Are laws allowing euthanasia & assisted suicide leading society down a dangerous path?
Aurelia, a young woman who tells Filmmaker Kevin Dunn she wants to kill herself, offers a smile and happily accepts a hug from Dunn after the interview.
That is the question that Filmmaker Kevin Dunn asks in the incredible new documentary, “Fatal Flaws – Legalizing Assisted Death,” (DunnMedia and Euthanasia Prevention Coalition) which premieres 9:30 p.m. ET, Wednesday, Jan. 15 on EWTN. This EWTN Event will be preceded that same night by Father Mitch Pacwa’s interview with Dunn on “EWTN Live” at 8 p.m. ET.
Assisted suicide is already legal in California, Colorado, Washington, D.C., Oregon, Vermont, Washington State, Hawaii, and even Montana, which has a Defense of Consent law – and is being debated in 25 other states. Helping people understand the experience of countries who have enacted assisted suicide laws is critical.
Filmmaker Kevin Dunn (right) with Dr. Boudewijn Chabot, now a retired Dutch psychiatrist, who opened the door to assisted suicide in The Netherlands.
To aid in this understanding, Dunn traveled through Canada, the USA and the Netherlands – ground zero in the legalization of euthanasia. He spoke with people on both sides of the issue as well as with those directly affected. Chillingly, the doctor who provided the means for the first woman in the Netherlands to be euthanized now has concerns about how far his country has gone in legalizing death by doctors.
Before the assisted suicide law was passed, this doctor admits to helping a healthy 50-year-old social worker to die. She said she no longer wanted to live after losing a daughter to cancer and a son to suicide. A court found him “guilty without punishment.”
The award-winning film “Fatal Flaws” premieres 9:30 p.m. ET, Wed., Jan. 15 on EWTN. This EWTN Event will be preceded at 8 p.m. ET that same night by Father Mitch Pacwa’s interview with Filmmaker Kevin Dunn on “EWTN Live.”
“The Grim Reaper” stalks people during The Netherlands’ annual Euthanasia Week.
Originally, euthanasia in the Netherlands was supposed to be for those who are terminally ill. But it has evolved to include people who are chronically ill, mentally ill, the elderly and the disabled. Soon it may be possible for those who are ‘tired of life’ or feel their ‘life is complete’ to have access to euthanasia. Currently, youth over 16 can be euthanized, and doctors will consider a child as young as 12. Even newborns can be euthanized under certain criteria.
The doctor who opened Pandora’s box to assisted suicide in The Netherlands is concerned about how quickly the number of euthanasia deaths for psychiatric reasons has risen in only a few years.
Filmmaker Kevin Dunn with Candace. Her Mom was pressured to end her daughter’s life, which reduced mother and daughter to tears.
In Canada, Dunn interviews Candice, a 25-year-old woman with disabilities who was pressured by doctors to end her life during a hospital stay. In the U.S., we hear from a university professor who encountered similar coercion. Access to quality palliative care in North America is extremely limited, which begs the question: Is assisted dying really a ‘choice’?
These are just a few of the many stories you’ll see and hear during this documentary, which puts clarity to the questions above. Now this scourge has come to America.
Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, (www.epcc.ca/), co-produced the film, “Fatal Flaws.”
Fortunately, most U.S. medical societies have come out in favor of protecting patients’ lives and giving them the care they need rather than killing them at the lowest point of their lives. With such a consensus, some might think the battle would be over, yet even now there are people whose goal it is to make the medical profession “more comfortable with killing people” – as one doctor in the film reveals.
Replace the image of a pill or needle with a gun, says one doctor, and see how fast the discussion changes. What can we do? What can you do?
Tune into this incredible award-winning documentary to find out – and please gather your friends and family around to see this too. Consider purchasing the DVD, http://bit.ly/FatalFlawsMovie, and inquire as to whether you can show it in your parish or community group. “Fatal Flaws” will undoubtedly change minds and hearts, and will save lives – maybe even yours.
St. Teresa of the Andes lived only 19 years and spent a scant 11 months in a Carmelite monastery. However, on March 21, 1993, Pope John Paul II canonized this young woman, making her the first Chilean saint and the only Carmelite of the Americas to be so honored.
How is it possible that a teenager, who spent so little time as a religious, not only became a saint, but a saint with thousands of devotees, who make a grueling 17-mile pilgrimage every year to her grave?
The EWTN Original Documentary “St. Teresa of the Andes” airs at 8 p.m. ET, Friday, Nov. 8, but early birds can also view it at midnight ET, Sunday, Nov. 3 and 3 a.m. ET, Tuesday, Nov. 11.
A scene from the EWTN Original docu-drama “St. Teresa of the Andes.”
Discover the answer to these and many other questions when EWTN premieres a one-hour original documentary on the life and mission of Juanita Fernandez Solar, also known as “St. Teresa of the Andes.” The program, produced by Journalist Magdalena Ossandon of Santiago, Chile, airs at 8 p.m. ET, Friday, Nov. 8, but early birds can also view it at midnight ET, Sunday, Nov. 3 and 3 a.m. ET, Tuesday, Nov. 11.
The first half of the documentary takes viewers on a tour of all the important places from little Juanita’s family, educational and religious lives. But it is in the second half of the documentary that we really begin to learn about the depth of her spirituality, which gives us a clue as to why the saint is so popular, especially with the young.
Fr. Alain-Marie de Lassus of the Congregation of St. John, author of a Spanish work on St. Teresa of the Andes, is interviewed about the saint’s spirituality during the EWTN docudrama, “St. Teresa of the Andes.” filmed on location in Chile. His work is called “Dieu est joie infinie : Etude sur sainte Thérèse des Andes,” meaning “God is Infinite Joy: A Study of St. Teresa of the Andes.”
Probably the most startling assertion comes from Fr. Alain-Marie de Lassus of the Congregation of St. John, author of the Spanish work, “Dieu est joie infinie : Etude sur sainte Thérèse des Andes.” He says he believes that St. Teresa of the Andes is the only saint ever to declare that “God is infinite joy.” As he notes in the documentary, that claim is not even made in the Bible!
Fr. de Lassus believes that Jesus stole little Juanita’s heart during her First Communion. The documentary talks about that day and about the young girl’s joyful demeanor even in the midst of deprivation and sickness. Although she had a short life, Teresa endured much suffering, getting seriously ill every Sept. 8, Our Lady’s birthday!
Behind the scenes filming of the docudrama, “St. Teresa of the Andes.”
Scene from “St. Teresa of the Andes” depicting the arduous 17-mile pilgrimage – an annual event – taken by many people, especially the young, who are inspired by the example of St. Teresa of the Andes.
Mother Angelica would have loved this documentary because it is very even-handed. On the plus side, we learn that even as a pretty young girl, Juanita cared deeply for others, and spent her time trying to catechize and help the young, the old, and everyone in between. However, she had much to overcome. In addition to all her many virtues, the documentary points out that the child was vain, impetuous, and selfish; she liked to be first in everything. In other words, she was normal.
However, once Teresa understood that God loved her, we are told that she gave all of herself to Him. “He who loves doesn’t have any other will except that of the Beloved,” she wrote. “Love is the bond of union between two souls. For love, I will fuse myself with Jesus.”
At the age of only 15, Juanita asked herself what she had done to please her Creator. She wrote: “I’d prefer to die rather than commit sin.”
St. Teresa of the Andes lived in this remote Carmelite monastery only 11 months before her death.
A scene from the EWTN Original Documentary portraying Teresa of the Andes as an adolescent.
She suffered much when she left her family for Carmel. Her father visited her only once while she was there. But she threw herself into the life of a Carmelite. As the documentary states, Carmelite novices only left their cells for choir, recreation or other novitiate exercises. But it was in her confinement that Teresa found complete freedom.
Teresa explained it like this: “A Carmelite ascends to Calvary and sacrifices herself for souls. She dies to herself and to the world. She buries herself, and her sepulcher is the Sacred Heart of Jesus. From there, she resurrects. She is reborn and lives spiritually united to the whole world.”
Juanita Fernandez Solar, who would become St. Teresa of the Andes, lived only 19 years and spent a scant 11 months in a Carmelite monastery, yet she would become the first Chilean saint and the only Carmelite of the Americas to be so honored.
Teresa was a joy to all in the monastery. Yet she was humble, volunteering to do all of the lowest duties, one of which would result in her death. In fact, after 10 months in the monastery, Teresa told her superior that she would die in a month, and her death at that time was quite dramatic.
Tune into this wonderful documentary to find out what happened and to learn more about why this saint is so revered, not only by thousands of young people in Chile – who make the pilgrimage to her grave every year – but, as a canonized saint, by Catholics around the world.
It was only a few years ago that American television screens were filled with images of ISIS terrorists beheading, crucifying, and setting Christians ablaze for their faith. Do you remember?
It was only a few years ago that ISIS terrorists began targeting Christian homes in Iraq with the Arabic “noon” sign (N) for Nazarene. Do you remember?
It was only a few years ago that ISIS terrorists told these same Christians, “You pay fidyah (a high tax no one could afford), convert or die.” Most died. Do you remember?
IDC President Toufic Baaklini (right) at the IDC 2018 Annual Summit.
Two Catholic Christians – Toufic Baaklini and Andrew Doran – DO remember and they want you to remember too. In 2014, they formed an organization called In Defense of Christians. Their mission is to call on Christians of all denominations to unite and support their persecuted brothers and sisters in the Middle East.
“We are the voice of the voiceless – no matter who it is,” IDC President Toufic Baaklini told Father Mitch Pacwa on a recent episode of “EWTN Live,” http://bit.ly/EWTNLiveInDefenseOfChristians. This includes minorities of all faiths. Unfortunately, 80 percent of religious persecution in the world is against Christians, yet Baaklini says they have not had the support that some of the other faiths have enjoyed.
“The Shiite Muslims, they depend on Iran,” Baaklini said. “The Sunni Muslims, they depend on the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia. Christians, they always look to the West, and we need to support them. We need to support our brothers and sisters.”
Displaced children in Erbil, who fled the ISIS genocide.
To insure this is more than just talk – or even just a lot of publicity – Baaklini and Doran put together an advisory board of high-level officials and ecumenical religious leaders that reads like a who’s who of Christianity.
The Roman Catholic side includes New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez. But the board also includes Melkite and Maronite Catholics, the Orthodox Archbishop, well-known Evangelicals, and Lebanese American political figures such as U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.
Being Christians, the organization launched with an historic prayer service that included six patriarchs from the Middle East who prayed in the Aramaic, Latin, Syriac, and Armenian languages. “This was the first time they had prayed in one room in 600 years,” said IDC President Baaklini. These historic prayers powered the advocacy that immediately followed.
The destruction of Christian homes and churches in Syria is overwhelming.
IDC’s first battle – getting genocide recognition for ISIS victims — was the hardest fought.
“When you say Christian, no one wants to talk about it,” Baaklini continued. “[A previous Administration] only wanted to designate the Yazidis [whose religion includes elements of many religions]. We had the Knights of Columbus on our side. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson is the best human being. He stood by us.
“The Knights usually don’t do work like this; even the USCCB had never done work like this. The KOC were unbelievable. They started the Stop the Christian Genocide campaign. They helped a lot to make people aware of it [by distributing pins, scarves and more with the “noon” for Nazarean symbol that so many people put on their Facebook profiles.]”
A displaced family in Erbil, who fled the ISIS genocide.
“We put a lot of pressure on Congress” to get an official declaration of genocide recognition for all ISIS victims – Christians and Yazidis in Iraq and Syria. Accomplishing this “was a major victory for us” because this allowed monetary aid to follow.
While there are 15 million Coptic Christians in Egypt, who are citizens, Baaklini says they have no voice. “They cannot get high level jobs with the government, they can’t worship freely, they can’t fix their churches [which have been burned down].” A few months ago, President Trump met with the President of Egypt. “The first question he asked was: “How are you treating the Christian Coptics?”
During the IDC’s annual summit in 2017, Vice President Mike Pence announced a new Trump Administration policy to provide direct help to persecuted Christians and Yazidi victims of ISIS genocide.
“So far, they have given more than $300 million – now $360 or $370 million – in direct aid to Christians in the Middle East.” Baaklini said.
Baaklini says he thought it would take years for the promised money to make its way to the Middle East, but he said “a couple months later, the money started flowing in.”
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean all is well for Christians in Egypt. “A few weeks back, neighbors were burning Christian homes,” Baaklini said.
A statue of Our Lady is desecrated in Syria.
So IDC is now fighting to change the governor of the Egyptian province in which this happened or for the appointment of a Coptic co-governor to insure Christians are treated fairly.
IDC also helped put pressure on the Turkish government for Protestant Pastor Brunson’s release even though he did not know him. During the period that IDC was testifying before Congress, Baaklini says “[t]he Turkish government hacked our computers, phones, and put the Turkish flag on our website. We are not afraid.”
Baaklini, who is married with one college-age daughter, is not kidding. He frequently travels to the Middle East, even though he acknowledges that the only safe place for Christians is in Lebanon. “I know that I’m in danger, but nothing will stop me.”
A displaced family in Iraq.
He says his wife and daughter are supportive of his work, but the question remains: Why would this family put themselves in harm’s way for Christians in the Middle East?
To answer this question, Baaklini points to his family lineage. He has a great uncle whose descendants gave him more than 250 cousins. “He had a big family; he was Catholic,” Baaklini said, laughing. “He told his kids [about the persecution of Christians]. It’s happened with him, with me, with my dad, with my great grandparents. For 1,600 years, this has been happening.”
A young girl from Alqosh in Northern Iraq, who fled ISIS genocide.
Enough is enough. Baaklini wants the persecution to end with his generation. He says: “We need to make sure the Christians of the West stand with their brothers and sisters.”
Most people don’t realize that 80 percent of the religious persecution in the world is against Christians. “Here in the U.S., we don’t feel it. Now, after the awareness and advocacy, people are understanding it better. If a Christian is hurt anywhere in the world, we should care.”
It’s hard to imagine an American alive who hasn’t seen a movie or TV show about life on the American frontier. We’re all familiar with legendary frontiersmen such as Lewis and Clark, Daniel Boone, and Davy Crockett. But outside of serious students of Church history, few know the names of Catholic frontier missionary evangelists such as Jesuit Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, Dominican Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, or Father Francis Craft, a diocesan priest.
Portrait of a missionary in the snow.
That oversight is about to be remedied! Your view of both Catholic and American history will be forever changed when you tune into the EWTN Original Documentary “Faith on the Frontier.” The one-hour program premieres 10 p.m. ET, Wednesday, Sept. 25, and re-airs at 10 a.m. ET, Thursday, Sept. 26 on EWTN. The premiere will be preceded by an “EWTN Live” with “Faith on the Frontier” Writer, Director, and Producer James Kelty at 8 p.m. ET, Wednesday, Sept. 25.
“You will leave this film with a distinct feeling of friendship with these men,” Kelty said. “These were strong men, strong priests, strong missionaries, who braved incredible challenges and difficulties in a tempestuous period of American life. Although these men never knew each other, each had a huge impact on the development of Catholicism in the U.S. from the Midwest to the Upper Plains to the Far West.”
“Faith on the Frontier” Writer/Director/Producer James Kelty in Montana.
At the end of this program, you’ll also learn which of these priests is on track to one day be canonized.”” Here’s a quick snapshot of the three priests to wet your appetite for learning more.
Father Francis Craft, diocesan priest.
“Fr. Francis Craft was a survivor of the Battle of Wounded Knee. He tried to separate the warring parties and got stabbed in the middle of it,” Kelty said. “A wild man who was good with a six shooter,” Fr. Craft braved winter storms on the Great Plains while on horseback during the 1870s and ‘80s in an effort to convert the Lakota and Sioux tribes.
At the time, it was generally accepted that it was not possible for the Native Americans to be converted. But Fr. Craft not only evangelized the tribes, he never wavered in his resolve to found an order of Lakota/Sioux sisters. He was determined to prove that the Indians could be of service to their own people – and he did!
Father Pierre-Jean Desmet, S.J.
“Father Pierre-Jean De Smet of Belgium was “a colossus of a man and a priest,” says Kelty. He arrived in the fur trading outpost of St. Louis a mere 20 years after the famous Lewis and Clark expedition. He spent 20 years preparing for what he always knew was his destiny to travel west. That preparation included learning many of the Indian languages.
When the time came to make the trip west, which was arduous for the most fit of pioneers, he fell ill with malaria. Incredibly, he didn’t let that stop him. Kelty says he spent most of the trip “flat out on a wagon,” suffering for three days with no water when his fever was highest, and enduring outbreaks of violence that included travelers biting off each other’s noses. That sheer grit and ability to speak the native languages allowed him to successfully evangelize the Salish (or “Flathead”) tribe in Idaho.
Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, O.P.
Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli was an Italian Dominican, who set off for Cincinnati and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with no money and no ability to speak the Native American languages, trusting in God to guide him. Even though he was well aware that the Jesuits had been expelled from the area in the 1830s and hadn’t seen a “black robe” in 70 years, Fr. Mazzuchelli, as an architect and church builder, managed to found and build 43 separate parishes.
The above is just a snapshot of what these men endured to bring the faith to America. Follow in the footsteps of these frontiersmen, as Kelty and his crew travel to Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Montana and to the parishes – still there! – that these men were responsible for building.
Of course, it takes a lot of teamwork to put together such a film. Kelty thanks EWTN Director of Acquisitions John Elson for the name “Faith on the Frontier,” and his staff for brainstorming the concept. He credits Marquette University Archivist Mark Thiel for recommending the priests featured and for providing him with a constant stream of important information, Dominican Sister Mary Ewens, for helping him understand how Fr. Craft founded a Native American order of nuns, and Jesuit Father Michael F. Steltenkamp, for helping him understand the ways that Jesuit missionaries were able to go into Native American communities and evangelize.
“Faith on the Frontier” Writer/Producer/Director James Kelty,
“The Knights of Columbus chapter in Galina, Illinois rebuilt one of Fr. Mazzuchelli’s churches, St. Augustine, in a tiny hamlet near Galina,” Kelty said. “We filmed that. His communities along the Mississippi river are still very devoted to him.”
But there is one name Kelty mentions whose impact was far greater than any of the above.
“Faith on the Frontier” Writer/Producer/Director James Kelty.
“So many times, God has stepped in and helped me do this,” Kelty said. “We had amazing things happen in our favor: snowstorms coming in, fog clearing, sun breaking through just when we needed it. We had a Montana snowstorm, which was spectacular. I’ve gotten film production values that people spend fortunes to recreate in studios. Atmospheric wonder is one thing, as a filmmaker, I felt fortunate and blessed to get.”
Come, experience the wonder of America’s frontier priests when “Faith on the Frontier” premieres on EWTN.
It was a time when female infanticide was so rampant that men outnumbered women by 30%. However, we’re not talking about female infanticide in China today, (which unfortunately is much worse), but female infanticide in the First Century A.D. and throughout what was known as the Dark Ages.
Ironically, the satanic push for infanticide occurring in U.S.
and elsewhere in this century is quite literally bringing back the Dark Ages
and stripping women of the very rights that the Catholic Church – yes, the Catholic
Church – helped them attain.
This is just one of many inescapable conclusions that any
student of history cannot help but draw after reading Father William Slattery’s
amazing new book, “Heroism and Genius: How Catholic Priests Helped Build – And
Can Help Rebuild – Western Civilization.” From the title, readers can see that
Father covers all the foundations of Western Civilization from music, art, and
drama to free-market economics. But here we focus on the conflict that is
currently roiling the United States: infanticide and women’s rights and what we
can learn from world history.
Fr. Slattery tells us that in the First Century A.D., female infanticide “grew to such horrendous levels…that in Italy, Roman North Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean area, males outnumbered females by about 30 percent.”
In discussing this phenomenon on a recent episode of “EWTN Live,” Host Fr. Mitch Pacwa noted that unwanted female infants at that time were literally thrown onto a hill outside the walls of Rome where they would be eaten by wild dogs. Christians would comb through the trash at night to try to save as many babies as they could.
What most people don’t know is that it was the Catholic
Church that rammed through legislation in 325 AD making female infanticide in
Rome a criminal offense, possibly with the death penalty attached to it. But as
we all know, laws don’t necessarily change hearts and minds. Catholic priests
continued to fight this attitude from the First Century through the 12th
In fact, Father Slattery says that Catholic priests were quite
literally the only “light” throughout the Dark Ages as they began saving these
“foundlings” by allowing them to be left at churches and monasteries. To deal
with this crisis, they would also establish orphanages, schools, hospitals,
maternity-care centers, and other institutions. During this time, societies of
lay Catholics whose sole purpose was to care for these children also sprang up
to help in this lifesaving work.
Just as the Church stood for the rights of these unborn
female babies, it loudly asserted that women had an equal dignity to men, a
concept that was unheard of at that time. It asserted that men and women had
different genes, but that they were complimentary and necessary to each other.
Says Father Slattery: “The romantic culture created by the
Church in Medieval Times led to the abolition not only of infanticide, but the
abolition of abortion, a tremendous cause of the deaths of countless women, and
to the elimination of polygamy and to adultery as a female-only offense in
ancient Rome, [meaning that only females could be charged with the crime of
“Throughout the Middle Ages, the Church constantly held up
the rights of wife as equal to the husband. Women having right to vote, the
right to the property they came into their marriage with, the right to their
Father tells us that there are records of women being
lawyers, plasterers, doctors and even Crusaders, as well as rulers like Queen
Blanche of France, and military leaders like Joan of Arc. “Men obeyed Joan of
Arc because of a culture that respected women, and while it didn’t normally
expect to have a woman as a military officer, it was able to accept that some
women would be given an extraordinary mission from God which would put them in
What’s important about the history – and all of the history
outlined in Father Slattery’s extraordinary book — is the fact that it is so
relevant for us today.
“The first barbarians believed in marriage, believed men and women were different, believed in God, believed God should be worshiped,” Father said. “Even though they were primitive as regards their idea of justice – for them, vengeance was justice – nevertheless there were fundamental principles they held to be sacred. The new barbarians don’t hold to any of those principles. Therefore, we can say in all legitimacy, that we are entering a new Dark Ages.”
Those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it.
The Romans throwing babies to the wolves sounds barbaric –
and it is. But is it any less barbaric than what is happening in many U.S.
hospitals today when a newborn, who has survived being poisoned in an abortion,
is left alone to die, with no food, no water, and no human companionship even
as its pitiful cries are ignored by those who jobs it is to save the baby? Is
it any more barbaric than discovering that these babies are often thrown in a
trash bin or their body parts are sold to the highest bidder?
Father Slattery’s must-read book, “Heroism and Genius,” is
the antidote to a second Dark Ages that, once again, threatens to consume us.
He’s a marriage and family therapist who started a ministry to heal couples and families. Little did Dr. Bob Schuchts, founder of the John Paul II Healing Center, know that he would one day have a need for exactly the kind of healing he preached – and for the support of the community that he himself created.
THE SCHUCHTS FAMILY: Dr. Bob Schuchts (back left) with his late wife Margie (front left); his two daughters, Carrie and Kristen; their husbands, and grandchildren.
This week, the author of “Be Healed: Encountering the Powerful Love of Jesus in Your Life,” (http://bit.ly/BeHealedDrBob), and “Be Transformed: The Healing Power of the Sacraments,” was interviewed on EWTN’s “At Home With Jim & Joy,” about his new book, “Real Suffering: Finding Hope and Healing in the Trials of Life,” http://bit.ly/RealSufferingBook. The book shares what he learned from the suffering and death of both his beloved wife Margie (short for Margaret Mary) and his father, who died within two weeks of each other in 2017.
His daughter, Kristen Blake, traveled to EWTN with her dad for his appearance on “At Home With Jim & Joy. (Watch Part 1: http://bit.ly/realsuffering1, and Part 2: http://bit.ly/RealSuffering2. Purchase at http://bit.ly/DrBobOnEWTNJJ.) When her mother became terminally ill, Kristen moved into her childhood home with her husband to help her dad care for the woman they both loved. She says her dad’s marriage and family therapy practice took a giant leap forward, along with his faith, when he founded the “John Paul II Healing Center,” where she serves as the Office Administrator, https://jpiihealingcenter.org.
One quote from a book by Father Jacques Philippe changed Dr. Bob’s view of his wife’s terminal illness: “It’s not so much suffering that hurts us, it’s the fear of suffering that hurts us.”
She says: “What [my dad] has taught for so long, he has now lived. The fruit of being able to say that the Lord was with us and inviting people into that, has been amazing. The prayers, Masses, phone calls, and support [from our community] has sustained us.”
Providentially, Dr. Bob had already agreed to do a series of videos on suffering when both his wife and dad came down with terminal illnesses. The videos he was working on featured testimonies from people suffering from an abortion, from the death of a spouse, and from cancer.
But as Dr. Bob was going through this valley of the shadow of death, he began to focus not only on the painful illness and death of his wife and his father, but on the impact it was having on his entire family, including his brothers, his sisters, his two daughters, their children and his eight grandchildren – all of whom belong to the same parish. After the videos were completed, Dr. Bob decided to write a book – the fruit of his lived experience and his prayer.
“As I prayed, I began to see Jesus as the model of how to suffer physically; Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, as the model of how to suffer emotionally, Simon Peter for how to heal spiritually,” he said. “I focused not only on how to suffer, but how to find hope and healing in the midst of suffering.”
To prepare his commentary for the videos, Dr. Bob also read the Encyclical by St. John Paul II on human suffering as well as “Interior Freedom,” a book by Spiritual Master Father Jacques Philippe. One quote stuck with him: “It’s not so much suffering that hurts us, it’s the fear of suffering that hurts us.”
Before going home to her Lord, Mrs. Margie Schuchts enjoyed spending time with her newest grandson Will.
Says Dr. Bob: “Father Jacques Philippe explains that it is the fear of suffering that hardens us. Entering into the suffering softens our hearts, opens us, frees us. Every time I wanted to pull back and deny, I remembered his advice: ‘Don’t be afraid.’ Every time fear came, I said to myself, ‘Don’t harden. Don’t self-protect. Bring it to Jesus.’”
How does a person sustain hope in circumstances like this? Dr. Bob said he found his hope in God.
“Once in prayer, I felt the Holy Spirit saying: ‘Would you be willing to risk her [your wife’s] salvation for a little more life?’ I said, ‘No!’ He said, ‘So where is your hope? In having a longer life or in where she will be for eternity?’”
The Schuchts’ eight grandchildren. Although the youngest grandchildren, who were very close to their grandmother, they hung back as she got sicker. Daughter Kristen’s inspired act of love showed them they didn’t have to be afraid!
Unlike most people, Dr. Bob had spent years reflecting on different kinds of suffering, and in helping others do the same as part of a ministry that not only spans North America, but countries overseas. He says all of the prayers and support he and his family received “kept up a level of hope that God was doing something more beautiful than what we were experiencing here. It was a beautiful time, but a hard time.”
When he was younger, Dr. Bob also endured the death of his brother who had fallen away from his faith and his family and eventually contracted AIDS. “I had seen the incredible healing that happened in my family. Watching his conversion, his witness, took away a lot of the fear. He was so radiant with the Holy Spirit. It gave me a great sense of hope that God would be present and doing things for us. I thought no matter what bad is happening now, something good will come of it.”
God’s presence manifested itself in many practical ways. His wife had a brain disease that sometimes caused her to lose control of her limbs. At one point, Dr. Bob was the only one in the house with Margie when her arms began to flail. “Usually, I would pray and things would calm down.” But this time, they didn’t.
PROUD GRANDPARENTS: Dr. and Mrs. Schuchts at one of their granddaughters’ baptisms.
Dr. Bob saw the frantic look on his wife’s face and he says his prayers became equally frantic. “Jesus, please help, please help.” Immediately, he remembered that one of things his daughter often did was play music. His wife had a favorite worship song so he quickly put that on. She calmed down.
He says this is only one example that helped him see that “God is present and He meets us right here and right now.”
About a week before his wife died, she began to lose the ability to speak. Dr. Bob could see she was struggling to say something to him and he strained to hear it. The last thing she said to him was: “Thank you for your kindness towards me.”
IN THE END, THERE IS ONLY LOVE: Margie Schuchts (center) with daughters Carrie and Kristen. In a eulogy to her mother, daughter Carrie said: “In these last few months, I’ve experienced greater intimacy with my mom than I have in my entire lifetime.”
“To have those be the last words… I went after that and started to pray. There was a lot of sadness. I said, ‘God, how am I going to hear her needs if she can’t express them?’ I sensed Him saying, ‘You still have other forms of communication – touch, non-verbal communication.’”
He later spoke with his sister-in-law, a nurse, who told him the same thing: “The eyes – sometimes that is even more intimate.’ That became a real grace over the next two weeks. A gaze that fixed. The two of us looking at each other. God’s presence in the middle of that.”
Dr. Bob said his grandchildren, who were 3 and 5 at the time, had been very close to their grandmother, but they were scared to see the changes taking place. But instead of hiding them away, Dr. Bob said his daughter Kristen sat one of them on his wife’s lap and said, “’You don’t need to be scared of Dodo [a pet name]. Look in her eyes. It’s the same Dodo.’ They saw her kind, loving look. After that, my granddaughter wasn’t afraid. She needed the kids and the kids needed her.”
Dr. Bob also remembers resisting the idea of hospice putting his wife in a hospice bed, where he would be unable to lie with her and hold her hand at night. Instead, the family moved Margie onto their sectional sofa. She sat in the seat in which she liked to watch TV and the entire family gathered around her.
“We ended up spending the last two nights on the couch, watching and being with her as she was dying. It was hard, but beautiful.”
The final chapter of Dr. Bob excellent book includes eulogies from his two daughters, which demonstrate why it’s so very important for a family to walk with their loved one until the end – and not cut that important time short, as society often demands.
A PICTURE IS WORTH 1,000 WORDS: Dr. and Mrs. Bob Schuchts! Said Dr. Bob: “Every time I wanted to pull back and deny [my wife’s terminal illness], I remembered the advice of Father Jacques Philippe: ‘Don’t be afraid.’ Every time fear came, I said to myself, ‘Don’t harden. Don’t self-protect. Bring it to Jesus.’”
In her eulogy, daughter Carrie shared that her mom was typically the one who gave, insisting, for example, that she be the one to do the dishes. During her illness, she allowed the family to give back. Carrie says: “So that’s what we did. We loved her. And we loved every second of it. Don’t misunderstand me. It was hard! Hard to see her suffer. Hard to hear her mumbled and desperate sounds. Hard to feel her confusion. But it was also beautiful because, in my heart (and the hearts of many others), there were no longer barriers and pretenses or defenses. Just love between us.
“This type of love is different than a feeling; it’s a knowing. Like the knowing you have when you wake up six times in the middle of the night to feed your newborn baby. No one chooses to lose sleep, but you choose to nourish and cherish the vulnerable life that is before you. In these last few months, I’ve experienced greater intimacy with my mom than I have in my entire lifetime. I think we all have.”
The book ends with this reminder from Dr. Bob: “Our suffering will end. But if we keep our focus on Jesus, our faith, hope, and love won’t ever end. Neither will our lives have an ending. Death and suffering do not have the final word. They are merely birth pangs giving way to a life that is no longer fragile. We are all being born into a world where there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more suffering, and no more death. There will only be glorious, unblemished love shared between all of our loved ones, who are finally whole. We will be completely healed because we will be in the presence of the Source of all Love: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We have nothing to fear in our temporary suffering because his perfect love casts out all fear.”
Lisa Wheeler, President and Founder of Carmel Communications which promotes faith-based films, came to EWTN to deliver two very personal messages:
First, foster care and adopting children out of foster care should be part of the Church’s pro-life agenda – and you don’t have to adopt or open your home to a foster child to be of immense service in this area. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to help!
Second, whether you are having a hard time adopting or you’ve never even considered adopting or fostering a child, please take the time to pray about it. “People don’t realize that, right now in our country, there are over 100,000 children who are legally free to be adopted. So many children are waiting for homes. People say it’s so hard to adopt. It’s really not if you know where to go. If you want to build your family, there are children who need homes and who are waiting.”
Lisa Wheeler, her husband Timothy, and their two adopted children at the Kennedy Space Center. The Wheelers are also fostering three brothers whom they hope to adopt!
Wheeler and her husband Timothy have fostered many children, as you will learn if you watch the two episodes of “At Home With Jim & Joy” on which she appeared. (Watch http://bit.ly/LisaWheeler1 and http://bit.ly/LisaWheeler2.) Of the five children the Wheelers have at home, two are adopted out of foster care. In addition, for the past three years, she and her husband have been fostering a group of three brothers, whom they are trying to adopt. This is a woman who knows of what she speaks! So let’s begin with this foster/adoptive mom’s own story.
Wheeler says the first four or five years of her 21-year marriage, she wasn’t worried about the fact that she hadn’t gotten pregnant because she and her husband were traveling and enjoying their personal time together. “It wasn’t until I was around 33 or 34 that I started saying, ‘We’re not doing Natural Family Planning or using any form of contraception [Wheeler is a devout Catholic so this wasn’t an option], and I’m not getting pregnant so something is wrong.”
So began the doctor’s visits in an effort to fix the problem. “That’s when I found out I had severe endometriosis — ovarian cysts – that were likely the reason I couldn’t have kids. I had surgery. Months went by, years went by, and I still wasn’t getting pregnant.”
Wheeler says it wasn’t until years 10 and 12 of her marriage that she started to get desperate. That’s when she began talking about adoption, but to her surprise her husband was adamantly opposed to it. She would later discover this was not because the children would not be theirs biologically. It was the idea of paying for a child that struck the wrong cord with him.
Lisa Wheeler is President of Carmel Communications, which promotes faith-based films, so her daughter Elizabeth, adopted out of foster care, sometimes has the opportunity to go to events where she can meet priests such as Bishop Robert Barron.
“So flash forward to around year 14. We were sitting in Church and there was an announcement from the pulpit about an information meeting about foster care and adoption at the local Department of Children and Family Services. I perked up because when I was in college, I had done some work advocating for children in foster care, but I had always been on the side of helping reunite families – so I wasn’t putting it together [that this could be a way to build our family.].”
Wheeler and her husband went to the meeting and he surprised her again by saying, “‘If this is the way we can build our family. I’m in.’ My husband has a servant’s heart. To him, it was not only that he could potentially be a dad, but he could be helping kids in difficult circumstances. We went through hours and hours of training with lots of intrusive questions and psychological evaluations. Our daughter came to us on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 2011. She had just turned 3.”
There’s a lot to be learned from her story – and Wheeler doesn’t shy away from the hard issues. She admits: “Not everyone is called to this. If you really feel you HAVE to have a biological child, your option, as a Catholic, is to utilize a method that is morally acceptable in order to get pregnant. If you still can’t [conceive], then you face a lifetime without a child.”
That wasn’t a choice for Wheeler, who was desperate to become a Mom. “I never questioned – for me – that I wouldn’t be able to love a child who wasn’t biologically mine. What I’ve learned is that God has given me the ability to love these children more than I ever thought possible. My heart has grown so big parenting them that I don’t know how it could be better than this. I experience all the same fears, anxieties, hopes, and dreams that I would have experienced had I been able to give birth naturally.”
But what happens if a foster child is reunited with his or her parent, and there is no path to adoption, which is a real risk and a common objection to foster parenting?
Lisa Wheeler’s son Malachi, adopted out of foster care, is baptized as his sister Elizabeth (in green), also adopted out of foster care, looks on!
“We’ve gone through this 15 times,” says Wheeler, in explaining how she has personally been able to do this. “But when you think of what the alternative is for this child… Isn’t sacrifice the essence of parenting? It’s at the very heart of cooperating with God in the creation and culture of life. And so how can we, in our selfishness, say this is too much for me to bear? When you think about that child, life is too much for them to bear without a parent, without a family unit. To me, that’s a much greater pain than the one I experience from their loss.”
Wheeler says the foster children who have passed through her home will always be a part of her family’s lives. She keeps in contact with the children, if the parents allow it, and she maintains a wall with photos of every child. In some cases, she is able to post a current photo of the child next to the one she took years ago, and she talks to the five children she has now about all the children who have passed through their home.
What Wheeler doesn’t discuss, until pressed, is the faith that underlies both her words and her actions.
”I had a priest very early on introduce me to the devotion of Mary, Undoer of Knots. This was way before Pope Francis made it popular. I really feel like, under that title, Mary has a special devotion to children who are in desperate situations. I have sensed her working miracles through that devotion. She is invoked daily. Each of my children have an image of her in their rooms – a small painting, as well as crucifixes and rosaries – we are very sacramental in our home. My own personal spirituality is around the Carmelite communion of saints. We have images of the Blessed Mother everywhere. You can’t get around my house without running into her somewhere!”
She’s also clear about how important a faith-filled perspective is to her success.
“When my mother was dying, I said, ‘I don’t understand how people can go through this type of suffering and not believe in God.’ I feel the same way about foster care. I know there are people who do it who aren’t religious. But quite frankly, I’m flabbergasted at how they are able to manage the stress and to deliver the right portions of virtues that I think are necessary for raising kids to pivot towards Goodness. Virtue is based on understanding what a perfect Good is; we believe that to be God. If you don’t have a Godly worldview, how do you teach a child to pivot towards the Good?”
Lisa Wheeler, who is a passionate advocate of adopting children out of foster care, says her faith is the key to her success and she has passed that on to her children. Here, her daughter Elizabeth kisses a statue of St. Philomena. But the Blessed Mother, under the title of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, is Lisa’s favorite saint. “We have images of the Blessed Mother everywhere. You can’t get around my house without running into her somewhere!”
But what if you have prayed about it and you don’t believe you are called to parent a foster child? Can you still help? Absolutely, says Wheeler!
“I think priests [and laity], especially those who are not only in a pro-life ministry but in religious education and faith formation, need to be aware that in their pews are likely foster families who have welcomed children into their home and who are parenting them in sometimes really difficult circumstances. It would be a great extension of the pro-life work of the Church to have the ministry include support for foster families.” So what does she recommend parishes do on a practical basis? Here are a few suggestions:
Set up a closet in the church or the church hall with the basic supplies a foster family needs in a crisis. When Wheeler got the call about the girl who would eventually become her daughter, it was 3 p.m. and she was told she had to be ready to accept the child in two hours. She had no diapers, no sippy cups, no clothes, nothing. “If parishes can accommodate just a small closet that parishioners could restock time and time again, that would be a huge help!”
Provide a meal. Foster children often stay in a home for only a weekend or a few weeks. These transitions are hard on the family. “Meal help is such an easy thing to do and it’s a real benefit to families fostering children.”
Babysit – or provide some other type of respite care.
Help drive children to practices or games. Wheeler says four of her five children are involved in sports and they all have to be in different places.
Help with homework, or tutor a child in a particular subject.
Wheeler says getting involved in foster parenting and adoption is actually a very Biblical thing to do.
“We are the adopted sons and daughters of the Father,” she says. “Over and over again, God is giving us a command through Scripture as to how we are to live as His sons and daughters, and adoption is a very consistent theme in the Word. Men in particular are called to be a father to the fatherless. I think people of faith should be very intentional about praying about how God wants to use them as foster parents, which is the modern orphan crisis of our time.”
Want to learn more? Click on the links above and go to https://nfpaonline.org (National Foster Parent Association) and www.adoptuskids.org to find children waiting for your love.
Father Donald Haggerty is a priest-in-residence at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but he travels the world giving retreats to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity (MOC), who are close to his heart. That’s because he spent his first year studying to be a priest for the MOCs, before deciding to become a diocesan priest.
Father Donald Haggerty (left) on the set of “EWTN Live” with Host Father Mitch Pacwa.
Despite assignments in Ethiopia, and St. Agnes Parish in New York, as well as teaching moral theology at a seminary in New York, Father Haggerty has always found time to write. Recently, he visited EWTN to talk about his newest book, “Conversion: Spiritual Insights Into An Essential Encounter with God.”
But because he is a retreat master for the MOC, “Inside EWTN” was interested in Father Haggerty’s recommendations for a good Lent. As you will see below, this priest does not disappoint!
One of Father’s best stories is about a French doctor who lost his faith as a youth, recovered it in his 40s, and became a Trappist monk! Later in life, the former doctor found himself a bit disappointed by the Trappist life. He said he had expected a seriously contemplative monastery, but found that, while his fellow monks lived an ascetical (penitential) life, they were not deeply prayerful.
“Twenty years later, he was elected Abbot,” Father Haggerty said. “He said to the monks, ‘I’m telling you, under obedience, that when you are in the monastery fields working, each of you is to stop one minute seven times a day and offer your life completely to God – with a serious act of love for God. You will do it on your own; no bell will ring. After one year, he had a monastery full of very contemplative, very prayerful monks!”
Which brings Father to one of “Inside EWTN’s” favorite recommendations:
Father Donald Haggerty
Value the small minutes.
Think of all the time we “waste” every day – time when we are waiting — in line at the grocery store, at an ATM, at the gas pump; time when we are waiting for others to join us for a meeting or a meal. How often do we take out our phones during those wasted moments and scroll through them looking for diversion?
But Father says: “Value the 5 minutes, the three minutes, you have. Give your FULL mind to God in an act of love. One minute — that’s a long time if you’re truly turning to God. God blesses you for that.”
Father said the MOC’s Rule requires the sisters to go into the chapel for at least a minute many times a day, including every time they return to their house to greet their Lord, and when they wake up after rest time.
Make a Point to Enter a Church Every Day.
It’s wonderful to spend an hour with Our Lord in Church, but if you don’t have an hour, don’t let that stop you from making a short visit with Jesus to show Him you love Him.
“Place yourself before the Sacred Mystery of the Blessed Sacrament. Even a few minutes will have an effect on you. During Lent, we often think about penitential acts, but turning to Our Lord and Mary in a positive way is the best beginning. Go to Mass, not as a penitential act, but as a beginning of a spiritual life. That’s Number One!P
Practice Mental Austerity!
“We have to be careful that our thoughts are not dominating us,” Father Haggerty explains. “Are they judgmental, negative, or critical or full of memories that are useless at this point? Make an act of self-denial – not that you deny the thought, but you make a positive act to turn to another thought. It could be a prayer – a Hail Mary. Try to turn to a healthy thought.”
Father says we must become conscious of all the “indulgent” activities we do with our minds using various forms of entertainment, including computers, television, and reading. Says Father: “Make an effort to take your mind back to more focused living.”
Pray a Rosary or Chaplet of Divine Mercy Every Day with a Specific Intention.
“A nice intention in Lent is to pray that Catholics come back to the Sacraments, especially confession; and to pray for those who have not been practicing their Faith or who have lost their faith.”
Father Donald Haggerty
Substitute Scriptural Reading for Secular Media.
Father notes that when we go on retreat, we usually don’t keep up with the news, where we are often assaulted by negativity. He suggests reading a chapter of the Gospel, other than the Mass readings, or the Psalms every day. “Certainly, during Lent, read through the Passion Gospels, which are beautiful and full of more detail than the rest of the Gospels.”
While in the Seminary, Father said he said seminarians were told they should try to read Chapters 14-17 of John – the Last Supper discourse — every day.
Have Some Hands-On Contact with the Poor.
Who are the poor? Where do we find them?
Father Haggerty says: “It could be a relative, or an elderly person in a nursing home. There are so many lonely people in nursing homes. It could be a soup kitchen. It could be somebody you pass frequently on your way to work or on the way home. Make contact with that person. Have some words on a daily basis; make a donation. Let’s do something to engage our HEARTS with the poor. I think that affects our life with God. Once you take a liking to the poor, you cross a threshold, and you want more of that.”
Spend Time Before a Crucifix or a Photo of the Shroud of Turin and Surrender to God.
Father Haggerty says holiness is all about surrendering ourselves to Jesus. He suggests that we frequently say the Surrender Prayer given to us by Fr. Dolindo Ruotolo, an Italian priest, now a Servant of God, who had great interior sufferings and about whom St. Pio spoke glowingly. The prayer is simple yet profound: “Jesus, I surrender myself to you. Take care of everything.”
What a relief!
Want more? Click on the links above to hear Father Haggerty’s interview and homilies or to purchase his books, which are available from EWTN Religious Catalogue.
Lent begins Wednesday, March 6, 2019 – so we, as Catholics, have less than two weeks to decide upon the penitential gift we want to give our Lord this Easter. To give you ideas and, we hope, some inspiration, “Inside EWTN” asked employees, hosts and friars to share what they believe was their best Lenten penance ever – and to explain why they feel it made a difference in their lives.
Please let us know if any of these ideas inspire you. We would also love it if you would share the Lenten penance that made the biggest difference in your own life!
Marie White, Accounting: “My best Lenten penance was becoming a Committed Adorer at my local parish. Our Adoration Chapel is open 24/7, and I used to think I was too busy with extracurricular activities to make this commitment work. Now, after almost a year of belonging to His faithful army of Adorers, I realize that I have grown much closer to Christ and that I was missing out on spending more time with Him!”
Catherine Hadro, Host of EWTN Pro-Life Weekly: “One year, I gave up secular music while driving. I either listened to Christian music or drove in silence; it gave me more opportunities for prayer! Last year, I decided to write one handwritten letter a day to a family member or friend during Lent; it enabled me to tell my loved ones how much I cherish them!
Ximena Izquierdo de Rivas, Media Missionary Manager for Latin America and Spain: “For me, the best penance that started with Lent was to quit drinking Coke! My mom is addicted to Coca-Cola , so I decided to offer this penance to ask for her healing [from a disease for which sugar is a problem] and to stand in solidarity with her. But after Easter, thanks be to God, I was able to continue that penance for the whole year! Now, I don’t drink Coke except on super special occasions!”
Debbie P., EWTN News, Inc. Advertising: “This year I plan to get a large trash bag and, every day, take something I no longer use, or have too many of, and put it into the bag so at the end of the 40 days, I can give it to someone else so they can benefit from the item(s). I’m very blessed and would like to help others. It would help declutter my life and help me focus more on God’s message of being more Christ-like in giving and sharing.”
Fr. Matthew Mary, MFVA, Director of Pilgrimage: “The best penance I ever did was giving up all social media. It is very challenging, and yet very rewarding. We tend to become too dependent upon social media [so much so] that it begins to affect our spiritual life. This can be a good opportunity to detach from the need for continual input and to focus on developing our relationship with God by sitting quietly in the presence of the Lord in Eucharistic Adoration.”
Kevin J. Jones, Catholic News Agency / EWTN News: “Every Lent I commit to saying the Office of the Readings and one hour [Matins, Vespers, etc.] of the Liturgy of the Hours. It is a beautiful way to bring prayer and Scripture into Lent, while making sure I better sacrifice my time for God.”
Tom Graye, Radio: “The best Lenten penance that I ever did was to quit smoking! I did it ‘cold-turkey’ after asking the Holy Spirit to help me. It certainly helped me grow closer to Jesus, not to mention the health advantages. I haven’t had a cigarette for 15 years!!!”
Anonymous EWTN Employee: “My best Lenten practice was the Lent that I decided to go to Daily Mass at 6:30 a.m. Yes, it meant that I had to get us SO much earlier! Yes, it meant that I did not get to hear the morning news programs. But, what life-changing joy! So many mornings, I heard readings that I did not recall ever hearing before and each reading seemed to be selected just for me and the issue that was troubling me! I found that my stressful workdays seemed to go by more smoothly and when [things go wrong] I can bear the stress much better. Why didn’t someone tell me how wonderful it was to go to Daily Mass?
“I wonder what this next Lent will bring?”
Note: Looking for some great Lenten reading? Click here: https://bit.ly/2IAlovv. “Inside EWTN’s” personal favorite: “In Conversation With God – Vol 2: Lent & Easter: Daily Meditations by Francis Fernandez.” Check it out at https://bit.ly/2tD7sGu,
The first thing to know about human trafficking is that its victims don’t fit any one stereotype; in other words, they aren’t always poor women and men from a foreign country or children with a difficult home life – although they could be. The second thing to know is that we can all do more about this terrible crime against humanity than we might think.
Elizabeth Donovan, Director of Legal Clinics and Associate Professor of Law at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Fla., says all of us can do more to combat the crime of Human Trafficking than we think.
These are the observations of Elizabeth Donovan, Director of Legal Clinics and an Associate Clinical Professor of Law at Ave Maria School of Law, who was a guest on the Jan. 17 episode of “EWTN Live” (http://bit.ly/EWTNLIVEHumanTraffickingShow). Donovan, who conducts training sessions and speaks to individuals and groups about how to recognize and combat human trafficking, says she did not begin her legal career intending to become an expert on the subject. In fact, her first job was in the employment and labor group of a large law firm in Detroit.
While there, she began to interact with immigrants as part of her pro bono work. Later, she was hired by the newly formed Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Michigan as their first Director of Career Services and Externship Programs. Today, her focus is on teaching a Human Trafficking Law Clinic, where students represent undocumented survivors of sex & labor trafficking and other forms of violence, cooperate with government and non-government organizations, and engage in community outreach and training.
How Do You Spot A Victim?
Elizabeth Donovan (third from left) stands outside a government building with students from Ave Maria School of Law. Donovan not only teaches students legal theory but, as the Director of Legal Clinics, she gives students an opportunity to work with real clients, who might not have the resources to hire an attorney.
As Donovan’s work with human trafficking survivors expanded, she began to see that not only did they not fit any one profile, they can be found in all walks of life. For privacy reasons, Donovan can’t discuss her own clients, but she mentions a well-publicized case involving Theresa Flores, a high school student from a religious family living in an affluent suburb, who became a victim of sex trafficking.
Incredibly, it was a boy from Theresa’s own high school who trafficked her. One day, this boy offered to drive Theresa home from school. Instead, they stopped by his house where she was drugged and raped. The rape was photographed. These photographs were used to blackmail her, and the traffickers threatened to kill her family. Teresa was so ashamed and frightened that she told no one for two years. Fortunately, police rescued her from a motel one night and her family discovered what was happening – or who knows where she would be?
“Sometimes it’s about shame,” Donovan said. The trafficker says: “If you don’t want me to reveal these photos, this video, you will do what I say or else. Other times, a young person or a child is coerced by the relationship itself.”
Runaways are frequent targets of psychological coercion. These children are the ones we most often picture as victims. Donovan outlines a typical scenario: A man approaches a girl standing by herself in a bus station. He may say something like: “You’re so beautiful. Are you new in town? I’m on my way to lunch. Can I buy you lunch?”
After lunch, the girl thinks, “This guy really seems to like me. He’s giving me so much attention.” The man asks the young girl if she has a place to stay. If not, he says, she can stay on his couch. She does. He’s “happy to help.”
Ave Maria School of Law students stand outside the building housing the Law School’s clinical programs, which give students hands-on experience. As Director of Legal Clinics, Elizabeth Donovan (not pictured) teaches both a Human Trafficking Clinic and a Mediation Clinic.
Donovan says perhaps they “fall in love” or, at least, the young girl believes she is in love. One day, the man says: “We’re a little tight on cash. If you could just have sex with my friend that might help us out.” The girl may protest, but the man she loves says: “You know, I’ve spent a lot of money on you. It’s just this one time. If you really love me, you will do this.” She does. And then, she is asked to repeat the act again and again. At a certain point, she may say, “Enough!” But at that point, the man may start physically abusing her and threatening her or her family.
“This may involve drugs,” Donovan said. “Perhaps by then she is dependent or addicted to drugs or alcohol. No one has locked her in a room or tied her up. This [kind of psychological abuse] is incredibly powerful with children.”
In fact, it’s so powerful, Donovan says victims often don’t even recognize themselves as such. When confronted about the man’s behavior, they’ll say, “Well, he made a mistake, but he loves me.”
Imagine the impact this story would have if shared with students at a high school assembly.
Donovan says she has seen statistics that put the number of women, men, and children who are victims of human trafficking somewhere between 20 million and 40 million worldwide. She emphasizes the need for better data on labor trafficking, sex trafficking, on all the many forms of trafficking. She shakes her head. “I always say: Let’s take the 20 million. Let’s half it to 10 million; let’s quarter it, or even eighth it. If there is even one person who’s being enslaved either for labor or sex trafficking, that’s enough!”
Poverty, a lack of access to education, and scarce or non-existent employment opportunities are frequently contributing factors, says Donovan, but not always, as the case of Theresa Flores demonstrates.
What You Can Do
An example of the type of outreach anyone can do to help educate a community about the horrors of human trafficking — and what they can do to help!
Although the issue of human trafficking has received increased attention in recent years, in part thanks to Pope Francis’ statements on the subject, the Catholic Church has been focused on this problem for years. Two examples: Members of Talitha Kum, an organization sponsored by the women’s and men’s international unions of superiors general, and consisting of 2,000 consecrated women and men and laity in 77 countries (17 in the U.S.), literally open their doors to victims, https://www.talithakum.info/. Closer to home, Fr. Jeff Bayi of St. John’s Catholic Church in Baton Rouge, LA, founded metanoia-inc.org to help victims in his state. These types of organizations need our support.
In the U.S., President Donald Trump signed legislation last year known as FOSTA SESTA (Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act), http://bit.ly/TrumpHumanTrafficking, and the U.S. government is making diplomatic efforts to work with other countries on this issue. The U.S. government also has an eye-opening “look beneath the surface” campaign, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l76cqmHI_k0, in which victims explain the different types of trafficking. But there is more all of us can do.
A friend told Donovan that, at one time, her family stopped at a hotel for the night while en route to a vacation destination. Said the friend: “I saw a man off to the side of the reception desk with a very young girl, who was dressed inappropriately. They weren’t talking. She seemed frightened. Was that trafficking?’”
As part of “Human Trafficking Awareness Days” at Ave Maria School of Law, students in the Human Trafficking Legal Clinic created the bracelets and prayer cards above. The Law School community was asked to pray and to wear these bracelets to show solidarity with victims and to increase education and awareness of this egregious human rights violation.
While Donovan can’t know for sure, she says this: “When I talk to groups, I say: ‘If you saw someone running down the street with a bag of cash, you would think something was wrong. What you wouldn’t do is say, ‘That’s really odd, but I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation so there’s no need to call the police!’ Report it. Then, your job is done.
“Someone may say, ‘I’m just an average person, not law enforcement,’” she continues. “But all you need to do is place a call to local law enforcement or 911 or a national hotline. Law enforcement wants you to call them. You don’t need to do more.” [Note: To access the National Human Trafficking Hotline, call 1-888-373-7888 or text something as simple as “Help!” to 233733. For more information, go to https://humantraffickinghotline.org.]
Think about it. If the police start getting calls about strange occurrences at a particular hotel, it raises a red flag. An officer could stop by and have a conversation. You will never know the good that call could do.
“Looking beneath the surface” might also mean that you walk by the kitchen door in a restaurant and you see a bunch of sleeping bags on the floor. There could be a reasonable explanation – but it can’t hurt to report it. As Father Mitch Pacwa noted in his “EWTN Live” show with Donovan, it’s important to look for the anomalies. “What’s wrong with this picture?”
In recent years, Donovan said those trying to combat human trafficking now offer training to groups who may encounter victims of labor trafficking and sex trafficking, such as health care professionals, teachers and counselors in school systems, law enforcement, the airlines, and the community groups. Flights attendants and doctors have all told Donovan that they began to look at things differently after being trained.
In addition to helping people “look beneath the surface,” those working to combat human trafficking are increasingly focusing not only on the traffickers who sell women, men, and children for sex, but on those who purchase their “services.” If there were no market, there would be no sex trafficking.
As Donovan says: “All of us need to ask ourselves how we would react if a neighbor said to us: ‘My son just turned 21 and all of his buddies took him to a strip club.’ Do you want to normalize that? Why is it we live in a culture that allows people to be bought and sold, used and discarded. Culture isn’t something that just happens to us!”
Ave Maria Associate Clinical Professor of Law Elizabeth Donovan helps students distribute books to children of adult family members who attended “A Day Without Slavery” in Florida’s Immokalee Community Park.
There is actually a lot the average person can do. Donovan rattles off a few ideas: pray not only for victims and survivors, but for the traffickers and the purchasers; mentor at risk youth and young adults; provide translation services at a battered women’s shelter; commit to sharing the information you’ve just been given with three to 25 people; set up a table about trafficking awareness at large public events, such as a marathon, an art fair, or a Christmas market; pay attention to who is making items and who is harvesting produce; purchase fair trade goods; support a charity that works to combat human trafficking; and talk to others about a commercial, television show or movie where people are treated like objects because that creates the culture that makes human trafficking possible.
It’s also important to find out about pending legislation and to advocate for changes in laws and for enforcement of current laws by writing to your representatives. For example, Donovan says “a woman might have a criminal conviction for prostitution, which will burden her as she tries to move forward. Laws that allow those records to be expunged are consistent with the idea of treating the women as victims and not perpetrators.”
Bottom Line? “This is a global problem, but it’s very important to remember that every case begins in a community and every case ends in a community. That’s important because it reminds us that we can make a difference.”
As a wife, mother, and a law school professor, Donovan has a busy life, but she makes time to speak with others about human trafficking. When asked why she does this, Donovan simply says: “Because I know.” She shrugs. “Sometimes, I wish I didn’t. But I do. I know.”