By Fr. George Welzbacher
March 25, 2007
May I share with you two recent reports from The New York Times that relate to issues of moral significance. The first report needs little comment. Its relevance to the Terri Schiavo court-ordered murder is clear, particularly with respect to the question: Can we really say that Terri Schiavo was so totally deprived of consciousness as to have suffered no pain, no mental anguish even as she was being ruthlessly starved to death? The second report, coming to us as Holy Week and Easter draw near, brings a reassuring affirmation of the human spirit's instinctive need to recognize and to worship a Supreme Holy Being, in submission to Whom true peace of soul is found.This is startlingly manifest in China today where despite half a century of fierce persecution and aggressive propaganda aimed at rooting out religious faith hundreds of millions are openly expressing their religious convictions.
News Item #1 appeared in the March 9th edition of the Times; Item #2, in that of March 4th.
* * * * *
Item # 1: Brief Awakening from a Coma
by Mindy Sink, reporting from Denver
A woman who has been in a coma-like state for more than six years awoke for three days this week to talk with family members and eat her favorite foods before relapsing.
"She was smiling and grinning and told my staff she wanted to go to a club, even doing a little chair dance in her wheelchair," said one of her doctors, Randall Bjork.
The woman, Christa Lilly, 49, suffered a cardiac arrest in November 2000. Since then her mother, Minnie Smith, has been caring for her at home. Ms. Smith said Ms. Lilly had awakened five times, sometimesfor hours, then for days.
"WE MAY HAVE TO RETHINK THESE PEOPLE THAT HAVE BEEN CALLED VEGETATIVE IN NURSING HOMES WHO MAY HAVE SOME AWARENESS OF THEIR HORRIBLE CIRCUMSTANCES," SAID DR. BJORK. "IT GOES A GAINS T THE GRAIN OF WHAT WE THOUGHT. "
Ms. Lilly, who has four daughters, including a 12-year old, and three grandchildren, awakens without warning. On Sunday her mother, 74, said the same thing to her that she does every day, "Hi, baby; how you doing?' And this time Ms. Lilly replied, "I'm fine."
Although Ms. Lilly is fed through a tube when not awake, Ms. Smith said she took her daughter outfor her favorite foods this week----catfish, hush puppies, cake and ice cream.
Dr. Bjork said that he had been skeptical of Ms. Smith's previous reports of her daughter's waking states, but that he was now a believer. He said Ms. Lilly was in a "minimally conscious state" rather than a persistent vegetative state.
Dr. Bjork said he would like to try to stimulate Ms. Lilly back to a wakeful state through various methods, but Ms. Smith is reluctant.
"I don't want my daughter to be a guinea pig for nobody," she said Thursday. "The good Lord is letting me know she is there, and when He is ready, He'll bring her out and she'll stay out."
* * * * *
Item # 2: Religious Surge in Once-Atheist China Surprises Leaders
By Howard W. French, reporting_from Shanghai
... Fast becoming commonplace, as Chinese by the tens of millions shed decades of state-imposed atheism, the phenomenon [the public profession of religious faith] has gained momentum so fast that it appears to have taken the govenunent by surprise.
A recent poll by East China Normal University estimated that 31.4 percent of Chinese 16 or older are religious, putting the number of believers at roughly 400 million.
In recent years, official estimates have placed the number of believers at around 100 million, but the fact that the new survey's results were not only made public but were also reported by the government-controlled Chinese news media suggests that the survey has been given at least some official credence.
Perhaps the most popular time of the year for Chinese to engage in public worship is the traditional Chinese New Year, which began last month. Buddhist and Taoist temples, in particular, overflowed with visitors who prayed for ancestors or the health of their own households....
At the Jade Buddha Temple in central Shanghai scores of worshippers strolled through the temple complex. Many were well-dressed office workers who often seemed uncertain about how to act as they entered the central pavilion and bowed or knelt in prayer.
Many other visitors were older Chinese who may have privately clung to their religion through decades of official hostility. Some accompanied grandchildren, tutoring them in the rituals of prayer as they worked their way around the pavilion, with its giant golden Buddha.
Others, meanwhile, burned thick clutches of incense in the temple's large, open courtyard, bowing to the cardinal points of the compass and then depositing the burning sticks in huge iron urns.
"There was no way for me to do this with my own daughter," said Zhang Li, 62, who escorted her smiling granddaughter through the complex, stopping here and there for prayer. "The temples were closed, and this sort of thing simply wasn't allowed."
Official attitudes toward religion have gradually loosened in China in recent years, enabling the resurgence of popular belief. Places of worship for the five officially recognized faiths-Buddism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam-have been restored or built anew, and public worship allowed again amid signs that the government sees limited religiosity as a useful component of its drive to build what it calls a "harmonious society."
Chinese experts say the growing popularity of religious belief has been driven by social crises involving corruption and the expanding gap between rich and poor.
"People feel troubled as they ponder these issues and wonder how they'll be resolved," said Liu Zhongyu, a professor of philosophy at East China Normal University and the principal author of the new religion survey. "People think, I don't care what others do or what their results are, but I want something to rely upon."
Asked about the government's evolving attitudes toward the growing popularity of religion, He Guang-hu, a professor of philosophy at People's University in Beijing, said, "I hope the government will look at the zeal in religion positively, and see that it can help restore social order and harmony, that it helps governance and is not a threat."
Strict limitations on religion remain, however. Beijing handpicks senior clergy for each of the authorizedfaiths [including the officially recognized schismatic Catholic hierarchy] and frequently persecutes believers in unauthorized religions [including the underground Catholic church that is in full communion with the pope], from Falun Gong to underground Protestant churches that meet in homes. The government also severely restricts religious education and prohibits proselytizing.
Membership in the Communist Party, meanwhile, remains a major avenue for individual advancement, but the party does not permit members to practice religion. Many employers and even universities also look askance at believers. A result of these mixed signals is that many people still do not feel altogether comfortable being recognized as believers.
Many, however, say they are increasingly upfront about their beliefs. "I usually make it clear to people that I'm a Catholic at the beginning, " said Zhu Zhaofeng, 27, a salesman at a French-owned luxury goods company who attends services at an unofficial Catholic church. "I don't want other people to feel strange if I go to worship in churches or on pilgrimage. On the other hand, it is not something I promote."
Mr. Zhu's situation represents almost a reversal from that of his father, who spent seven years in prison and in labor camps in the 1950's because his religious beliefs were considered "antirevolutionary. "
His father, Zhu Dafang, now 74 and suffering from Parkinson's disease, now passes his days in a tiny bedroom in an old house in central Shanghai, surrounded by Catholic reliquaries.
"We don't hate anyone, and I have no regrets, " he said, of the suffering he endured. Struggling to speak through his tremors, he added, "One must try not to focus on the hardships you endure for faith."