Monday, January 22, 2007

The Pro-Life Spectrum

As many of you know, today is the 34th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, which opened the door to legalized abortion here in the States.

Last night, the traditional Vigil for Life was held in the unfailingly-packed Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Every 21 January, the Western hemisphere's largest church turns into Washington's largest hotel as young people and families from around the country sleep in its pews and on its floors following the Mass and in advance of the annual March along Pennsylvania Avenue, stopping at the Capitol and Supreme Court. The event attracts the most-significant annual gathering of American hierarchy and clergy (and amices), yet while the Vigil is advertised as the "largest annual Catholic mass in the United States" with a turnout of 10,000, in yet another sign of the changing realities of the US church, it appears that the annual Guadalupe celebration in Los Angeles -- which hosted an estimated crowd of 30,000 last month -- is either on the cusp of snapping up the distinction, or has already done so.

Hierarchically, the two figures taking center stage for this year's DC program are both doing so for the first time: the new chair of the USCCB's Committee for Pro-Life Activities, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, and Washington's freshly-installed Archbishop Donald Wuerl. Earlier this morning, due to the crowds, the two celebrated simultaneous Masses for Life as a prelude to the March in the capital's downtown area. Wuerl also helmed an early-morning Mass in the Shrine, and Rigali presided and preached at last night's Vigil.

In an interview with his archdiocesan paper, the Catholic Standard & Times, the cardinal-chairman said last week that a genuinely pro-life strategy "start[s] by showing respect to each and every human being, recognizing the right to life of each human being from conception to natural death."

The second archbishop of Philadelphia in four years to head the US bishops' most visible committee, Rigali emphasized that the Catholic pro-life approach is always to be one that operates by explaining.

"Christianity is not a police force," he said. "There is no way in the world you can force people, because these are not God’s instructions. To challenge them, yes, to force them only by the compelling power of truth itself — not physical force." When those challenged fail to listen, he said that the answer is simply to "pray for them, understand them in their weakness, try to convince them, strive to explain it well. And when we have explained it, we must explain it again and again and again."

Speaking of explanations, some conservatives in the anti-abortion movement have sought to call Wuerl on the carpet for sticking by his consistent ethic -- and, by extension, that of the pontiff who appointed him -- that the church's authoritative voice is optimally expressed in the munus docendi, or teaching office, of the bishop.

After a couple movement leaders accused the Washington prelate of inaction and negligence when, in response to a reporter's question, he said last week that he wouldn't bar the Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from receiving the Eucharist, Wuerl responded notably:
In a talk last week in a small chapel on Washington's K Street, the heart of the lobbying community, Archbishop Wuerl distinguished between doing nothing and teaching.

He had said Mass for an overflow crowd, most of which stayed for his talk on a renewed openness to Catholic teaching that he said he sees among young people.

When he took questions, a woman asked how be would respond to Catholic politicians who support legal abortion.

His response was "teach."

"That is what Jesus did," he said. "Did everyone accept that teaching? No. ... But he didn't stop teaching. We are in this for the long haul."

He noted that he sometimes gets letters from Catholics demanding to know what he will do about such situations.

His temptation, he said, was to reply with, "What are YOU doing about it? How is your voice heard?"

There was a smattering of applause from his listeners.
On the other (i.e. post-born) side of the pro-life coin, just across Cardinal Avenue from Rigali's residence, Jesuit-run St Joseph's University has announced that it has joined a growing public health trend and will soon exile trans-fat oil from its dining halls.
Trans fats are considered by health professionals to be damaging to a person’s health and pose a significant increase in the risk of developing heart disease. The University is replacing the trans fats from fryer oil with a combination of corn and sunflower oils, which is expected to taste the same.

"We have seen consumers responding favorably to the number of restaurants and food providers eliminating trans fats over recent months," says Professor of Food Marketing at Saint Joseph’s Richard George, Ph.D. “This announcement by the University shows that the institution is responsive to this issue and will not compromise the health of our students.”

Aramark, the University’s food service provider, will have converted the fryer oil used throughout Saint Joseph’s Dining Services to a zero grams trans fat product by February 1, 2007.
The pro-life work may be commemorated in a special way on this day. But when it's done properly and effectively, its fullness takes shape all year, in many ways, and in many places.