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March for Life in Washington, D.C.

In remarks broadcast to the March for Life from the White House Rose Garden, President Donald Trump said that his administration "will always defend the very first right in the Declaration of Independence, and that is the right to life."
 
He invoked the theme of this year's march, "Love Saves Lives," and praised the crowd as being very special and "such great citizens gathered in our nation's capital from many places for one beautiful cause" -- celebrating and cherishing life.
 
"Every unborn child is a precious gift from God," he said, his remarks interrupted several times by applause from the crowd gathered on the National Mall. He praised the pro-lifers for having "such big hearts and tireless devotion to make sure parents have the support they need to choose life."
 
"You're living witnesses of this year's March for Life theme, 'Love Saves Lives,'" His remarks were broadcast to the crowd live via satellite to a Jumbotron above the speakers' stage, a first for any U.S. president, according to March for Life.
 
During their tenure in office, President Ronald Reagan, President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush all addressed the march via telephone or a radio hookup from the Oval Office, with their remarks broadcast to the crowd.
 
Vice President Mike Pence, who addressed last year's March for Life in person at Trump's request, introduced the president as the "most pro-life president in American history," for among other things issuing an executive memorandum shortly after his inauguration to reinstate the "Mexico City Policy." The policy bans all foreign nongovernmental organizations receiving U.S. funds from performing or promoting abortion as a method of family planning in other countries.
 
Trump also has nominated pro-life judges to fill several court vacancies and a day before the March for Life the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced formation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights. Its aim is to protect the conscience rights of doctors and other health care workers who do not want to perform procedures they consider morally objectionable.
 
For the first time in a recent memory, the weather in Washington was more than tolerable for March for Life participants as they gathered on the National Mall to mark the anniversary of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. The sun was shining and the blue sky was cloudless. By the time the speeches ended and the march to the Supreme Court started, the temperature had reached 50 degrees.
 
Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, opened the rally by calling on everyone in the crowd to text the word "March" to 7305 and to show their commitment to ending abortion and join their voices in calling on Congress to defund Planned Parenthood.
 
"Do you agree that's important?" she asked the crowd. "Yes!" they shouted. March for Life, she said, is about educating people about abortion and mobilizing to end it and to love all those women and families who are facing a troubled pregnancy and other needs.
 
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, was among several others who addressed the crowd.
 
"Thank God for giving us a pro-life president in the White House," the Catholic congressman said.
 
"Your energy is so infectious," he told the crowd, praising them for being "the vigor and enthusiasm of the pro-life movement."
 
Seeing so many young people "is so inspiring because it tells us this a movement on the rise," he said. "Why is the pro-life movement on the rise? Because truth is on our side. Life begins at conception. Science is on our side."
 
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Washington, gave an emotional speech about the troubled pregnancy she faced about four years ago. She and her husband, Dan, were told their unborn child had severe defects, that the baby's kidneys would never develop and the lungs were undeveloped because of a rare condition. Abortion was their only option, they were told.
 
Today, that baby is 4-year-old Abigail. She and her younger brother and their father stood on the stage with the congresswoman.
 
"Dan and I prayed and we cried (at the news of their unborn child's condition) ... and in that devastation we saw hope. What if God would do a miracle? What if a doctor was willing to try something new? Like saline infusions to mimic amniotic fluid so kidneys could develop?" she recalled.
 
With "true divine intervention and some very courageous doctors willing to take a risk we get to experience our daughter, Abigail," Herrera Beutler said. She is a very "healthy, happy 4-year-old big sister who some day is going to be 'the boss of mommy's work,'" she said.
 
Herrera Beutler asked the crowd to imagine that 45 years of legal abortion had not existed and that 60 million babies had not been lost to abortion, and if out of those people had come those who could cure cancer and correct all manner of disabling conditions, including those that exist in utero, and eradicate poverty.
 
 
  • Published in Nation

Pursuing justice, respecting life

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.
  • Published in Diocesan

Supporting women means upholding dignity of all life

By Carrie Handy
 
A little-known fact about the women’s movement is that it did not begin with the pro-abortion agenda that characterizes it today. Suffragettes of the early 20th century were concerned primarily with obtaining the right to vote, not the right to abort their children.
 
According to Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, “Early leaders of the women’s suffrage movement in the U.S. believed that the rights of mother and child are inextricably linked and that the right to life and the right to vote are rooted in the inherent dignity of each human person.”
 
Nearly 100 years after women won the right to vote, the movement has transformed from its early focus to one which effectively places women in competition with their children and at odds with their fertility. Modern feminist ideology promotes the dangerous notion that women “need” abortion and contraception as solutions to such problems as poverty, hunger, domestic abuse and single parenthood. Pro-life advocates who work to prioritize the protection of the unborn are sometimes accused of ignoring the social and economic causes that lead women to seek abortions.
 
In fact, to be “pro-life” has always been to be pro- “all life.” Whereas there are some such as Charles Camosy (“Beyond the Abortion Wars”) who describe the unborn as “innocent aggressors,” whose right to life is subordinate to that of their mothers, Catholic moral teaching views the lives of mothers and their unborn children of equal dignity and worth and supports a “both-and” approach to solving the problems that lead to abortion. That is, we work both to protect the unborn and to solve economic and social problems that threaten families.
 
A nationwide movement known as Women Speak for Themselves has emerged whose mission is to challenge the prevailing notion that women “need” access to abortion and contraception, focusing specifically on “how women are disadvantaged respecting dating and marriage, particularly because of contraception and abortion, and about how to reconnect sex with marriage and children for the good of all people.”
 
Inspired by Women Speak for Themselves founder Helen Alvare, who is a nationally known speaker, writer and attorney Joanna Bisceglio of Waterbury was moved to organize a chapter in Vermont. “As a Vermont professional, mother, wife, athlete and a Catholic, I am amazed at the abuse women often put themselves through by not standing up for ourselves and each other in this throwaway culture that devalues women constantly,” Bisceglio explained.  “We women often don’t support each other enough and stand up for how we were made to be treated, in God’s divine image.”
 
She said her goal is to bring women together around topics of mutual concern with the hope that even on those issues about which there is disagreement, they can work toward greater understanding and respect. “I truly believe that what unites us is greater than that which divides us,” she said.
 
The emergence of groups like Women Speak for Themselves is evidence that the false dichotomy underpinning the modern women’s movement is increasingly giving way to a more authentic “both-and” approach to women’s issues that recognizes pro-life and pro-woman goals as mutually supportive, not mutually exclusive. As Catholics, we are called to throw the full weight of our creative and moral energy behind policies and reforms that uphold the dignity of all, born and unborn.
 
The Respect Life Speakers Bureau 2017-2018 features several talks related to this topic.
 
Carrie Handy is the respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington.

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

Respect Life Month

In a statement to mark Respect Life Month, October 2017, Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York reiterated the need to build a culture of life throughout the year. Cardinal Dolan chairs the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The Cardinal’s statement launches the year-long 2017-18 Respect Life Program (usccb.org/respectlife), which provides materials exploring the theme, “Be Not Afraid.”

“Looking back over the last year, there’s been a lot of uncertainty, suffering, and heartache. Between tragedies that occur in the public eye and trials that take place in our personal lives, there’s no shortage of reasons we cry out to God,” Cardinal Dolan said. “At such times, we may feel alone and unequipped... But we have an anchor of hope to cling to. ...God says to us, ‘Do not fear: I am with you’ (Isaiah 41:10).”

“There are times we may doubt the value of our own lives or falter at the thought of welcoming and embracing the life of another. But…He makes all things beautiful. He makes all things new. He is the God of redemption,” the Cardinal said. “That’s powerful. That’s something to hold onto.”

“As followers of Jesus Christ, …we are called to be missionary disciples…commissioned to reach out to one another, especially to the weak and vulnerable,” Cardinal Dolan said.

Begun in 1972, the Respect Life Program highlights the value and dignity of human life throughout the year. Materials are intended for use across the spectrum of Catholic life, work, ministry, and education.

The 2017-18 Respect Life Program features six articles on a range of issues. They address practical steps to build a culture of life, compelling reasons to oppose assisted suicide, principles to consider at the end of life, an overview of the role of conscience, offering genuine support to a friend who’s considering abortion, and a Catholic Q & A on the death penalty. Many digital and print resources are offered, including toolkits for priests and deacons, parishes, Catholic education, Respect Life ministry, youth ministry, young adult ministry, faith formation, and communications.

 

The full text of Cardinal Dolan's statement is available along with many other resources at usccb.org/respectlife.
  • Published in Nation

21 pro-life ideas for building a culture of life

“Be Not Afraid” is the theme for Respect Life Month, an annual event observed by the Catholic Church throughout the United States to shine a light on the importance of defending and protecting the dignity of all human life, made in the image and likeness of God.
 
The culture of life will grow as long as we are willing to play our part. While not
everyone is called to full time prolife ministry or advocacy, we are all called to help build the culture of life within our families and communities—to walk with those who are vulnerable or hurting; to speak up on behalf of the innocent; to bear witness to the truth about abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide and other key pro-life issues.
 
Below are ideas for individuals or parishes to do, organized according to the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops’ Four Arms of Pro-Life Ministry. What is God calling you to do? During this Respect Life Month choose one of these activities and be not afraid to show that you are pro-life.
 
For more information on any of these ideas, call the Respect Life Office 658-6110 ext. 1176 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 
Prayer and worship
1. Pray. Pray for the unborn, the elderly, those who hold public office, for prisoners and their families, for conversion of sinners, for refugees, for those suffering loss from natural disasters, for the culture of life to grow.
2. Organize a virtual pro-life prayer group.
3. Join Nine Days for Life.
4. Take part in 40 Days for Life or Life Chain.
5.  Begin a Cenacle of Life at your parish.
6. Fast from something you like as a sacrifice for a pro-life intention each day in October and encourage others to do so.
 
Public Education
7. Become informed about all life issues: abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia, hunger and the poor, capital punishment, embryonic stem cell research, etc. Begin here and here.
8. Purchase (or download and print) pro-life pamphlets, booklets, etc. for the parish bookrack in your church.
9. Get permission to distribute USCCB-materials and pro-life articles in pews at your parish.
10. Decorate a bulletin board in the parish hall or religious education area with pro-life messages.
11. Bring pro-life speakers to your parish group or religious education class. Check out the Respect Life Speakers Bureau for ideas.
12. Donate pro-life education materials to school health offices and libraries.
13. Sponsor a pro-life movie night for your parish teens.
Pastoral Care
14. Collect maternity and baby clothes to give to pregnant women in need. Have a “baby shower” to raise funds and donations to assist Birthright or other pregnancy care centers.
15. Encourage anyone who has had an abortion to seek help from Project Rachel.
16. Donate food to your local food shelf.
17. Donate clothing or baked goods to homeless shelters in your community.
18. Become a trained Hospice volunteer.
19. Visit your local nursing home—ask how you can help offer companionship to residents.
 
Public Policy
20. Become informed about pro-life issues and legislation at the state and national level; stay updated by joining the Respect Life Roman Catholic Diocese Facebook Group.
21. Attend the Annual March for Life events in Montpelier and Washington, D.C.
 
  • Published in Diocesan

The 'grave evil' of assisted suicide

By Caitlin Thomas
 
In the Church's efforts to teach about the grave evil of assisted suicide and the threats it poses, we must use clear and vigorous language. And it is always, always important that we do so with love.
 
Assisted suicide is suicide. In the few states where it is legal, physicians willing to do so prescribe lethal drugs at the request of patients seeking the drugs to end their own lives. Proponents of assisted suicide use terms like "death with dignity" and "aid in dying." But these are misleading. They are the sickly-sweet phrases of a poisonous ideology that attacks our full dignity and worth as human beings.
 
These phrases go beyond word games and become flat-out contradictions carefully etched into law. In fact, every state law (and proposed bill) legalizing assisted suicide in this country follows Oregon's law, proclaiming, "the actions taken in accordance with [the law] shall not, for any purposes, constitute suicide [or] assisted suicide." So, according to the law itself, assisted suicide isn't assisted suicide? The only sensible response to this legal blustering must be something like this sentiment from a wise character in C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce: "Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured: but we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on having jaundice."
 
We should not be seduced by slippery language into ignoring hard truths. The dying process can be painful, messy, full of uncertainty and difficult questions—just like life. But there is death with authentic dignity: dying at peace with God and our loved ones. Dying or terminally ill persons deserve the best care we have to offer, including appropriate treatment of symptoms and pain relief. There is a way to face this process with peace, not by hastening death, but by experiencing the support and loving care that our society should offer to those preparing for death. Assisted suicide, on the other hand, hurts the individual and the entire human family, sending a message that some lives are "completed" or not as valuable as others. We should kill the pain, not the patient.
 
Truth always walks hand-in-hand with love. It is not enough to say, "suicide is bad." We must also say, "life is good"—especially when life is old, fragile, differently abled, so young and so small our eyes cannot see it, or of a different skin color or place of origin.
 
We should learn how to best love those who are close to death. We should pray for holy deaths for them and for ourselves, recognizing that Jesus brings us to new life with Him through His death and resurrection. We should pray for the grace to build a true culture of life. And we should affirm the goodness of life in all that we do and say.
 
Caitlin Thomas is a staff assistant for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. To read the U.S. bishops' 2011 policy statement on assisted suicide and related resources, visit www.usccb.org/toliveeachday.
 
 
  • Published in World

Life Issues Forum: Of Strollers And Walkers

By Mary McClusky
 
The parents of a 3-month-old recently wrote to The Washington Post food critic's online chat to ask about dining etiquette in a city where many restaurants are inaccessible to strollers. 
 
The critic responded by complaining about "strollers the size of Zipcars," but then admitted he wasn't the parent of an infant and invited readers to discuss the topic. Reader comments varied and expanded the topic to include people who use walkers. The chat provided much food for thought on the many ways that we can welcome those whom others might consider burdensome while we are out and about at restaurants, churches, parks, on transportation and in public. Our loving welcome may help others soften their hearts and change attitudes toward families with young or elderly members.
 
The first commenter suggested that parents eat at off-peak hours to avoid "consternation" from fellow diners. As hard enough as it is to raise children in a city, are we now asking parents to eat dinner out with children only from 2 to 5 p.m.? Perhaps as fellow diners we could be patient and understanding and help when we see a parent struggling with a stroller or a temperamental child. Or suggest that a restaurant have a secure place to stow strollers and walkers.
 
Recall God's creation of each of us "in His image" (Gn 1:27), meaning that every one of us is made to be in loving relationship with others. Even the smallest community of love, sometimes as small as two people, mirrors the Divine Trinity. Members of a loving community patiently accommodate one another's needs.
 
My parish during high school displayed this loving acceptance each week as everyone kindly greeted my grandmother making her slow but steady way into church with her walker. On the other hand, I've been present at Mass when a priest stopped during a homily and asked a parent to take a slightly noisy child out of the church.
 
How we treat the defenseless and vulnerable among us not only impacts our salvation but also sends a powerful message to those around us. Our acceptance of others can bear witness to their very existence as God's gift. By our attentiveness and loving assistance, we proclaim that the person in front of us, no matter how young, frail or in need of assistance, is an unrepeatable and precious creation from God. And in turn, we grow in character and virtue each time we choose to sacrifice for another.
So, ask yourself, how accessible is my parish to strollers and wheelchairs? Could we install a wheelchair ramp or elevator to be more welcoming to the elderly or disabled? Is there a place to stow walkers or canes safely? Are there diaper-changing tables in women's and men's restrooms? Or accommodations for parents to participate in the Mass as much as possible if their children become distracting?
 
Perhaps I could smile understandingly when I see a mother and her crying child walking down the airplane aisle toward me, instead of silently praying that they're not seated next to me. Or learn to be more grateful for the gift of children and families being present in our celebration of the Eucharist.
 
Through better accommodations -- but more importantly, through open hearts and loving attitudes -- we can build up a culture that truly welcomes every life in all situations, even a situation as seemingly insignificant as accommodating stroller storage in a crowded restaurant.

Mary McClusky is assistant director for Project Rachel Ministry Development at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For confidential help after abortion, visit hopeafterabortion.com or esperanzaposaborto.com.
 

 
 

Virtual prayer groups

By Carrie Handy, respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington
 
How many times have you told someone, “I will pray for you,” after learning of a troubling diagnosis, a bereavement or a worry on that person’s mind? Prayer is something we Catholics do, for and with one another — from the highest form of prayer, which is the Mass, to private devotionals for particular intentions.
 
When it comes to building a culture of life, prayer may be considered the most powerful tool we have. Especially in a state like Vermont where abortion is widespread and assisted suicide is legal, movements like 40 Days for Life (40daysforlife.com) and Cenacles of Life (cenaclesoflife.org) offer tangible opportunities to pray and fast in solidarity with others who are committed to promoting the sanctity of human life. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for some people to find time to gather physically to pray.
 
Thanks to the tools of our modern age, however, a solution has emerged: virtual prayer groups. These take many forms, but their common feature is that members connect digitally around shared prayer intentions, allowing them to pray “together” wherever they are and whenever they can.
 
Many Vermonters participate in Nine Days for Life, a United States Conference of Catholic Bishops-sponsored novena for pro-life intentions that takes place nationwide during the nine days leading up to the annual March for Life each January in Washington, D.C. Participants register at 9daysforlife.com and are sent daily reminders and prayers via email, text or social media apps.
 
Social media platforms like Facebook also offer myriad public and private prayer groups devoted to specific causes. Informal prayer groups can arise organically and take a variety of forms; not all require members to be tech-savvy.
 
Lori Daudelin, who helps coordinate the diocesan post-abortion healing ministry known as Project Rachel, developed a prayer ministry called “Friends of Project Rachel Prayer Partners,” a community of volunteers who pray for participants in the Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat as well as those who call Project Rachel for support.
 
Daudelin sends requests to members using both email and surface mail outlining prayer requests. “Members’ time commitment is whatever they want it to be,” Daudelin explained. “They offer the prayers they feel led to.” She always is looking to add new members to this prayer community.
 
Pam King of Swanton, co-director of religious education at Immaculate Conception Church in St. Albans, leads a virtual prayer group which began spontaneously more than two years ago when a handful of friends agreed to pray a novena for a mutual friend who was experiencing troubled times. King sent daily reminders via text message to connect participants and to formalize their effort. Members texted “Amen” after they finished praying. The group continues with some 30 participants who receive either text or email reminders.
 
With input from the members, King identifies prayer intentions and searches out appropriate prayers to support them. “We have developed a kind of spiritual family where we support each other in times of need,” King explained, adding that it is a format that is easy to adapt to suit the goals of any prayer ministry. She often consults the website praymorenovenas.com to find suitable prayers for the group.
 
“Catholic Apptitude” (catholicapptitude.org/mission) is another online resource offering reviews of many digital apps devoted to prayer and devotions.
 
There are no limits to when individuals can pray, and now, with the availability of digital media, there are fewer limits to how and when we can pray together. 

Originally printed in the summer 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
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