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Pursuing justice, respecting life

Participants in last year's Rally for Life in Montpelier make their way to the Statehouse. The 2018 rally takes place Jan. 13. (Vermont Catholic/Cori Fugere Urban) Participants in last year's Rally for Life in Montpelier make their way to the Statehouse. The 2018 rally takes place Jan. 13.
Both the responsibilities to respect life and pursue justice are founded on the basic principle of the inherent dignity of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God.
 
People sometimes disagree about how to handle pro-life and social justice issues, particularly when it comes to public policy when there are competing interests at play. “This can lead to a false assumption that social justice and pro-life are somehow at odds. They are not,” said Carrie Handy, respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington.
 
“Acknowledging the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings compels us to be particularly attentive to those who may not be able to care for themselves — the most vulnerable among us,” said Handy.
 
Vermont Catholic Charities Inc. supports life and justice ministries through its partnership with the Diocese to support Project Rachel (a ministry to those affected by abortion), through caring for residents at residential care homes and through deGoesbriand Grants to agencies supporting life and justice initiatives.
 
“Human life is sacred, and Vermont Catholic Charities is committed to the dignity of the human person,” emphasized Mary Beth Pinard, executive director.
 
“We do ourselves a disservice when we speak of social justice and protection of life as two separate issues,” said Stephanie Clary, manager of mission outreach and communication for the Diocese. “Protecting life is an issue of social justice and social justice is always an issue of protecting life.”
 
“In both arenas, the weaker and relatively defenseless are pitted against the more powerful,” said Deacon Peter Gummere, director of the Permanent Diaconate for
the Diocese, bioethicist and adjunct faculty member at Josephinum Diaconate Institute where he teaches courses in medical morality and moral theology. “In abortion, a tiny human is threatened by a big, powerful human. In assisted suicide, a weak person is invited to die earlier than they would otherwise for the convenience of society.”
 
Pro-life convictions lead Catholics not only to advocate for the unborn and the terminally disabled but also for others who are weak and marginalized. “It should
include sensitivity for the single mom, reaching out to her with a supportive network,” he said. “It should include helping to ensure the wellbeing of the disabled, the sick and others who are marginalized. It should include working to eliminate barbaric practices like excessively harsh conditions in prisons and capital punishment. And we should work toward more ecologically sustainable
practices in order to protect our planet.”
 
“To authentically work for justice in one area we must consider the connectedness of that issue with other aspects of reality,” Clary said. “When we work toward clean water, we quench someone’s thirst. When we reduce carbon emissions and prevent a crop-killing drought, we feed someone’s hunger. When we demand breathable air, we decrease the likelihood of birth defects and increase the life expectancy of elders.”
 
As Pope Francis points out in his encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” “we need to be attentive to the relationships that exist among creation if we truly wish to address injustices and protect life,” she added.
 
“What the Catholic Church means when it identifies as prolife is pro all life, not only because all life is connected, but more importantly because all life is of God. It was created with intention, purpose and love and it gives glory to God by its very existence,” Clary said. “We each have our own passions, areas of interest and expertise. The important thing is that we’re always considering the big picture and working together with those of different passions, interests and expertise to collectively pursue justice, the protection of life in our world.”

Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
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