The Passion Brought Easter Hope to Terri’s Family

Bobby Schindler has had his faith tested.

The brother of Terri Schindler-Schiavo is a high school teacher at Tampa Catholic High School. He and his family have been advocating on behalf of Terri since she suffered severe brain damage in 1990, and fought to prevent her feeding tube from being removed by court order. 

He spoke to Register correspondent Carlos Briceño during a March 12 prayer vigil and rally held by supporters across the street from the hospice in Pinellas Park, Fla., where Terri was residing.

What has the ordeal with your sister done for your faith?

My faith has taken the same type of ride this situation has. It’s been a real roller coaster as far as my faith.

Fifteen years ago, I don’t think I had a very good relationship with Jesus. It probably got worse as this case began, and I saw the reaction of certain leaders in the Catholic Church. I think I was taking a lot of my anger on certain leaders. We had a priest who testified against my sister who said it was okay to remove her feeding tube. He never visited my sister, never interviewed any of my family.

It took me a while to realize … It was actually the movie The Passion of the Christ. When I saw that movie, it changed my life. I realized that the person I need a relationship with is Our Lord Jesus Christ.

From that point on, my relationship has gotten stronger and stronger. When I go to church now, I go and speak to him. And I try to build my relationship with him. And that’s only been in the last year. So I guess before that, my faith was in turmoil. But it has gotten much better, and I think it’s the reason I’ve been able to stay strong for my sister and for my family because I try to let things go to Our Lord. He’s in control of this.

One expression I like to use: “In God’s hands our faith is complete.” I try to think of that. I’m just going to do what I can as a family member, and the rest I’m going to leave up to the Lord.

What is your reaction to recent statements by Vatican officials?

It’s a relief. It’s nice to hear [them say] that what they’re trying to do to my sister is totally against Catholic teachings. My sister receives food and water, and that’s it. And to remove that would be active euthanasia. And the Church is against that. It’s clear. There’s no gray area. Some of these Catholic leaders … are trying to create a gray area as far as removing my sister’s feeding tube, and there is none. And that’s what’s so upsetting about this.

How has Pope John Paul II’s recent illnesses and witness as a disabled person strengthened you?

Just a couple of weeks ago, when he had the tracheotomy, was talk that he may need a feeding tube, which I thought how ironic, the Pope — what a symbol — he might need a feeding tube to survive.

It just illustrates we have to treat people with compassion, and we don’t treat people who are disabled — we don’t actively try to kill them because their quality of life doesn’t meet society’s standards. We’re going down a … slippery slope. That’s why so many people, especially in the disabled community, are so scared and outraged with what’s happening to Terri. Because if it can happen to her, who is it going to happen to next?

Have you seen spiritual growth within your family as a result of this experience?

Without a doubt.

We all went to see The Passion of the Christ together, and I think it unified us. We’ve always been a close family. You need to have a strong faith to get through something like this. Without it, I don’t think we would be as quite as sane as we are right now because we’re a week away from possibly having my sister being starved to death. And yet we’re so encouraged, and there’s no other way to explain it.

But I think Our Lord has lifted us up and is watching us and helping us get through all this.

God has his hand in this, with all the prayers that are coming from everywhere. I think the Lord is up there smiling on my sister.

Attacks on human life have become so prevalent that the Pope calls them a “culture of death.”  Do you think enough Catholics realize the urgency of building what he calls the culture of life?

This death group — certain lawyers, certain doctors — they’re insidious, the way they operate. They want to turn this into a quality-of-life issue, and it’s working. I think through the secular media they’re making it … comfortable to kill. They’re indoctrinating a certain mindset that certain people have a low quality of life, and therefore we should kill them.

I think if people don’t start looking at what’s happening here and looking at who is behind this movement and what they’re trying to do, it’s only going to get worse. Hopefully, through my sister’s case, it’s opened the eyes of a lot of people to see just how evil this movement can be and is.

What would you say to Catholics who are not up in arms about all this?

I think the big reason is that, because our leadership in our diocese has been so weak on this issue, parishioners look for leadership coming from the bishop, and they want to know, is this wrong?

Because, with the statements the bishop has issued, it’s confusing and creates a gray area. If parishioners would know and understand the true teachings of the Catholic Church, which I think the Vatican is trying to clarify, they should be outraged with what’s going on, and they should be standing up. If they were, this thing would stop real quick.

 We all know the power we can have if we speak about certain issues. If you get enough people speaking about it, things will change. That has to happen with this death movement. We saw it with abortion. I think the tide is changing on abortion. There are many more people against it now than there ever was. But I think there has to be a unified effort against something before it can change.

What are you teaching your students about all this?

You have to look to the Lord. You have to let the Lord guide you. We start out with a prayer in my class every morning, and all our prayers are about the importance of being faithful to Our Lord. I try to instill that in all my students and also lead by example.

What is your favorite prayer?

The rosary … Saying the rosary really does me so much good. Praying to Our Mother … and then just speaking to Jesus one-on-one and just asking him to get our family through this and to protect my sister. But I’ve been praying the rosary more and more, something I never did before.

Carlos Briceño writes from

Seminole, Florida