The Russian Church has a name for those innocents who, while not martyred for their faith, nevertheless are unjustly killed: they are called Passion-Bearers, and their suffering is seen as a participation in the sufferings of Christ.
Terri Schiavo, by an eerie coincidence and barring judicial intervention, is scheduled to begin starving to death during Holy Week, when we commemorate the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Strangely, as recent news stories have convered the struggle of Ms. Schiavo’s family and friends to save her life, another news story reported that scientists are realizing that they may have long underestimated the ability of apparently unconscious patients to perceive external occurences. Formerly comatose patients reported being aware of conversations and events, when to all appearances they were oblivious to them.
Human consciousness is a mystery, and no one can know how much Terri Schiavo perceives. What is certain is that she is a baptized Christian soul who is being unjustly thrust into the suffering of Christ. As such, as a participant in the Passion of Christ, her suffering is salvific. And whether conscious, semi-conscious or unconscious, she is about to share in the agonizing cry from the Cross in a more literal way than most of us ever will: "I thirst". We must pray and work that her life be spared. If her death cannot be stopped it may be seen as a defeat for those who struggle to defend human life. But spiritually, it will not be a defeat, anymore than the Cross was a defeat. Terri Schiavo the Passion-Bearer bears the power of that Cross; in her suffering may lie the seeds of our eventual victory.