PINELLAS PARK - Father Terri Gensemer stood at the pulpit of the Praise Cathedral Renewal Center Thursday night and described Terri Schiavo in life: a beautiful woman, a loving sister, a devoted daughter.
In death, he said, she is a Christian martyr, a seed of inspiration.
"For 15 years, the seed lay in a bed, alone," he said. "Now, the seed has been planted, in several gardens around the world. There's not a nation in this world where someone has not heard of Terri Schiavo."
With those words, the 400 people in the pews rose and applauded.
Thursday evening's service was a celebration of Schiavo's life, and a thank-you for the people who stood vigil outside of her hospice for the past two weeks.
"I was compelled to come here," said Terri's father, Robert Schindler. "Terri thanks you."
Someone in the audience yelled: "We love you, Bob."
Another person announced: "Your daughter is our daughter."
Schindler didn't stay long. After embracing several people, including memorial organizer and pro-life activist Randall Terry, he went home to rest.
He made no mention of the contentiousness that marked his daughter's final days, nor did he mention Michael Schiavo, her husband.
Others did, however.
Father Gensemer called Terri's death "a murder."
"Terri was murdered by the system, by legalism, and by the system's culture of death," he said. "Her death will cause us more and more to fight for a culture of life."
Monsignor Ted Malanowski criticized Michael Schiavo for not allowing the Schindlers to see their daughter in the final moments of her life. Malanowski and Rabbi Rayow Steven of Zera Emunah, a Madeira Beach temple, were also upset that Schiavo intends to cremate Terri and bury her in Pennsylvania.
"Release her to her family," said Steven. "Give her the burial she so rightly deserves."
Added Malanowski: "They may have her body, but we have her soul."