Charlotte, N.C., Oct 13, 2012 (CNA) - Five-year-old Jackson Laskowski goes to kindergarten at Harrisburg Elementary School in Harrisburg, N.C. Like any other little boy, his favorite things include riding the school bus and playing on the playground and in the school's computer lab.
But unlike most five-year-olds, Jackson has endured years of surgeries and treatments to fight Stage IV cancer in his liver and lungs. The cancer is incurable, doctors say, so the Laskowski family treasures every milestone young Jackson achieves.
Last week, Jackson celebrated a significant milestone in his Catholic life, as he celebrated his first reconciliation, first Holy Communion and confirmation at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Charlotte.
After numerous conversations with the parish's former pastor, Capuchin Franciscan Father Remo DiSalvatore, and fellow Capuchin priest and family friend Father Martin Schratz, Jackson's family decided to move forward with preparing him for the sacraments, said his mother, Maggie Laskowski.
Making the decision to celebrate the sacraments early wasn't because his family thinks Jackson won't make it to the appropriate ages, Laskowski said, adding, “I hold on to my faith that he's going to survive.”
“It's more about Jackson receiving the love – and grace and peace – he'll receive with the Body and Blood of Christ. With all the treatments and hospital stays and all he's gone through, we felt it would be a good thing to be able to receive them.”
Father DiSalvatore said he had no doubt that Jackson was ready to receive the Eucharist.
“It's a good thing to receive a sacrament. They want to do it now to open him up to more of the grace of God – whether it's healing or to strengthen him.”
Jackson has been battling cancer for much of his short life. After he was first diagnosed in January 2010, he underwent 11 rounds of chemotherapy, several lung surgeries to remove the remaining cancer, and then a liver transplant. By August, he was cancer-free.
But that changed a few months later. He endured more lung surgery and chemotherapy, and the cancer went into remission again.
Then in April 2011, the cancer came back, and Jackson began another round of treatments that ended in May when the cancer went into remission for the third time. But doctors told them the cancer could come back as early as this fall, so Jackson goes for tests once a month to check for the disease.
“We've already had two relapses,” his mother said, adding that doctors “sat down with us earlier this year and said there are not a lot of options left.”
Jackson and his family pray that he remains cancer-free.
“Today he's good. As of today, he's cancer free,” she said on Oct. 1.
“They said to take the next year and a half and make the best of it.”
Jackson has been preparing for the sacraments for a while, his mother said, with Father DiSalvatore and Father Schratz and the support of their fellow parishioners at St. Thomas Aquinas Church.
“It's amazing how much he gets and understands,” Laskowski said. “There's a lot about faith and God he understands … He understands as much as he can for a five-year-old. He has to pray a lot. We pray a lot.”
Jackson made his first reconciliation on Sept. 26. On Sept. 29, Jackson received his first Communion and confirmation during the Saturday vigil Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Church.
Jackson was very excited to receive his first Communion, and his mother said it went very well.
“It was very emotional. I didn't expect it to be so emotional. When your child is diagnosed with cancer, you don't know what milestones you're going to be able to hit. Being able to make first Communion and confirmation, I was surprised how emotional I found myself,” she said.
“It was beautiful, and he did a fabulous job.”
Father DiSalvatore said Jackson has a depth of faith he's never seen before in such a young boy, and that's a testament to the Laskowski family.
“It all starts with his parents. They are very faith-filled people,” Father DiSalvatore said. “Their faith and their family are always in the center of the lives. He's grown up in that. He's a bright little boy.”
Father DiSalvatore recalls a moment with Jackson about a year ago that has remained with him.
“His family was bringing up the gifts, and Jackson was carrying the paten with the hosts in it. I knelt down to give Jackson a hug, and he asked, 'Are you going to make this Jesus now?' I was like, 'Wow, he knows what's going on.' To me, that spoke volumes of his faith at such an early age.”
When Jackson sees other kids suffering at Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte, he prays for them, Father DiSalvatore also noted.
“At such a young age, the poor kid has been anointed a couple times. The last time I anointed him was before I left (Charlotte),” he said. “After that, he wanted to pray over me. He sat down and put some holy water on his thumb and made the sign of the cross on my forehead and on my hands and he said a little prayer.”
The Laskowski family has turned to God, their priests and fellow parishioners at St. Thomas Aquinas for support through Jackson's illness. Laskowski said she leaned on Father Schratz when her oldest son died at only 100 days old.
“He was a strong part of our life when our first child passed away. We are still very close with him. To us, he's uncle Marty.”
The Laskowskis even named Jackson Martin in Father Schratz's honor.
Jackson chose Michael, his father's name, as his confirmation name. He was confirmed on the Feast of the Arch Angels.
And Father DiSalvatore, who has recently been reassigned by his order to a parish in Hoboken, N.J., had supported Jackson and his family through the battle with cancer.
Now, Laskowski said she hopes to set up Facetime, online calls with web cameras, so Jackson can talk to Father DiSalvatore, Laskowski said.
“Father Remo has gone through the whole journey with us,” she said. “He has been my spiritual strength throughout the last few years. He's really helped my family.”
When Jackson was first diagnosed, his family reached out to their parish because they didn't have any family nearby, she said.
“We knew we needed prayer, emotional support and spiritual support,” Laskowski said. “It never hurts to have too many prayers and blessings. Father DiSalvatore was very good about putting it out there for the church and asking everyone for prayers. Our parish in itself has just been amazing with the support we have gotten.”
Now, she looks to Fathers Patrick Winslow and Matthew Kauth, the current pastor and priest-in-residence at St. Thomas Aquinas Church to help guide Jackson's faith journey.
“When we decided to allow Jackson to do the sacraments, we were told we could do it privately or at a vigil Mass,” Laskowski said. “We have gotten so much support and the parishioners have traveled the journey with us. There are so many people who care about him and love him. We chose to do it at the vigil Mass and open it up to all those who want to attend – it's been as much their journey as ours.”
Laskowski continues to turn to God and her parish for spiritual support.
“It's hard because today he's good. He's very good,” she said. “I've lost a child already and the thought of losing another one is so very difficult to think of. We take every day we can and make it the best we can.
“That's why, if or when the cancer comes back, I want him to be able to feel the peace, love and grace you can only receive through the Body and Blood of Christ.”
Keeping Hope alive
Through Jackson's fight with cancer, his family set up the Keep HOPE Alive Fund, which helps families of other children like Jackson who are battling cancer. Their first fundraiser was primarily to help Jackson because he was in need of a liver transplant, Laskowski said. Now the fund helps other Charlotte area families going through similar struggles.
“We raise money for families like ours whose children are battling cancer in areas that are not covered by medical insurance,” she said.
The fund helps to cover living expenses, prescriptions, travel to get second opinions and, sadly, funeral costs. They partner with Levine Children's Hospital. The third annual fundraiser was held the night before Jackson received first Communion.
Posted with permission from Catholic News Herald, official newspaper of the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C.
Atlanta, Ga., Oct 13, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Adding to the dozens of lawsuits against the HHS mandate, the Archdiocese of Atlanta and three other Catholic institutions have filed a legal challenge to the federal rule.
“We are undertaking this action because the stakes are so incredibly high,” Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta said Oct. 10. “The unchallenged results of the HHS mandate would require that we compromise or violate our religious faith and ethical beliefs.”
The archbishop, a past president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, said the mandate affects the religious liberty of the archdiocese, of Catholics, and people of other beliefs throughout the country.
“We become one more voice that must be heard by the courts as they consider the legality of this action,” he said.
The Atlanta archdiocese is joined in the lawsuit by the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and Christ the King Catholic School in Atlanta.
Over 100 plaintiffs have filed 33 other lawsuits against the federal government challenging the Department of Health and Human Services mandate.
The Atlanta archdiocese’s lawsuit says the existing legality of contraception and sterilization “does not authorize the government to co-opt religious entities” into providing or facilitating access to them.
The mandate’s existing religious exemption is “so narrowly worded” that religious institutions like Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and Christ the King Catholic School may not qualify for it, the archdiocese said.
Joseph Krygiel, CEO of Catholic Charities Atlanta, said the charity board feels that religious freedom is “the cornerstone of every basic human right.” He said the mandate is “an unprecedented direct attack on our Catholic faith and our religious freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.”
“This lawsuit is not about contraception, it is about religious freedom and it always has been,” he said.
The religious exemption applies only to religious organizations that primarily employ and serve co-religionists and that mainly aim to instill religious values.
Krygiel said that the majority of poor and needy people his agency serves are not Catholic and clients are never asked about their religious beliefs before they are provided help.
“There is a saying in Catholic Charities agencies across the country, ‘We help people not because they are Catholic; we help people because we are Catholic,’” he said.
The Obama administration has proposed an accommodation for religious employers, but the details are not yet clear. The administration has opposed congressional efforts to provide a broad religious exemption to the controversial coverage mandate.
Employers who do not comply with the mandate face fines of $100 per employee per day. Prominent Catholic institutions like the University of Notre Dame or EWTN Global Catholic Network could face annual six- or seven-figure fines.
Minor children on their parents’ health plans are included in the mandate. About half of U.S. states allow minors to consent to contraception, meaning they could receive the drugs without parental involvement.
Several non-Catholic employers and religious institutions have challenged the suit, including Hobby lobby, Wheaton College, two Baptist universities and the Bible publisher Tyndale House.
Boston, Mass., Oct 13, 2012 (CNA) -
Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston called on local voters to oppose a ballot measure legalizing physician-assisted suicide, warning against claims that there is no danger of a “slippery slope.”
“Please join me to stop assisted suicide by voting 'No on Question 2' on Election Day,” he said, asking voters to “stop this bad idea and bad law from going into effect.”
The cardinal's Oct. 12 column in The Boston Pilot said that small decisions can lead to “undesirable outcomes that never would have been supported at the outset.”
He criticized Massachusetts' Question 2, which would allow physicians to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to allow their terminally ill patients to commit suicide. It requires a 15 day waiting period before the suicide drug can be dispensed. Under the proposal, death certificates would not present assisted suicide as a patient’s cause of death, but rather list their terminal illness.
The cardinal said opponents of the proposal fear that it is “harmful in itself” and could lead to “unintended tragic outcomes.” Ethicists, he noted, are concerned that assisted suicide devalues human life and those who work to prevent suicide fear that legally allowing suicide for one group could increase suicide rates among the rest of the population.
“How can a state effectively both try to minimize suicide in some situations and promote it as a legal alternative in other situations?” he asked.
Doctors and nurses are concerned assisted suicide could lead to poorer care for those near the end of life, while doctors also say it could harm the doctor patient relationship, the cardinal said.
The American Medical Association opposes physician-assisted suicide as “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as a healer.” It would be “impossible to control” and would pose “serious societal risks.”
The Massachusetts Medical Society also opposes physician assisted suicide.
Cardinal O'Malley warned that assisted suicide could become a new form of elder abuse and could mean fewer benefits or protections for the disabled. The legislation does not protect the terminally ill from pressure to commit suicide from indifferent family members or those who stand to inherit property.
The example of the Netherlands suggests that assisted suicide would lead to direct voluntary euthanasia and then involuntary euthanasia. Dutch advocates against the practice say it is being applied to patients with dementia and others who cannot be competent to request aid in dying, including children. Some assisted suicide advocates in the country are already advocating its expansion beyond the terminally ill to allow anyone over age 70 to seek assistance in killing themselves.
Cardinal O’Malley noted the U.S. bishops’ words on the Netherlands situation in their 2011 document “To Live Each Day With Dignity.”
“Once they convinced themselves that ending a short life can be an act of compassion, it was morbidly logical to conclude that ending a longer life may show even more compassion,” the statement said.
“Psychologically, as well, the physician who has begun to offer death as a solution for some illnesses is tempted to view it as the answer for an ever-broader range of problems.”
Cardinal O'Malley said that the U.S. is not in the same situation as the Netherlands not because the laws that allow assisted suicide are “well written” or have “careful oversight.”
“What has put the brakes on the growth of physician-assisted suicide in the U.S. is that more than 20 states have rejected proposed legislation and ballot initiatives,” he said.
Cardinal O’Malley referred voters to the website of the coalition against Question 2, www.StopAssistedSuicide.org. He also noted the Archdiocese of Boston’s website on end of life issues, www.SuicideIsAlwaysATragedy.org.
Belfast, UK, Oct 13, 2012 (CNA) -
A new abortion clinic in Belfast, Northern Ireland scheduled to open Oct. 18 has dismayed Bishop Noel Treanor of the Diocese of Down and Connor.
“The opening of this facility further undermines the sanctity and dignity of human life in our society where the most vulnerable and defenseless human beings are already under threat,” he said Oct. 10 in a statement released on the diocesan website.
The clinic, run by Marie Stopes International, would be the first private clinic in Northern Ireland to offer abortions.
Facility representatives have said it will not be performing surgical abortions, and will perform abortions only up to the ninth week of pregnancy.
“As a Christian community and as citizens, not only must we show compassion for women who find themselves facing an unwanted pregnancy, but we should support them to explore avenues which provide care while respecting the life of their child in the womb,” Bishop Treanor wrote.
“We should enable them to respond to such situations in a life-affirming and positive way.”
“It is with great concern and dismay,” he added, “that I, like many fellow citizens who value and seek to protect human life, received news of the decision to open a Marie Stopes Clinic in Belfast where medical abortion will be offered.”
Forty percent of Northern Ireland's population is Catholic. All but one party in the legislature there has members in the All Party Pro-Life Group.
Jim Allister, a Northern Irish legislator, told the BBC that Marie Stopes International is indeed pro-choice, “except for the unborn child, who has no choice, in their view, and who should be put to death, because that's what abortion is.”
While abortion is not illegal in Northern Ireland, it is severely restricted. Between 30 and 40 abortions per year are performed there by the National Health Service, the publicly funded healthcare system of the United Kingdom.
In Northern Ireland, abortions can be performed only to preserve the life of the mother or if continuing the pregnancy would result in serious physical or mental health issues.
The remainder of the U.K. is governed by the Abortion Act of 1967 and its modifications. There, elective abortions may be carried out up to the 24th week of pregnancy. After 24 weeks, abortions are allowed only if there is risk to the mother's life, severe fetal abnormality, or grave physical and mental injury to the mother.
In 2011, slightly more than 1,000 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England and Wales for an abortion.
Expectant mothers from the Republic of Ireland will be able to receive abortions at the Belfast clinic.
“It is the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church that, by virtue of their common humanity, the lives of both a mother and her unborn baby are sacred,” Bishop Treanor said.
“The termination of human life following conception denies the humanity and inherent dignity of the child in the womb and violates the right to life, the most basic human right of all.”