Luis de Moya, a Catholic priest and pro-life campaigner, died in Pamplona, Spain, on November 9, aged 67
Late in his life, don Luis de Moya started to look like Superman. Christopher Reeve, that is, the Hollywood actor who starred in Superman I, II, III and IV. They both had neatly combed hair, firm jaws, puffy features, and big useless bodies.
Reeve was more famous. After a riding accident in 1995 abruptly ended his career as Superman, he became an international advocate of embryonic stem cell research. If scientists were authorised to dice up human embryos, perhaps he could walk again. What meaning did his life have if he couldn’t walk, let alone fly?
Don Luis was a different kind of superman, one who soared high above pain and despair. In 1991 he fell asleep at the wheel and woke up in hospital as a quadriplegic. He knew the score: he had studied medicine before he became a Catholic priest of Opus Dei in 1981. His spinal column had been severed at C4. From that moment on he would require 24/7 personal care.
What meaning did his life have?
Plenty. Don Luis took the calamity in his stride. Nothing had changed: he was still a son of God and he was still a priest. God loved him and had a plan for him. There were annoying little things to deal with, like eating, dressing, bathing, and getting in and out of bed. He was still a chaplain at the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Navarra and chaplains are busy people. He had to say Mass, hear confessions, teach, study and write. In 1996 he published a book about his life after the accident, Sobre La Marcha. It means “on the move”, more or less, in English, and he was on the move.
And after he had finished his book, God invented the internet for him. He set up a website, Fluvium, for his reflections and spreading the faith. Hundreds of emails came asking for his advice and his prayers. He liked a verse from the New Testament, “I can do all things in the one who strengthens me”. If it was inspiring for all Christians, it had a special meaning for don Luis.
There was another famous spinal accident victim in Spain, a seaman named Ramón Sampedro. He had broken his neck in a diving accident in 1968. For decades Ramon had been campaigning for assisted suicide. Don Luis corresponded with him but failed to make him see sense. Once he even tried to pay him a visit, but no one came to the door – Ramón was alone in his bed. And in 1998 one of his so-called friends gave him potassium cyanide and he died.
Angry Ramón Sampedro became as famous as angry Christopher Reeve. Neither of them saw meaning in the hand that life had dealt them. Alejandro Amenábar turned Ramón’s life into a film, Mar Adentro (The Sea Inside) which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2004, much to the disgust of don Luis. It was just slick propaganda for assisted suicide and euthanasia and full of fake news. Amenábar even included him, disguised as a mealy-mouthed, moralising quadriplegic Jesuit named Padre Francisco.
Don Luis felt for Ramón. His friends were happy enough to kill him. Why didn’t they accompany him in his pain? Why hadn’t they answered the door when he came knocking? Why didn’t they persuade him to use a wheelchair? For goodness sake, people with C7 injuries were driving cars.
Anyhow, why is life not worth living just because you’re not independent? “He thought too much, almost exclusively, about what he had lost,” said don Luis. “But mobility, obviously, is not the best part of being human.”
Euthanasia, don Luis said over and over, is not the answer. “When someone who is incurably ill has palliative and adequate psychological support, he doesn’t ask for euthanasia. That is statistically proven and published. People want to die when they can’t find meaning to keep on living. But to overcome those difficulties there is a branch of medicine called psychiatry.”
And he had something more powerful than psychiatry – his faith. “The characteristic virtue of a Christian is optimism,” he believed. “With the power and goodness of his Father God to lean on, a Christian is not afraid of life and not afraid of death.”
In fact, as his time drew near after 29 years in a wheelchair, he used to say that he wouldn’t swap places with anyone. “I feel like a millionaire who has only lost a thousand pesetas,” he said, “because I can still do the most important things that a human being can do: to think and to love.”