The annual March for Life, now in its 45th year, takes place Jan. 19, just a few days ahead of the infamous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout the United States. Naturally, the pro-life cause comes to the fore this time of year as we sadly commemorate the millions and millions of unborn lives lost to abortion since 1973.
On the same weekend as the D.C. march, the archdiocese will sponsor a prayer vigil for life in St. Patrick’s Cathedral Sunday, Jan. 21, at 5:30 p.m. Auxiliary Bishop Peter Byrne, the episcopal vicar for Dutchess, Putnam and Northern Westchester, will celebrate Mass at 5:30 p.m. Eucharistic adoration will follow, accompanied with music by the Sisters of Life.
Earlier this month, the archdiocese also took another big step on behalf of life by partnering with the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture to conduct a one-day version of its renowned institute for pro-life leaders. “Notre Dame Vita Institute: New York” was held at the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture in Lower Manhattan Jan. 6.
The event attracted more than 120 pro-life leaders. A large number of Sisters of Life were present, including Sister Virginia Joy, S.V., the new director of the archdiocesan Respect Life Office.
In the morning, participants heard from O. Carter Snead of Notre Dame Law School, the director of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, who spoke about “Abortion: Law and Policy”; Father Kevin FitzGerald, S.J., of Georgetown University’s Center for Clinical Bioethics, on “Biology: When Does Life Begin?”; and “Prenatal Screening, Diagnosis and Selective Abortion,” presented by Mary O’Callaghan of the Notre Dame Center along with Katie Shaw, a self-advocate.
Fortunately, I was able to attend much of the second half of the Saturday program, which concluded with Mass for the vigil of the Epiphany at nearby Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral.
Cardinal Dolan, in his remarks kicking off the afternoon session, traced the proud, pro-life work of many significant figures in archdiocesan history including Archbishop Fulton John Sheen, for whom the Sheen Center is named; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton; St. John Neumann; Venerable Pierre Toussaint; Servant of God Dorothy Day; and JJ Hanson, the outspoken fighter against physician-assisted suicide, who died Dec. 30, for his “great witness to the sanctity of human life, even at the very end when it was threatened with an incurable illness.”
The cardinal also praised two of his predecessors as Archbishop of New York—Cardinal Terence Cooke, “one of the earliest leaders in the pro-life movement” after the Roe v. Wade decision, and Cardinal John J. O’Connor, who he described as probably “the most effective pro-life leader we have had in the Catholic family in the United States.” He singled out the Sisters of Life, the religious congregation founded by Cardinal O’Connor, for the “joy, love and tenderness” they have reflected in their protection of human life.
Despite the current and historic pro-life vision and commitment in the archdiocese, “we pro-lifers are not at home in New York,” Cardinal Dolan said. The cardinal pointed to statistics from several years ago, which showed that 60 percent of unborn babies from black, Latino and other minority groups in New York City were aborted. In fact, New York state “brags about the latitude given to the abortion industry,” and anyone who expresses any reservations about abortion is regarded as retrograde, oppressive and opposed to “enlightened society,” the cardinal added.
“We need a day like this. We need to come together to see that we’re not by ourselves, we need to come together to experience the solidarity that will get us through,” Cardinal Dolan said. “We need to come together and hear renowned intellectuals assure us that we have science, philosophy and America’s founding principles on our pro-life side.”
Father John Paul Kimes, a Maronite priest of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon in Los Angeles, is a canon lawyer who serves the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. He spoke about “Abortion and the Church: Resisting a Throwaway Culture.”
Father Kimes told his audience that the constant knock on pro-life movement is that it is judgmental and hypercritical. “That’s not who we are,” he said. “The Gospel of Life is not judgmental. It is open. It is loving.”
The priest said there is no one “we do not love or care for,” although there may be many with whom we do not agree.
The young people maturing now are seeking someone “to give them the meaning that they are searching for, to tell them that the truth in not negotiable and the truth is worth fighting for,” Father Kimes said.
Finding a bridge between the generations is necessary because that is where the wisdom of the older generation will meet the zeal and fire of youth, he explained. Father Kimes said Catholics would do well to follow the example of Pope Francis who has “radicalized Catholic language in a way that many of us are not comfortable with” and yet finds an audience with both youths and the wider culture.
When the Holy Father speaks about a “throwaway culture,” his remarks often find their way on to the front page of The New York Times and other mainstream media channels.
“The teaching is the same. It’s just the language that has changed,” Father Kimes said.