|Baby Gabriel's story|
|Friday, October 26, 2012 08:19 PM|
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Ana Rodriguez-Soto - Florida CatholicClick here to view photo album
NORTH LAUDERDALE | He died alone and unnamed, dumped in a trash bin. But nearly 110 mourners attended his funeral, four priests concelebrated the Mass, and his remains will rest eternally underneath a statue of the Blessed Mother. The contrast between the beginning and end of Baby Gabriel's brief life is a testament to the Catholic Church's belief in the dignity of all human life, a living witness of how the Church — and individual Catholics — do indeed back their pro-life words with deeds, despite the often unrelenting criticism of the secular world.
Baby Gabriel was found in a trash bin Aug. 10 outside a Fort Lauderdale beachside hotel, stuffed into a pillowcase that was wrapped in a towel. Police discovered him after growing suspicious of the story told by a woman, identified as Alexandria Sladon-Marler, who was being treated at Broward Health Medical Center. The 33-year-old had told hospital staff that she had had an abortion. But doctors saw that part of an umbilical cord was still attached, and determined she had given birth.
The medical examiner later concluded that the baby was born alive and died in the trash bin. Sladon-Marler is now in jail, charged with manslaughter. For more than two months, Baby Gabriel sat in the morgue, unclaimed.
In stepped Frank Marques, a parishioner at St. David in Davie. "It just upset me. No one should end up in a dumpster," he said.
He decided to donate his own burial plot at Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery in Miami. "I was a little nervous" but thought "God will work it out," he said. "They'll find a place for me when my time comes."
So he contacted a local television station that had aired the story, but when he got no response he called Mary Ross Agosta, archdiocesan director of communications. She was able to get through to the station and get in touch with the investigating officer, Det. Jim Jaggers of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. He said if no one claimed the body, it would eventually be cremated by the county.
Ross Agosta contacted Mary Jo Frick, executive director of Catholic Cemeteries, who said Marques would not have to give up his burial plot. The Fort Lauderdale cemetery, Our Lady Queen of Heaven, would gladly donate a plot in their baby section — the newest of two that exist at the cemetery — as well as staff time and a chapel for the funeral Mass.
On very short notice, Father Dominick O'Dwyer, pastor of St. Malachy Parish in Tamarac, offered to celebrate the Mass. He was joined by Msgr. Vincent Kelly, pastor of St. John the Baptist in Fort Lauderdale, Father Michael "Happy" Hoyer, pastor of St. Gregory in Plantation, and Father Manny Alvarez, parochial vicar at St. Gregory, as well as Deacon Mario Lopez of Mary Help of Christians in Parkland.
They invited members of their parishes, and Respect Life volunteers, to take part in the Mass, which was celebrated Oct. 24 in the chapel of Our Lady Queen of Heaven's mausoleum. TM Ralph Funeral Homes donated the casket and their services. Ross Agosta and Det. Jaggers served as pallbearers.
"We know for sure that this innocent soul is secure and happy in the presence of God," Father O'Dwyer said in his homily, noting that the tragic circumstances of Baby Gabriel's death point to the reality of what Blessed John Paul II called "the culture of death."
"Here we have two victims — Baby Gabriel and his mother. Both are the victims of this culture of death, this freedom of choice which has fooled so many into thinking that so-called unwanted human life can be disposed of," Father O'Dwyer said. "We don't need to pray today for the soul of Gabriel. But we do need to pray for his mother, because she is a victim of this culture of death. (We pray) that she will find the love and the mercy and the forgiveness of God, who loves her with an infinite love."
May she "come to peace," Father O'Dwyer said, knowing that "her son Gabriel now intercedes for her at the right hand of God."
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Also present among the mourners was Nick Silverio, a parishioner at Christ the King in Perrine and founder of A Safe Haven for Newborns. The organization is dedicated to saving abandoned newborns, the children of women who may feel desperate or alone after giving birth. Florida law allows them to leave their babies at hospitals or fire stations up to seven days after birth, no questions asked. All 50 states have similar laws, Silverio said, although the length of time allowed ranges from three days to a year.
A Safe Haven also operates a hotline that receives seven to eight calls a day from women seeking help or guidance. The group has helped more than 4,700 women so far.
"The program could have helped (Sladon-Marler) if she was aware but apparently she was totally disconnected from society, very troubled," Silverio said. "This doesn't have to happen."
He added that this is the first abandoned baby to die in South Florida in three years. A Safe Haven has saved 183 newborns since it was founded in 2001, including 23 from Broward — a number which leads the statewide count.
The organization is currently working on showing a 10-minute video on its work to middle and high school students in private and public schools throughout the state of Florida.
A Safe Haven could "not only save the baby's life but save the mother's life as well," Silverio said. "It breaks our hearts when this happens. It's just so sad."
"Sometimes God requires us to do things that are very uncomfortable," said Marques, who also attended the funeral. "Coming here today wasn't easy for me because my late sister is buried here. But I felt, no, I have to come. So I'm glad I'm here. God has given me the peace to be here. I'm glad for the turnout."
This article has been modified since it was posted to reflect a better estimate of the number of people who turned out for the funeral. Cemetery officials calculated 110 rather than 75.