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 CNS Story:

PEORIA-HEALING Sep-21-2011 (800 words) With photo. xxxn

Tribunal studies healing attributed to intercession of Archbishop Sheen


James Fulton Engstrom with his parents, Travis and Bonnie Engstrom of Goodfield, Ill. (CNS/Jennifer Willems, The Catholic Post)

By Jennifer Willems
Catholic News Service

PEORIA, Ill. (CNS) -- That James Fulton Engstrom celebrated his first birthday Sept. 16 is amazing. In fact, some would call his life a miracle.

Considered stillborn one year ago after his mother's healthy pregnancy and "a beautiful, short labor," James was without a pulse for the first 61 minutes of his life. It was only when doctors at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria were ready to call the time of death that his little heart started beating.

His parents, Travis and Bonnie Engstrom, believe James is alive because of the intercession of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, a candidate for sainthood.

On Sept. 7, a tribunal of inquiry was sworn in to investigate the tot's alleged miraculous healing. Joining James and his family at the ceremony in Peoria were Bishop Daniel R. Jenky; Andrea Ambrosi, postulator for the cause; and members of the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Foundation board, some of whom are relatives of the late archbishop.

Peoria is the late archbishop's home diocese. His cause was officially opened in 2002. The Sheen Foundation centralized its operations in the diocese in 2007.

In addition to Bishop Jenky and Ambrosi, others sworn in included Msgr. Jason Gray, a pastor and judicial vicar of the diocesan marriage tribunal, who as episcopal delegate to the Sheen tribunal is responsible for guiding the process; and Dr. Louis Varela, a Houston family physician, who chairs the Sheen Foundation board and is the Sheen tribunal's medical expert.

The tribunal's work takes place in secret, so there is much that Msgr. Gray cannot say. But since the Engstroms have shared their story widely, he said the general details could be made public.

Msgr. Gray noted that the tribunal's task is to investigate the alleged miraculous healing and determine whether it can be proved through medical documents and the testimony of witnesses.

"We call them to testify to different things," he said, including the seriousness of the medical condition. "We call them to testify about the fact that prayers were addressed to Fulton Sheen asking for his intercession. And then we need witnesses to testify to the end result, meaning that the crisis situation was cured, that health was restored."

Not only will the tribunal confer with the doctors and nurses involved in the case, but also with two outside doctors who can report on the child's current state of health.

"That way we can see that this isn't something that has resurfaced," Msgr. Gray told The Catholic Post, Peoria's diocesan newspaper. "In other words, it's a lasting healing."

He said the number of witnesses is small, so testimony should be collected relatively quickly.

Some time will be needed, however, for the two outside doctors to make their examinations, write reports and then explain the contents to the tribunal.

"My guess, though, is we're talking about months, not years," Msgr. Gray said. However, the results gathered by the Peoria investigation will go to the Vatican Congregation for Saint's Causes, he explained, and "then they open another phase of this tribunal."

Only after that investigation is done will recommendations be sent to the pope, who will decide the matter, Msgr. Gray said.

Archbishop Sheen is a native of El Paso, "down the road" from Germantown Hills where Bonnie Engstrom grew up. "I always heard people say he was going to be a saint," she told The Catholic Post.

She learned more about the media evangelist as a student at the Salve Regina Newman Center at Eureka College, where Msgr. Stanley Deptula was chaplain. He is now executive director of the Sheen Foundation.

She learned even more last year in writing the proposal for a grant from a diocesan Fulton Sheen endowment for an annual women's conference.

Six or seven months pregnant at the time, Bonnie said she started to pray that this "hometown hero" would pull some strings for the conference and also watch over her pregnancy. The Engstroms decided Fulton would be a good middle name if their baby was a boy.

When their son was born in crisis at home a year ago, because it was an emergency situation, Travis baptized him James Fulton before the ambulance came.

"I have a memory of watching the midwife perform CPR and praying to Sheen," Bonnie said.

Later in the day she asked people through her blog, learningtobeanewlywed.blogspot.com, to pray for Sheen's intercession.

While doctors had warned that he might be blind and unable to function normally, James is medication free and almost walking. "He laughs and plays with his toys and does things just like he should be doing and has for awhile," Bonnie said.

"I believe it was Sheen's intercession that played a key role in it, but it was Jesus who healed my son," she said. "It was for his greater honor and glory."

END


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