Tagged: Respect Life

To Protect Life and Promote Justice, Laws Matter

In a recent column for Religion News Service, Marcia Pally, who describes herself as “emphatically pro-life,” argues that all of the legal efforts to regulate or ban abortion over the past 40 years are “hokum.” She writes “Laws limiting abortion don’t pay for sonograms or day care, and they don’t feed or educate children.”

If the most important pro-life goal is to reduce the number of abortions, she writes, it’s better to focus on and address the host of complex issues that help drive up the abortion rate, such as poverty, an overly complicated adoption process, and the lack of access to things like paid parental leave and quality healthcare. We should abandon the pursuit of legal restrictions on abortion because they don’t work — not until we’ve had a big cultural shift, anyway.

Pally’s column reminds me of an argument I’ve heard from those who oppose stricter gun control measures. Some gun control opponents say that tighter restrictions on gun rights won’t work because there are already lots of guns out there and those bent on doing harm will find a way to arm themselves. Better to focus instead on improving mental health services, or keeping violent video games from kids. We should abandon the pursuit of legal restrictions on gun ownership because they don’t work — not until we’ve had a big cultural shift, anyway.

Don’t get me wrong — focusing on root causes and the web of related issues that contribute to abortion and gun violence is essential. But not at the expense of addressing the issue head-on with targeted legislation. Laws restricting abortion access and gun ownership do reduce abortions and gun violence. They’re not silver bullets, but they’re important pieces of the puzzle.


Whenever I think about the role of narrow, limited legislation within a broader movement for social change, I remember this quote from a speech Martin Luther King, Jr. gave at Western Michigan University in 1963:

Now the other myth that gets around is the idea that legislation cannot really solve the problem and that it has no great role to play in this period of social change because you’ve got to change the heart and you can’t change the heart through legislation. You can’t legislate morals. The job must be done through education and religion. Well, there’s half-truth involved here. Certainly, if the problem is to be solved then in the final sense, hearts must be changed. Religion and education must play a great role in changing the heart. But we must go on to say that while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also. So there is a need for executive orders. There is a need for judicial decrees. There is a need for civil rights legislation on the local scale within states and on the national scale from the federal government.

As all pro-life and social justice advocates discern how to best spend our time, we shouldn’t make an “either/or” decision about broad social change vs. targeted legislation. Instead, as is so often the best option for Catholics, we should choose “both/and.”


Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation

camosyCharles Camosy, PhD, is a professor of Christian Ethics at Fordham University in the Bronx and author of the brand-new book Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation. He will be the featured speaker at the first Diocese of Camden Life & Justice Lecture (Monday, May 11, 7:00 pm, Catholic Community of the Holy Spirit, Mullica Hill, free admission), where he will discuss the Catholic vision of justice that extends protection to all human beings, from the moment of conception until natural death, including every moment in between.

A fabulous teacher, Dr. Camosy makes complex theological concepts accessible to all, and he has contributed essays to USA Today, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and other publications.

He took the time to answer a few questions for The Ampersand. Learn more about the lecture and register to attend here.

MJL: In a Wall Street Journal op-ed written just after the 2013 verdict against abortion-provider Kermit Gosnell, Dan Henninger wrote, “No other public policy has divided the people of the United States for so long and so deeply. Abortion is America’s second civil war.” Why do you think this is true?

CC: It radically divides everything from our families, to our parishes, to our political process. It and goes to the heart of two very fundamental values in our culture: (1) the equal standing of women in our culture and (2) the protecting of vulnerable prenatal children from death.  When the stakes are understand to be so high, one can see why the debate turns out this way.

MJL: In another interview you did, you said this: “I think every prenatal child, regardless of how she was conceived, is a person with a right to life and deserves equal protection of the law. Period. That’s simply what justice requires.” Many people would disagree with you on that, obviously, and digging in to the argument would take far more space than we have. But can you lay out the core reasoning behind your argument that every prenatal child has a right to life?

CC: Well, before going to the prenatal child, I like to think about intuitions about the neonatal child — the newborn. Should the newborn child, “regardless of how she was conceived, [also be considered] a person with a right to life and deserves equal protection of the law”?  Absolutely. We would think someone a monster who thought differently.

But notice that it is really difficult to explain why a newborn child is a person without saying that a prenatal child is also a person. Both are living organisms, members of the Homo sapiens family. Both are neither actually rational, self-aware, capable of moral choice, or anything else that makes humans more significant than pigs or dogs. But both have the potential for such things that other animals do not have.

Indeed, sometimes when a baby is born prematurely she is less developed than a baby who is still inside her mother. (Interestingly, secular philosophers like Peter Singer are increasingly more confident in arguing that the right to abortion also implies the right to infanticide because they too see the connection between reasoning about prenatal and neonatal human life.) What we say of one we ought to say about the other, and if newborn children have a right to life as a matter of justice, then so do unborn children.

MJL: Some critics say that pro-life advocates don’t do enough to support mothers, fathers, and children after birth. What can Catholics do to respond to those who say that pro-lifers are only “pro-birth” and not really pro-life? 

CC: The first response is that such critics are correct. We don’t do enough. Many people do great things, but we absolutely don’t do enough. Every parish with a pro-life ministry, for instance, should also have a ministry to pregnant women and single mothers in difficult circumstances. That same organization should be putting hard core pressure on local politicians to increase social supports for women. Jesus commands Christians not only to be nonviolent, but to actively support those most vulnerable and least among us.

MJL: In your just-released book, you discuss statistics that surprise some people: In many surveys, women are more likely than men to support abortion restrictions. Why do you think that is?

CC: It is complex, but part of the reason is that women understand better than men that abortion does not lead to women’s social equality. In fact, paradoxically, it could lead to more inequality. One reason why our culture doesn’t give women mandatory paid maternity leave and other supports for having children is, frankly, because we believe they could have had an abortion. Our patriarchal culture insists that equality for women means that they basically have to remain non-pregnant; that is, they have to be like men. Pro-lifers know that true social equality for women means–not abortion–but giving women the resources necessary to choose to not kill their child.

MJL: Often in the Church, one can find painful divides between “pro-life Catholics” and “social justice Catholics.” You suggest a both/and approach. What are some signs of hope for you that progress toward the both/and can be made?Life and Justice Logo & only

CC: Fifty percent of Millennials refuse to identify as either Republican or Democrat. They support “liberal” causes like health care reform and paid maternity leave, but they also support the “conservative” pro-life position in favor of protecting prenatal children. This is true also of Hispanics. Both demographics are the future of this country, and this future looks to be a very different and more hopeful one.

MJL: As a scholar, what interests you most about coming out to a parish and sharing your work with a non-academic audience?

CC: Far too often, academics are interested in having inside baseball conversations among themselves, but my work in bioethics and moral theology really does connect with the concerns of people outside the ivory tower. Indeed, if it didn’t, I’m not sure I could justify my time in working on these issues. Theologians are working for the Church, not just the academy, and this means reaching outside ourselves and engaging with other audiences. Indeed, my experience is that these audiences have just as much to teach us as we have to teach them.

Learn more about Dr. Camosy’s lecture and register to attend here.

March for Life, Selma, Immigration Reform: A Very Catholic Week

There are three things I heard over the past week that are stuck in my head.

First, “We are the pro-life generation!” Thousands of young people chanted this refrain at last Thursday’s March for Life in Washington.

Then, “We’re not asking – we’re demanding! Give us the vote!” This was a masterful Daniel Oyelowo portraying Martin Luther King, Jr., in the film Selma, which I saw on Saturday. In the scene, the minister and civil rights leader is speaking to a church congregation of African Americans who had systematically been blocked from registering to vote in Selma, Alabama.

Finally, “La iglesia está con ustedes,” or “The Church stands with you.” This was the message delivered by Bishop Sullivan and pastor Fr. Vince Guest at an information session on President Obama’s immigration executive action at the Parish of the Holy Cross in Bridgeton on Sunday. At the gathering, which drew over 500 people, experts from the Camden Center for Law and Social Justice described the president’s order, which could make thousands of undocumented South Jersey residents eligible for a type of temporary permission to stay in the United States.

Taken together, these lines and the events where I heard them offer some interesting points about discipleship. Here are three:

1) God takes sides; we should, too.

I once heard a conference speaker tell the story of an older brother, a younger sister, and a dad. The brother often picked on his sister, she would call out for Dad’s help, and he would intervene on her behalf. The son complained, “You always take her side! You love her more than me!” The father replied, “It’s because I love you both the same that I take her side. If someone ever picks on you, I’ll take your side.”

This anecdote gets at something crucial about God’s love. Of course He loves all his children the same amount. But like the dad in the story, that doesn’t mean he remains neutral in all conflicts. Instead, as we see over and over again in Scripture, he sides with the oppressed and suffering. Think of the enslaved Israelites in Egypt who Moses leads to freedom, the exiles in Babylon who God’s prophet Isaiah comforts, and the woman caught in adultery who Jesus defends from the angry, judgmental mob. To imitate God’s love in our own lives, we must be on the look-out for similar instances of the powerful targeting certain groups of people, and raise our voices with and for those in harm’s way. What incredible examples of this sort of faith in action I witnessed on the National Mall, at the movie theater, and at Holy Cross.

2) As we do our best to take the side of the poor and vulnerable consistently, we will find that we don’t fit neatly into the American political left/right binary.

I love the consistency of the message woven through my recent experiences: pro-life, pro-racial justice, pro-immigrant family. It reminded me of something Cardinal Timothy Dolan said during a speech a couple years ago. We are called to be comprehensive in our care for “the uns,” he said: “the un-employed; the un-insured; the un-wanted; the un-wed mother, and her innocent, fragile un-born baby in her womb; the un-documented; the un-housed; the un-healthy; the un-fed; the under-educated.”

I imagine a Catholic advocate phoning her Congressman four times in a given week, calling about various issues that the Catholic Church in the US is speaking up about. On Monday, she urges the representative to work toward the legal recognition of the unborn as human beings. On Tuesday, she asks him to protect social safety net programs like food stamps and Medicaid. On Wednesday, she voices opposition to physician-assisted suicide. On Thursday, she calls for a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the US. And on Friday, the congressman’s receptionist wonders aloud, “What party does that woman belong to, anyway?”

If we truly let our faith inform our politics, then that’s the question people might be asking themselves about us.

Immigration Executive Action information session at the Parish of the Holy Cross in Bridgeton. (Photo: Jeff DeCristofaro)

Immigration Executive Action information session at the Parish of the Holy Cross in Bridgeton. (Photo: Jeff DeCristofaro)

3) Siding with those who are vulnerable is risky.

In Selma, King gives a sermon in response to the racially motivated murder of a teenager in the town. “Those who have gone before us say, No more! No more!” he says. “That means protest! That means march! That means disturb the peace! That means jail! That means risk! That is hard!”

I think of the hundreds of parishioners who gathered at Holy Cross on Sunday – many of whom, who, despite the risk of deportation, keep working to provide for their families and secure civil rights. I feel for the young pro-life marchers whose peers look at them with suspicion or condescension. Selma invited me to remember those in who were beaten and killed because of their race, and to lift up those who continue the ongoing hard work of racial reconciliation across the country.

After the March for Life, I made it to Lindenwold just in time for our diocesan Respect Life Mass, hosted at the Parish Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Gospel passage selected for the Mass was Matthew’s Beatitudes: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me,” Jesus tells his followers. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

As risky as faith can be, Christ reminds us that he is with us always. There’s no finer solace – and no finer call to action – than that.

Photo from the Selma to Montgomery march, which inspired the film.

No Better Day Than Today’s Feast to Announce the Diocesan Respect Life Mass

As we celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe today, the patroness of unborn children, it’s a great time to announce that the Diocese of Camden will host its annual Respect Life Mass on Thursday, January 22, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Shrine in Lindenwold. A pro-life rosary will begin at 6:30 pm, and Mass will start at 7:00 pm.

Download, print, and distribute a flyer for the event here: Respect Life Mass 2015

Two years ago, I published my first reflection on this blog, which included three of the Blessed Mother’s best life & justice lessons. That reflection is reprinted below, with a few small edits.

Mary is one of our tradition’s best teachers of life & justice. There are so many elements of her story that call us to be Christian disciples devoted to protecting and nurturing human life wherever it is threatened.

Mary’s “Yes” to Human Life

In the Gospel for today, we hear the familiar story of the Annunciation. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary, and tells her that she is going to be the mother of God. She’s skeptical at first, but ultimately says to Gabriel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

This powerful “yes” to God’s call is at its heart a “yes” to human life.

Surely Mary knows what bearing a child out of wedlock could mean for her in her community: at best, rejection. At worst, execution. Being a teenaged single mother was not part of her own plan. But she says yes anyway, trusting in God’s plan. (No wonder Pope John Paul II also declared Our Lady of Guadalupe Protectress of Unborn Children.)

Immediately after agreeing to bear the Son of God, Mary takes an arduous journey through the hill country to visit her older cousin, Elizabeth. Mary is looking for support, for validation, for safety, for home. Elizabeth provides these things, and assures Mary that all will be well. “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Elizabeth wonders in today’s Gospel, affirming Mary’s “yes.”

Elizabeth’s welcome reminds us that we must also be supporters of life in a similar way. We are called to welcome and lift up all expectant mothers—married and single, wealthy and poor, teenagers and adults. This means not resting until all mothers have access to good healthcare, a safe home, and nutritious food. A mother’s “yes” to life must be met by our own “yes” of support.

Mary’s “No” to the Status Quo

At a parish mission at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in Collingswood two years ago, the presenter (Rev. Jim Greenfield, OSFS) talked first about Mary’s “yes,” but then also about Mary’s “no.”

After being welcomed by Elizabeth, feeling safe and blessed, Mary sings a song of praise to God—the Magnificat.

In this beautiful passage, Mary says “no” to society’s status quo: “[God] has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”

Powerful stuff. Mary praises a God who flips things on their heads, who cares for those most in need, who sends away those who can’t be bothered to think about the poor and vulnerable. The message is so threatening to the status quo that the government of Guatemala banned the Magnificat’s public recitation in the 1980s.

Mary’s prayer proclaims that if we want to be followers of Christ, we must have the courage to criticize societal structures that fail to protect what Cardinal Timothy Dolan calls “the uns”: the un-employed; the un-insured; the un-wanted; the un-wed mother, and her innocent, fragile un-born baby in her womb; the un-documented; the un-housed; the un-healthy; the un-fed; the under-educated. The Magnificat demands this criticism, and Mary’s third lesson calls for faith-filled action.

Mary’s “I’m With You” to Juan Diego

Juan Diego was a native Mexican and a poor peasant. And yet Mary chooses him, and appears to him as a native Mexican teenager. She speaks Nahuatl, Juan Diego’s language. Mary does not appear to the local bishop, or to someone else with power and prestige.

By appearing to Juan Diego, Mary asserts that she stands with those who are on the margins of society. “I am one of you,” Our Lady of Guadalupe suggests. It’s an inspiring moment of solidarity.

Today’s celebration is complements the message of the Magnificat. Mary’s “no” to the status quo is not the end of the story. Criticism of unjust structures that forget “the uns” is not enough by itself. Like Mary, we are called to stand with the forgotten and the oppressed, taking concrete action together to build the Kingdom of God on Earth.

May Our Lady of Guadalupe inspire us to say “yes” to life, “no” to injustice, and “I’m with you” to all who suffer.

Nine Ways to Observe Respect Life Month at Your Parish


October is Respect Life Month for the Catholic Church here in the United States! Here are nine ways you can observe the month at your parish this year.

1) Some incredible saints have feast days in October. Their lives inspire our respect for all life. Highlight them!

Create a visual display in your church lobby or gathering space that connects some of our October celebrations to our call to show respect for all life.

St. Therese of Lisieux (October 1): We should strive to imitate her “simple way” of love that reaches out to all, especially the vulnerable.

St. Francis of Assisi (October 4): His care for all of God’s creation can inspire us to vigilantly protect the Earth and all its creatures.

St. Teresa of Avila (October 15): This quote attributed to St. Teresa is a great motto for respect life ministries:

Christ has no body but yours…
Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

This list doesn’t even include the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, the Memorial of the Guardian Angels, and feast days honoring St. Luke and Saints Simon and Jude!

St. Therese of Lisieux

2) It’s all about the weekend.

The popular book Rebuilt, which highlights the incredible growth of a parish in Baltimore, emphasizes the centrality of the parish weekend liturgical experience. How can you assure that every person who walks through your doors during Respect Life Month (especially on Respect Life Weekend, October 4 and 5) knows that it’s a special time of year for Catholics?  A focus on respect life issues in preaching, general intercessions, bulletin blurbs, etc. can help parishioners make the connection. Great resources for the weekend can be found at the USCCB’s Respect Life Program website.

3) Participate in a public pro-life witness.

There are two particularly important pro-life public witnesses in South Jersey during October: Life Chain Sunday (October 5) and 40 Days for Life Vigils at abortion clinics in the area. See the ad in this week’s Star Herald with Life Chain locations. Bishop Sullivan plans to lead a rosary at the 40 Days for Life Vigil in Cherry Hill (502 Kings Highway N.) on Wednesday, October 15, at 11:30 am. Visit www.40daysforlife.com for a complete schedule and regional locations.

4) Attend the Respect Life Leaders gathering on October 18!

All those with a heart for respect life ministry are invited to our second annual leaders gathering. The day will include a visit from Bishop Sullivan, a dynamic keynote address, Mass and communal prayer, breakfast and lunch, and topical breakout sessions that will help invigorate your parish respect life ministry work. RSVP online at http://bit.ly/CalledToLoveAllLife.

5) Connect with an organization that serves families and children.

There are a number of great organizations in our area that support families facing crisis pregnancy situations. Holy Eucharist Parish in Cherry Hill is working with one of these groups in a neat way: representatives from Options for Women, a crisis pregnancy center, will talk to youth ministry students about their work, and then the students will go to center and help clean windows as service project. Get to know organizations in your area that protect the dignity of life, and find out how your community can support them.

6) Host a Faith & Film Night.

Over the past few years, some great movies have come out that explore themes related to the dignity of every person. Check out titles like “Gimme Shelter,” “Bella,” and “Amazing Grace,” and then gather parishioners to watch and discuss one of them. Some possible questions for reflection afterward: What characters in the movie promoted the dignity of every human, and how? What virtues did they display? What traits of theirs could we emulate? What are some of the obstacles to the promotion of human dignity, and how can we overcome those obstacles with patience and love?

“Gimme Shelter” movie poster

7) Find five people and read “The ABCs of Pro-Life Activities in the Parish” together.

Just a few weeks ago, we heard Jesus tell his disciples in the Gospel, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Community is essential! Don’t try to go it alone. Find and personally invite five other people to come together to discuss launching respect life ministry at your parish if you don’t already have an active committee within your faith community. (If you do have an active committee, find five new members!) The first thing you’ll want to read and discuss is “The ABCs of Pro-Life Activities in the Parish,” written by the Diocese of Metuchen and the Archdiocese of Newark.

8) Make your voice heard: Contact elected leaders on behalf of the sanctity of all life.

Catholics in this country have the privilege to work for the protection of all human life through participation in the political process, especially through legislative advocacy. Contact elected leaders with a phone call, postcard, email, or in-person visit and urge them to support laws that protect life. Visit the New Jersey Catholic Conference website at www.njcathconf.com to see a list of timely issues and instructions for contacting your representatives. Currently, the conference is working to protect the ill and elderly by opposing an assisted suicide bill. With your pastor’s permission, think about having postcards related to this bill available that parishioners can sign.

9) Commit to radical hospitality.

Are our parishes places where all families feel at home? Are young children celebrated and welcomed, even when they’re crying? Do single parents feel welcome in our communities? How about families with children with disabilities? Respect Life Month could be a great time to evaluate your parish’s commitment to hospitality. We must “put our money where our mouth is” when it comes to cherishing every life.

For assistance in launching or growing a respect life ministry at your parish, contact Mike at michael.laskey@camdendiocese.org or 856.583.6119.

3 Questions With Daniel Hoover and Martha Jordan

IMG_2500Daniel Hoover and Martha Jordan are the keynote speakers at this year’s Diocese of Camden Respect Life Leaders Gathering on Saturday, October 18 at St. Charles Borromeo in Sicklerville. By then, they’ll be married! (Yes, to each other!)

Titled “Called to Love All Life,” the gathering will bring together current and aspiring leaders in the pro-life movement from the diocese’s parishes and schools. Besides Daniel and Martha’s keynote address, the day will feature Mass and communal prayer, breakfast and lunch, topical breakout sessions, and networking time with dozens of respect life leaders from faith communities all over the diocese.

You can register for the event by clicking here, or email michael.laskey@camdendiocese.org for more information. 

All are welcome!

A bit about Daniel and Martha:

Daniel grew up in Grass Lake, Michigan.  He attended Michigan State University where he studied religion and philosophy before getting his Masters of Theology from the University of Notre Dame through the Echo Faith Formation Leadership Program.  He is currently the pastoral associate of St. Mary Magdalen school and parish in Wilmington, Del.

Martha grew up in South Jersey, and was a long-time parishioner at the Catholic Community of the Holy Spirit (Holy Name of Jesus Parish). She received a Bachelor’s degree in Theology, with a minor in Human Life Studies, from Franciscan University of Steubenville.  After college, Martha worked with organizations such as Generation Life and FOCUS as a campus missionary at Boston University. Martha now works at the Catholic Leadership Institute in Wayne, Penn., where Church leaders receive world-class leadership training, following the example of leadership made known to us through Jesus Christ.

To help you get to know Martha and Daniel a little bit more before October 18, I asked them to reflect on three questions.

1. The title of the gathering is “Called to Love All Life.” Love is a word we throw around a lot. What do you think love for all life, especially the vulnerable, entails?
Daniel: For a long time I have been fascinated by the term “true love.” I think that title is used because so many times what is called “love” is actually insincere and self-serving. Love for all life, if it is true love, results in us loving other’s as Christ loved them. Christ’s love is an aching, desperate, compassionate, self-less love. His love drove Him to willingly die for us. Mother Teresa said we should “love until it hurts” and I think that in many different forms, that is what love for all life entails, loving until it hurts us. Also, not ignoring injustice in the world.
Martha: When I think of loving on a daily basis, I think of how I can love in simple ways – through gestures, a smile, a hello, etc. It is not always easy to love the people you live with, or work with, and I think loving people in your daily life, as well as the most vulnerable, requires an open heart, and the recognition that all people you meet are a mystery to you. All who are vulnerable have a story that we don’t know about.  Loving the vulnerable requires the recognition that each person involved is a gift waiting to be received in love.
2. Who is a person in your own life (famous or not-so-famous) whose example of love in action has inspired you? Why?
Daniel: Maybe it is cliche but I have been really moved by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa). Reading the book of her personal letters (Come Be My Light) I saw how everything she did was inspired by her love of Jesus. Unfortunately, I think often our motives are often less pure, even if we don’t realize it.

Martha: I have a friend whose love for all people is expressed so clearly whenever she interacts with another.  She allows all of the details of a conversation to be important so that love might be shown.  When she speaks her tone is loving, kind and sweet, her demeanor is pleasant, she smiles, and her body language is open. She communicates with people with great intentionality because of the love she has in her heart for Christ and His people. It inspires me because it is so uncommon today to take the time to look, listen, and speak to each person as though he/she were the most important, and yet — it is in these actions — in this love, that the hearts of people are moved to believe in Christ, in love.

3. Pick a favorite Scripture passage that is important to you when reflecting on our call to protect the dignity vulnerable — especially the unborn.
Daniel: There is also a passage from a document called the Didache from around the year 100 A.D. that is believed to be the recorded teachings of the Apostles and it says for Christians to be against abortion.  The fact that we have protected the unborn for 1,900 years is so beautiful to me.
Martha: John 8 – The story of the woman caught in adultery.  Jesus has come to protect us and save us, to bring each of us into union with Him.
respect life leaders save the date 2014 for website

Five Tips for Parish Respect Life Ministry

This is the second in a series of “Best Practices” posts that will cover various aspects of Life & Justice Ministries. Today, Jennifer Ruggiero, director of the Office of Respect for Life in the Diocese of Metuchen, NJ, offers five tips for parish-based respect life ministries. Director of the office since 1997, Jennifer coordinates educational programs on church teaching on a wide range of life issues and works with a network of volunteers to help advocate for public policy which promotes respect for all human life.

Jennifer Ruggiero

Jennifer Ruggiero

A Parish Respect Life Ministry helps to promote the sanctity of human life at all stages and in all conditions within the parish and local community.  Parish Respect Life Coordinators and their Committees, under the guidance of the Diocesan Respect Life Office, provide resources, actively evangelize their fellow parishioners on the life issues and support their pastors and parish priests in making pro-life prayer and activity visible and viable at the parish level.  Here are five important tips for those who are beginning this important parish ministry.  This can also be a refresher for those who are part of an existing Parish Respect Life Ministry.

1. Make Prayer Your FoundationContinue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2)

We cannot say that we are people of God if we are not people of prayer.  Like most things, one’s prayer life must be nurtured and developed; otherwise it will wither away and die. Our Lord teaches that our prayer must be urgent, persistent, faithful and expectant – grounded in faith, hope and charity.  Pro-Life work is God’s work and can be extremely challenging and frustrating at times. Therefore, Respect Ministries must be grounded in prayer to be effective.

2. Foster Relationships and Collaboration –As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (1 Peter 4:10)

A Parish Respect Life Ministry may be a distinct committee or a subcommittee of another parish organization.  In either case, it is essential that the Respect Life Coordinator and Committee members develop a good relationship with the pastor and the parish staff.  It is important that the pastor agrees with and supports your plans for any programs/activities in the parish.  Also, by fostering relationships with other parish ministries, resources and information can be shared more successfully.  For instance, if you want to educate the parishioners about an important life issue, you may reach a larger audience by having your speaker do a presentation at a regularly scheduled Rosary Altar Society meeting or Knights of Columbus gathering.  The more you can integrate the pro-life message into other parish activities the better.

3. Develop Your Committee – Form and Educate Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)

Don’t be a committee of “one!”  If you are asked (or you volunteer) to be the Respect Life Ministry Coordinator in your parish, invite others to work with you.  Seek out people with a variety of gifts, backgrounds and interests.  Work together towards a common goal. Plan a community building activity to foster teamwork.  Be informed about the issues. Conduct some type of ongoing training or formation session to help educate your members. (This may be done through programs run by the Diocesan Respect Life Office) Based on each person’s gifts, give each member a task or ongoing responsibility, being mindful of their time limitations.

4. Make Your Ministry Joyful –Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!” (Psalm 100:2)

Nobody likes a sourpuss!  In order to attract others to the pro-life message and the ministry, we need to be joyful in our work.  Although many of the life issues are difficult, we need to celebrate the beauty of each and every life and remain a positive presence for those who are suffering or are in despair. As you plan programs and events for this ministry, keep this in mind and always take a positive approach.  Proclaim a Culture of Life!

5. Be Compassionate – Have a Listening Heart –Make your ear attentive to wisdom and incline your heart to understanding.” (Proverbs 2:2)  

In today’s culture, many of the life issues are controversial and evoke an emotional response.  Our ministry involves reaching out to meet the needs of those who are most vulnerable – especially mothers and their unborn children, those who are seriously ill or dying and their families.  Many of those we minister to are in despair and may have made choices which are not life-affirming.  Never be judgmental.  The wrong words can cause great harm.  We must proclaim the truth in love and remember God’s divine mercy!  Be sure to show respect for those who disagree.

The key to success of a Parish Respect Life Ministry is the work of informed and committed lay people in the parish community, with the support and encouragement of the priests, deacons and religious.  The Parish Respect Life Ministry can help to make the parish a center for life -a place where parishioners understand the issues and the importance of meeting the needs of those most vulnerable in the parish community.  May all who are involved in Parish Respect Life Ministries serve as witnesses of truth and embody our Lord’s command to love one another as He loves us.