Cardinal watch: Cardinal Scheid turns 80

scheidFor the last time in this year of two consistories, a cardinal leaves the group of cardinal electors, by reaching the venerable age of 80. He is Eusébio Oscar Cardinal Scheid of Brazil, and with his birthday last Saturday, he leaves 119 cardinals who can vote in a conclave.

Born in the south of Brazil, Eusébio studied for the priesthood at the seminary of the Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, an order which he joined as a priest upon his ordination in 1960. His ordination took place in Rome, as he was studying Christology there. He eventually earned a decree in Sacred Theology.

Returning to Brazil, Father Scheid taught dogmatic theology and liturgy for some twenty years. In 1981, he was appointed as bishop of São José dos Campos, northwest of Rio de Janeiro. Bishop Scheid ministered to the faithful there for ten years, after which he was appointed as archbishop of Florianópolis, in his native state of Santa Catarina. He led that archdiocese for another decade, until 2001.

In that year, Archbishop Scheid was called to become the archbishop of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro. Shortly thereafter, he was also appointed as the ordinary for the Eastern Rite Catholics in Brazil. He also served as president of Region IV of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference.

With the archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro also came a cardinal’s hat, and Archbishop Scheid became Cardinal Scheid in 2003, in Blessed Pope John Paul II”s last consistory. He was granted the title church of Santi Bonifacio ed Alessio. Cardinal Scheid retired as Rio’s archbishop in 2009, and as the Eastern Rite ordinary in 2010.

Cardinal Scheid was at the centre of a small media scandal in 2005, when he publically criticised the faith of Brazil’s president. Prior to the conclave which elected Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Scheid spoke in favour of an African pope, understood by many as support for the election of Cardinal Arinze.

Cardinal Scheid was a member of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and the Council of Cardinals for the Study of Organisational and Economic Affairs of the Holy See.


The immeasurable value of life

mars voor het levenSaturday we marked the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (which refers to the conception of Mary, not of Jesus, as many mistakenly think) and in The Hague the annual March for Life (picture at left) braved the freezing cold to make a stand for the right of life of all people. And life is the common denominator between these too. Mary was prepared since before her birth to carry, nurture and protect the perfect life in her womb, and today we are called to extend the same protection to the life of all people, born or yet unborn, healthy or ill, rich or poor.

Being a Catholic, I can’t be anything but pro-life. This is admittedly a moniker laden with political and other connotations, but for me it simply means that I choose life over death. Life is the original and ultimate gift we have been granted by God. And as with all His gifts, He doesn’t simply give and then walk away. No, He is with us forever, there when we reach out to Him when life gets difficult or even seemingly impossible.

But being pro-life is not the exclusive territory of Catholics, or even of Christians. All it requires are open eyes and a compassionate heart. Eyes that are open to the reality of both the difficulties and the beauty of life. A heart that is compassionate towards the person suffering, for whatever reason, and willing to help overcome that suffering.

I live in a society where abortion and euthanasia are generally considered to be human rights. As a result, they are seen as medical procedures aimed at curing a patient from the illness of pregnancy or pain.  The very nature of life, as a gift from God and a responsibility for all of us, is thereby completely forgotten. Not even wilfully so, but out of ease or ignorance. Especially among younger people – teenagers, children even – this stance on abortion has lead to an increase in abortions, teenage pregnancies and a liberal attitude to sexuality that was unheard of even ten years ago. Children aged 12 or 13 are engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse, which from their standpoint is understandable if the unwanted consequences are so easily dealt with. Add to that the fact that abortion and euthanasia are both presented as having little to no psychological consequences on the person in question or their families, and these procedures indeed become simple cures for a disease.

But these are lies. Pure and simple.

Life is not a disease. Life is a gift, and a gift that brings with it responsibilities. Life is not subject to opinion, not a subjective value attached to an object. We can’t therefore decide who is worthy of life, or decide on when it starts or ends. Our active contribution to and participation in the life that we have been granted is delineated by these absolutes: it begins and ends at times that are beyond our qualification and competence.

Does that mean an immovable attitude on our part? Although there are boundaries we cannot cross, we can be compassionate and moved within those boundaries. We not only can, we should.

The concerns of people who do not share our standpoints are nonetheless legitimate. Questions about a child conceived in rape, or a lingering illness which will certainly end in death are ones we should confront. While we can’t say that the life of an unborn child of a patient should be terminated, we must work towards easing any suffering, be it physical or psychological. Unwanted pregnancies are a reality. They are not always easy, and they can be painful. Illness by itself is never enjoyable, and nor is pain without a chance of a cure.

Life, as a gift, transcends all this, however. The pain it sometimes brings us is never all it brings. In ways that we can’t conceive, an unborn child may prove a blessing for those around him. The natural death of a person can be a positive formative experience for others. We are not islands, and we are called to live in relation to others. That is not any different when illness, pain and being unwanted is concerned.

Life is immeasurably valuable. This is something we must never forget, because the risks are too great when we do.

I am pro-life. I can’t be anything else.

Photo credit: “A nation born out of prayer”, Mars voor het Leven/Facebook