By Mary Huber
The month of October is annually observed by the Catholic Church in the United States as Respect Life Month, and the first Sunday in October is identified in parishes as Respect Life Sunday. It is a time to celebrate God as our Creator and Giver of all life. Simply put, our lives have value and dignity, not because of a social construct defined in society, but because of the One who created us. It is a fundamental tenet of our Christian faith, first promulgated in the book of Genesis, “God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27).
In honor of the 25th anniversary of St. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), this year’s theme is “Live the Gospel of Life: to imitate Christ and follow in His footsteps.” This prophetic document was written to reaffirm the inviolability of every human life. It is at the heart of Jesus’ saving message to the world. This document could not be more relevant in this tempestuous year of 2020. St. Pope John Paul II is asking us in this encyclical to make all human life, from the earliest existence of the one cell zygote to those traveling their final journey, the instrument of our salvation. We are called to be the transformative love that provides positive and life affirming change.
At the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington D.C. September 23, 2015, Pope Francis stated: “The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature - At stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters.” If there is anything the year 2020 has taught us is that we can do better, we are better, and we are becoming better. The heroism of our essential workers, our firefighters who give all they have to save our homes and land, reflects the uniqueness of our humanity. The isolation from family and friends during the pandemic has given us a renewed sense of respect for family and community. More than ever, we are called to place our faith in Jesus, the “Word of Life” (1 Jn 1:1).
Evangelium Vitae also highlights the role of women in bearing the gift of life to the world. We know our Blessed Mother faced her unforeseen pregnancy with courage. She needed not worry, because she was not alone. God was in charge and sent Joseph to be by her side. St. Pope John Paul II also talks about the heroic women in our time that say ‘yes’ to life in the midst of financial, health and familial restraints. We as a parish community can help lighten the burden and promote the Culture of Life. To that end, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has launched a nationwide effort entitled “Walking with Moms in Need: A Year of Service.” Our Diocesan Office of Respect Life and Pastoral Care is inviting parishes to join this national effort to increase the Church’s outreach to pregnant women facing difficult challenges. According to abortion providers in 2014, of the women who chose abortion, 75 percent were low income, 60 percent were in their 20’s, and 86 percent were unmarried. They are often trapped or abandoned. When we are desperate, we turn to people who say they can help. Let it be our parish community and not a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Much of the work has already been done. Many of our parishes have participated in the annual Mother’s Day Rose Sale that has raised tens of thousands of dollars for our local pregnancy centers and maternity home. Our Knights of Columbus, both locally and at the national level have donated thousands of dollars to pay for ultrasound machines for the pregnancy centers in our Diocese. “Walking with Moms” is about supporting someone through prayer and action; understanding what one realistically can do, knowing local resources, being a bridge to local pregnancy centers and accompanying the woman through the journey. And when only prayer is possible, Catholics have an enormous life-saving prayer in the Rosary. With the permission of parish leadership, the Office of Respect Life and Pastoral Care will provide information, resources and assistance in any way we can. St. Pope John Paul II reminds us that in every child that is born and every person who lives or dies, we see the image of God’s glory and challenges us to build a Culture of Life, and “identify the steps we are called to take in order to serve life in all its truth” (EV95). By engaging in these life-affirming activities, we can unlock the mystery of our hearts and accompany those in need, through the warmth of love.
Mary Huber is Director of Respect Life and Pastoral Care Programs in the Diocese of San Bernardino.