep them on the right path, to stay away from drugs and other common pitfalls of youth. I am trying to stay alive to be with my wife and kids. In the end, I hope they noticed that I was always there for them, that I always want them to try their best and succeed, and that I will love them forever.”
FitzMaurice said his condition has also brought him closer to God and given him a new perspective on going out in public.
"People often do not know how to react to my condition, and frequently will not look me in the eye,” he said. “But I notice that homeless people, and others who know what suffering is like, will always make eye contact, acknowledge me and ask how I am doing."
Contemplating the future, FitzMaurice said, "Life on earth is a test. If you stay close to God, you will get to join Him in heaven."
He said he now thinks more about "crossing over" into the afterlife.
"The transition to the next world is the natural order of things, and we should all prepare ourselves,” he said.
"In a weird way,” he added, “I was lucky that my physical demise was laid out before me, because it has given me more time to spend with my wife and children and focus on my spiritual life."
Printed with permission from the Southern Cross, newspaper for the Diocese of San Diego.
CNA STAFF, Jun 6, 2010 (CNA) - On Thursday, June 10, the Church will celebrate the feast day of St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland.
Margaret was born in Hungary around 1045 into royalty. Her father was Edward Atheling, heir to the English throne, and her mother was Princess Agatha of Hungary. Her family returned to England when she was 10 years old, but the Norman Conquest forced them into exile. By this time, her father had died, and her mother fled with the children. They boarded a ship which crashed onto the coast of Scotland, where they remained.
In 1070, at the age of 25, Margaret married the king of Scotland, Malcolm Canmore. As queen, Margaret's faith had a strong influence on her husband’s reign. She softened his temper and led him to practice virtue. She dignified the court, providing an example of purity and reverence that led others to follow in her path. She and the king prayed together and fed the hungry, offering a powerful witness of faith to the people they served.
In addition to being a model wife and mother, Margaret worked tirelessly to bring justice and relief to the poor of Scotland. She also built churches and encouraged practices of religious devotion. In her private life, she exhibited great prayerfulness and piety. Her influence was seen not only in her husband's life, but throughout all of Scotland.
Margaret died in 1093, just four days after her husband and one of her sons were killed in battle. She was canonized in 1250 by Pope Innocent IV and named patron of Scotland in 1673.
Nicosia, Cyprus, Jun 6, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict visited the Maronite Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Graces in Nicosia before leaving the country on Sunday afternoon. He called Maronites to be proud of their traditions while remaining tied into the Universal Church.
At the cathedral, which has a capacity of around 300 people, Maronite Archbishop Youssef Soueif welcomed Pope Benedict and his entourage composed of members of the Roman Curia in addition to the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa.
Assuring the "ancient" community of his closeness, "moved by a father's care," the Holy Father urged the Maronite community to treasure the "great inheritance" of their Christian heritage.
Reminded of St. Peter's words that Christians are living stones used to build the spiritual house, the Pope said that "together with Christians throughout the world, we are part of that great temple which is the Mystical Body of Christ."
The communion we find in our spiritual worship, he added, "impels us to carry the Good News of our new life in Christ to all mankind."
In closing, the Pope prayed "that your Church, in union with all your pastors and with the Bishop of Rome, may grow in holiness, in fidelity to the Gospel and in love for the Lord and for one another."
For the full text of the Holy Father's address, visit: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/cyprus10/resource.php?res_id=1432
Nicosia, Cyprus, Jun 6, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Concluding his Apostolic Journey to the island of Cyprus on Sunday afternoon, the Holy Father expressed his hope for the peace and reconciliation of the people of the island.
Wrapping up the day's events, which included the consignment of the Instrumentum laboris for October's Special Assembly of Middle Eastern bishops, Pope Benedict XVI addressed a delegation headed by the president of the nation, Demetris Christofias at the Larnaca International Airport.
The Holy Father called for redoubled efforts to build "a real and lasting peace for all peoples" in the Eastern Mediterranean region, which is "no stranger to conflict and bloodshed." He then highlighted the role of the island of Cyprus to the promotion of dialogue and cooperation.
"Striving patiently for the peace of your own hearts and for the prosperity of your neighbors," he told them, "you will then be well placed to hear and understand all sides of many complex issues, and to help peoples to come to a greater understanding of one another."
Noting his encounters with the Orthodox Patriarch of All Cyprus, Chrysostomos II, and the history of relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the Holy Father said, "We have a divine call to be brothers, walking side by side in the faith, humble before almighty God, and with unbreakable bonds of affection for one another." He thereby invited all Christians to "continue this journey."
Then, Benedict XVI took the opportunity to express his "sincere hope and prayer that, together, Christians and Muslims will become a leaven for peace and reconciliation among Cypriots and serve as an example to other countries."
Noting that he himself had seen the "sad division of the island" from his stay at the Apostolic Nunciature, located in the U.N. buffer zone between north and south, he said, "surely truth and reconciliation, together with respect, are the soundest foundation for the united and peaceful future of this island, and for the stability and prosperity of all her people."
He went on to say that much has been done positively for this end, "though much remains to be done to overcome divisions."
The northern third of the island has been separate from the southern portion since a series of conflicts between Turkish and Greek-backed forces in the 60s and 70s led to a complete division in 1974.
Pope Benedict concluded by asking everyone to "work patiently and steadfastly with your neighbors to build a better and more certain future for all your children."
After saying "peace be with you," to the people of Cyprus, he boarded the plane for Rome.
For the Holy Father’s full address, visit: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/cyprus10/resource.php?res_id=1433
Denver, Colo., Jun 6, 2010 (CNA) - Present opinion of the birth control pill has been formed by a “sophisticated marketing campaign” which hides the Pill’s dependency on abortion and its connections with the eugenics movement, one pro-life writer says.
Denver attorney Rebecca R. Messall offered her view in an editorial published on the website of the Denver Post. She wrote in response to a Post story which linked the Pill to Mother’s Day.
The Post discussed birth control advocate and Planned Parenthood foundress Margaret Sanger, saying she went to the American West where “independent thinkers” were willing to take up her issues. The story quoted both proponents of the Pill, who thought the contraceptive was an “historic boon to mothers,” and opponents, who said the drug is harmful to women and can cause abortions.
Messall, who has written for the pro-life journal The Human Life Review, claimed that the Post “chose to celebrate everything glaringly responsible for preventing or terminating motherhood” for a day dedicated to honoring motherhood.
She claimed that legal abortion covers up the failure rate of the Pill, noting former abortionist Carol Everett’s confession that her abortion facility intentionally passed out low dose birth control pills. This increased the likelihood of pregnancy and thus the potential for money-making abortions.
Seeing a “subtext” in efforts to encourage women to have fewer children, she said disabled and minority children have been portrayed as particularly “unwanted” and have been “specially targeted for elimination” via abortion assisted by genetic tests.
“Now, nearly all Downs Syndrome babies are terminated before they are born,” she added, quoting pro-life leader Alveda King’s claim that both abortion and racism have “the same poisonous root, selfishness.”
Messall also discussed Margaret Sanger’s membership in the American Eugenics Society (AES), noting that Sanger and Planned Parenthood’s first three presidents were officers or members in the AES.
According to Messall’s essay, eugenics was a supposedly scientific endeavor rooted in evolutionary biology. The efforts of the AES resulted in many state laws which sterilized more than 63,000 Americans.
“The eugenics movement, particularly Margaret Sanger, ranted against the Catholic Church for opposing eugenic legislation and ideology,” she wrote.
Charging that leaders of the American eugenics movement “simply chose new words to describe eugenics,” she noted that some of these leaders focused on genetics and population control in pursuit of their primary goal, the control of reproduction “in order to improve the human gene pool.”
“Throughout its existence Planned Parenthood has been a key tool to reduce or eliminate births among blacks, other minorities and the disabled,” Russell wrote in the Post.
She attributed the eugenics and population control movement’s power to “huge trusts with billions of dollars in global assets” that are themselves likely funded by corporations which distribute birth control pills and other contraceptive drugs and devices. She suggested that U.S. taxpayer funding also supports this system because of politicians who receive campaign donations from these corporations and like-minded individuals.
Rome, Italy, Jun 6, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Italian singer Andrea Bocelli has told the story of his mother’s pregnancy, during which doctors suggested that she abort him because he would be born with a disability. In a new video he praises his mother for making “the right choice,” saying other mothers should take encouragement from the story.
In a YouTube video titled “Andrea Bocelli tells a ‘little story’ about abortion,” the singer sits at a piano and tells his audience a story about a young pregnant wife hospitalized for “a simple attack of appendicitis.”
“The doctors had to apply some ice on her stomach and when the treatments ended the doctors suggested that she abort the child. They told her it was the best solution because the baby would be born with some disability.
“But the young brave wife decided not to abort, and the child was born,” he continued.
“That woman was my mother, and I was the child. Maybe I'm partisan, but I can say that it was the right choice.”
He said he hoped the story could encourage many mothers in “difficult situations” but who want to save the life of their baby.
Bocelli has congenital glaucoma and lost his vision completely at age 12 after getting hit in the head during a soccer game.
The video itself is produced by www.IamWholeLife.com, an initiative of the Human Rights, Education and Relief Organization (HERO). HERO is a partner of the pro-life movie star Eduardo Verastegui.
Vatican City, Jun 6, 2010 (CNA) - On Saturday afternoon in Nicosia, Benedict XVI met with Sheikh Mehmet Nazim Adil Al-Haquani, an 89-year-old Cypriot Muslim leader active in inter-religious dialogue.
Sheikh Al-Haquani traveled from northern Cyprus specifically to greet the Holy Father. Fr.Federico Lombardi from the Vatican press office noted that the sheikh had excused himself for awaiting the Pope seated. "I am very old", he said.
The Pope replied, "I am old too."
Sheikh Al-Haquani presented the Pope with a cane, a plaque with the word "peace" written in Arabic and a Muslim rosary. For his part, the Pope gave him a medal of his pontificate. The two men then exchanged an embrace. Before separating, the sheikh asked the Pope to pray for him, to which he replied, "Of course I will, we will pray for one another."
Nicosia, Cyprus, Jun 6, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - During Mass on the final day of his Apostolic Journey to Cyprus, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the lessons of the feast of Corpus Christi and prayed for the unifying action of the Holy Spirit for deepened communion among members of the Church.
The Holy Father celebrated Mass on Sunday morning at the Eleftheria Sports Center together with the patriarchs and bishops of the Catholic Churches in the Middle East, all gathered in anticipation of the consignment of the Instrumentum Laboris for their Special Assembly in October. Also present at the celebration was the Orthodox Archbishop of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus Chrysostomos II.
Recalling the day's celebration of the Solemnity of the Lord's Body and Blood, the Pope said that by reflecting on Jesus' physical, eucharistic and ecclesial bodies we can come to a deeper understanding of the communion between members of the Church.
He cited the Eucharistic Prayer II, explaining that "All who feed on the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist are 'brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit' to form God’s one holy people."
Turning to the teachings of St. Augustine, the Holy Father observed that, nourished by the Body of Christ, the Holy Spirit unites individuals, as grain is mixed to form bread, to become the ecclesial Body of Christ.
We are his body on earth, said the Pope, and as such we are called to be compassionate, to extend a hand to bless and to heal, go out and do His work and be His "lips" to proclaim the Gospel.
"Nourishing ourselves of Him in the Eucharist and accepting the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we become truly the body of Christ that we have received, we are truly in commuion with him and with others, and we become authentically his instruments, giving testimony to him before the world."
Referring to the unifying action of the Holy Spirit in the first Christian community which spread the Gospel throughout the Middle East, the Holy Father said, " today we are called, just as they were, to be of one heart and one soul, to deepen our communion with the Lord and with one another, and to bear witness to him before the world."
He then repeated a recurring theme of the trip, emphasizing the call "to overcome our differences, to bring peace and reconciliation where there is conflict, to offer the world a message of hope. We are called to reach out to those in need, generously sharing our earthly goods with those less fortunate than ourselves. And we are called to proclaim unceasingly the death and resurrection of the Lord, until he comes."
Following Mass, the Holy Father consigned the Instrumentum Laboris for October's Synod of Middle Eastern bishops and prayed the Angelus, after which he greeted those celebrating the beatification of Father Jerzy Popiełuszko in Warsaw, Poland.
To read the Pope's full homily, click here: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/cyprus10/resource.php?res_id=1429
Nicosia, Cyprus, Jun 6, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) -
At last, the Instrumentum laboris for October's Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops has been published and delivered to participating patriarchs and bishops. Before handing the document to participants, the Pontiff explained his hope that the assembly would bring international attention to the difficult situation for Christians in the Middle East.
After Mass on Sunday in Nicosia, Cyprus, the Holy Father gave copies of the working document for the coming Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops to the participants. The document, which will be used by participating Churches to prepare for the Special Assembly, offers a view of the current situation of the Catholic Church in the region, highlighting also the importance of ecclesial communion and Christian witness in the Middle East.
Before giving the 40-page document to each of the patriarchs and bishops, the Holy Father told them that the Special Assembly will serve to deepen the bonds of communion not only between their Churches but also with the Universal Church.
It will also serve to encourage their witness to the faith, in the very places where "this faith was born and grew," said the Pope, and will be an occasion for the global Church to offer spiritual support and solidarity to Middle Eastern Catholics.
The Holy Father went on to recall the importance of the Christian presence in the area and their contribution in "innumerable ways to the common good," desirous of a life of peace and harmony with their neighbors. "You," the Pope said to the gathering, which included nearly 7,000 Cypriots, "deserve recognition for the inestimable role you take on."
He went on to hope for the freedom of religion for all Churches and prayed that the assembly would draw international attention to the "plight of those Christians in the Middle East who suffer for their beliefs, so that just and lasting solutions may be found to the conflicts that cause so much hardship."
Closing, he repeated his appeal for "an urgent and concerted international effort to resolve the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, especially in the Holy Land, before such conflicts lead to greater bloodshed."
The moment of the consignment of the working document was the highlight of the Apostolic Journey and the fundamental purpose of the trip.
Nicosia, Cyprus, Jun 6, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Holy Father remembered murdered president of the Turkish Bishops' Conference, Bishop Luigi Padovese, before consigning the Instrumentum Laboris on Sunday.
The bishop, who had planned on attending the very celebration the Pope was presiding over, was recalled by the Holy Father for his contributions to the preparation of the working document.
News of his death "shocked all of us," said the Pope.
The Italian-born bishop had been the vicar apostolic to the country for most of the last six years, but his service came to an end when he was killed by his driver, Murat Altun, on Thursday for still unknown motives. International news media have reported that Altun suffered from psychological problems.
After Mass on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI entrusted the prelate's soul "to the mercy of almighty God, mindful of how committed he was, especially as a bishop, to interreligious and cultural understanding, and to dialogue between the Churches."
He added that the death of Bishop Padovese is "a sobering reminder of the vocation that all Christians share, to be courageous witnesses in every circumstance to what is good, noble and just."
Nicosia, Cyprus, Jun 6, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Instrumentum laboris, consigned to participants in October's Special Assembly for the Middle East by Pope Benedict XVI, addresses concerns of a decrease in Christian presence in the region, the "vital" nature of Muslim-Christian relations and the need to maintain cohesion between the Churches of the Middle East.
It also insists that the Churches defend their place in the region.
Patriarchs and bishops of the Middle Eastern Churches were on hand in Nicosia, Cyprus on Sunday morning to receive the Instrumentum laboris, or working document, directly from the Pope.
Among other elements the document proposes about the current situation in the Middle East, tradition as a "source of richness" is highlighted as is the importance of the existence of a Christian influence in the region. Their disappearance would be a "great loss" to all people in the Middle East, reads the document, and "here lies the 'grave responsibility'... to maintain the Christian faith in these holy lands."
The document makes note of the decreased "evangelical ardor" and diminished "flame of the spirit" in the Church today. Without vocations, it claims, "the Church will disappear" (...) and the disappearance of Christians "would mean a loss in the pluralism of the Middle East."
According to the document, regional conflicts make the situation of Christians in the area more fragile, however, "Christians are exhorted to remain strong in their commitment in society, despite being tempted towards discouragement."
Noting the general lack of freedom of conscience in the area, the document observes that "clearly the question of public proclamation requires serious reflection" to achieve respect for this right.
It also examines an increase in Islamic extremism which is "a threat to everyone, Christians and Muslims alike," defining relations with Muslims as a "vital necessity, on which a large measure of our future depends."
"Oftentimes, relations between Christians and Muslims are difficult, because Muslims make no distinction between religion and politics thereby relegating Christians to the precarious position of being considered non-citizens, despite the fact that they were citizens of their countries long before the rise of Islam," it reads.
"The key to harmonious living between Christians and Muslims is to recognize religious freedom and human rights."
The document also refers to dialogue with the Jewish community as "essential." It goes on to propose that Christians are called to see themselves not just as members of a particularly-defined Church, but as members of the "Church of the Middle East."
According to the Instrumentum laboris, they must realize that they belong to the Middle East they must see themselves as an "essential part of it," using also peaceful means "to insist that the rights of Christians be acknowledged by civil authorities."
As for ecclesial communion, the document principally manifests points of communion between the many individually-recognized Churches are highlighted as present "through Baptism and the Eucharist" and "through communion with the Successor of St. Peter."
The document, 40 pages in all, was composed from the answers to the Lineamenta questionnaire sent out by the Holy See in January to gain an idea of the current situation in the Middle East in order to prepare participants for October's Special Assembly.
In addition to addressing the Christian identity, fostering communion between Churches and inviting ecumenical commitment and inter-religious dialogue, the synod aims to "supply Christians with the basis for their existence in a predominantly Muslim society, be it Arab, Turkish, Iranian or a Jewish society in the State of Israel."
Nicosia, Cyprus, Jun 6, 2010 (CNA) - Prior to reciting the Angelus today in Nicosia, Cyprus, the Holy Father spoke of the confident hope of Mary that God “will never abandon us.”
Benedict XVI began saying that the Angelus joyfully recalls Mary’s “ready acceptance of the Lord’s invitation to become the mother of God. It was an invitation that filled her with trepidation, one which she could scarcely even comprehend. It was a sign that God had chosen her, his lowly handmaid, to cooperate with him in his saving work.”
“Some thirty years later, as Mary stood weeping at the foot of the cross, it must have been hard to keep that hope alive,” the Pontiff continued. “The forces of darkness seemed to have gained the upper hand. And yet, deep down, she would have remembered the angel’s words.”
We, the faithful, can now “live in the same confident hope that the Word made flesh in Mary’s womb will never abandon us. He, the Son of God and Son of Mary, strengthens the communion that binds us together, so that we can bear witness to him and to the power of his healing and reconciling love."
The Holy Father concluded asking Mary’s intercession for the Church in the Middle East.
For the Pope's full remarks, visit: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/cyprus10/resource.php?res_id=1431