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Boston priest leads outreach to terminally ill woman

The logo of the the Facebook page weluvbrittany. Courtesy photo

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CHESTNUT HILL -- Two weeks ago, an online community formed to send love and hope to a complete stranger who is dying of brain cancer.

On a website, Brittany Maynard, 29, of California, shared her condition and her plans to end her life through physician assisted suicide on Nov. 1. In a video posted there, she said that she hopes to pass peacefully and feels relieved that she does not have to "die the way the brain tumor would take me."

Hundreds of people reached out to her through a Facebook page "We Love Brittany Maynard" (www.facebook.com/weluvbrittany). A Boston priest started the campaign, and many Catholics and others from all over the world have contributed to it. People from Italy to Argentina have posted, along with others from across the United States. In its first week, the page garnered 10,000 views.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley has even encouraged his blog readers to visit the site. In an Oct. 17 post, the cardinal called Maynard's condition "tragic" and said of her, "We want to hold her up in our prayers and encourage people to pray for her and to send messages of support so that she realizes that she is not alone in her suffering and hopefully will come to see that ending her life is not the solution."

The Facebook page states that its purpose is to send love and hope to Maynard. It encourages people to witness to what God has done in their own lives and advises them to "speak from the heart, addressing Brittany as if she were your sister, your daughter, your mother, or your wife."

Over 200 videos have already been posted. Most of the videos feature a group of people simply saying "We love you, Brittany." Others feature people pledging to pray for her or sharing personal stories of struggles with disease.

Mike Hendell said he has stage IV, inoperable lung cancer. He receives weekly treatments and, for now, leads a relatively normal life down to regular workouts at the gym. He knows that he will likely spend the last days of his life in a hospital bed, but wants to spend every day he can with his family.

"It's highly likely that I will face a very agonizing and painful death, but I've been really, really blessed," he said. "Every day is a blessing. Every day I get to see my wife and hold my little girl's hand."

The page also features many typed messages from people encouraging Maynard and expressing sorrow for her suffering.

Tom Noe of Boston wrote, "Stay with us Britt... don't leave us before your time....Each day with you is better than a day without you. Your days are important, each one; important to you and to us."

Facebook user "Janexx" shared that she and her husband are supporting her mother-in-law who has stage IV ovarian cancer and likely near the end of her life.

She said of her mother-in-law, "I see what a gift she is for me, how this event MATURES me, and how HER ILLNESS HELPS ME in so many ways to make my life journey. So YOUR SUFFERING IS NOT WITHOUT MEANING and YOUR LEGACY could be to show people that we are fully human and fully loved even when we lose the ability to do the things we could do in the prime of our life."

Father Anthony Medeiros, rector of the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Chestnut Hill, started the Facebook page. He told The Pilot that when he heard about Maynard, he wanted to reach out to her, and he hopes that the messages on the webpage will "knock at her heart."

"We don't want her to go until her time comes, until God calls her," he said.

Father Medeiros has sent several letters to Maynard. In one he wrote, "It is impossible not to feel your pain and to be edified by your courage. When I was a child, my mother would tell us that when in doubt, don't decide alone: turn to your guardian angel and ask him what he thinks. Your guardian angel knows everything about you, is your link to the presence of God, makes you brave when in doubt, strong in your weakness, and always tells you the truth."

He added that even at the end, Maynard's life is not a burden but a gift. Her story has touched many people and caused them to contemplate the immense gift of their own lives. He told Maynard that the world has more to learn from her life and said that her suffering can be united to Christ for the benefit of others.

He also noted that the day she has chosen to die is the Solemnity of All Saints. He wrote, "November 1st is also All Saints' Day! I am sure they are eager to welcome you! We too want you to be with them: but, please, don't show up before your time!"

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