With each year, Roe v. Wade falls further into the past, and those who have been born since the decision have not known a world where abortion is not legal. But that doesn’t mean these young people are going to sit idly by and allow this to continue. Throughout the country, and all over the world, the pro-life movement has a young, vigorous and determined face. And these young men and women can even be found in the official pro-life arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
One such person is Anne McGuire, the assistant director of education and outreach for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, which staffs the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
McGuire’s office develops educational materials on pro-life issues; conducts educational campaigns in the Church and public square; encourages and enables programs to meet the needs of pregnant women, children, persons with disabilities, the sick and dying, and those who have been involved in abortion; and much, much more.
In her role, McGuire develops resources that help the public understand the pro-life message of the Church. She also aims to equip leaders with resources that can help them as they try to build a greater culture of life in their own communities.
There are all sorts of materials that are produced to help people in the pro-life cause: everything from digital subscriptions with regular updates, to 9 Days for Life, a novena prayed every January. McGuire coordinates these resources and activities, with a great deal of help, she insists, in collaboration with other offices of the USCCB.
Just 29 years old herself, McGuire has lived her whole life under the shadow of Roe v. Wade. She therefore is keenly aware of why young people must be the driving force of the pro-life movement.
“It’s certainly important for young people to be involved in the pro-life movement because respect for life is something that is part of who we are as Catholics,” she said. “It’s not just one issue or another, it’s foundational; it’s just part of who we are.”
As Catholics, she said, we recognize that each person is made in the image and likeness of God, and that this fact is the source of our inherent dignity, “and that naturally extends to protecting and cherishing every person’s life.”
“It’s important because it’s part of our identity, being Catholic, so it is something that all of us need to be aware of and embrace, whatever our age, which certainly includes young people,” McGuire said.
Furthermore, McGuire points out that older generations have already done so much to contribute to the pro-life cause and creating a culture of life, and there is a great deal that young people can learn from them. “So it’s important because we are all in this together, and we need to continue both receiving and passing on that respect for life,” she said.
“We’ve certainly been facing challenges for decades in our own country, but we’re continuing to see other issues becoming more and more of a threat, like the attempted legalization of assisted suicide,” said McGuire. “It is legal in certain states, and there has certainly been a larger push for that in recent times. There’s definitely quite enough work to do that it’s not something that is going to be ending any time soon!”
McGuire does not see that as cause for discouragement, however. The vibrancy and youth of the pro-life movement in the United States gives a great deal of hope, as does the foundational principles of our faith. “Because of who we are as Catholics, we are rooted in Christ, he gives us our own little pieces of the vineyard to tend.”
One particular pro-life initiative that gives McGuire hope is 9 Days for Life, a novena prayed in late January. McGuire feels that this can be a great way to get started for those who do not know just what to do to help the pro-life cause.
“Many of us do respect life, but are often unsure of what our role should be beyond attending an event like the March for Life once a year,” she said. “9 Days for Life is another great way to help.”
The novena surrounds the anniversary of Roe v. Wade on January 22, very intentionally, and is meant to highlight other issues related to respect for life in addition to abortion. “The overarching intention is the end to abortion, but it goes much farther beyond that,” McGuire said.
The website gives suggested action ideas and different ways to build a culture of life in local communities, which can give people something concrete to do. “There may be a lot of people who share this respect for life but may not know what to do aside from just agreeing. This novena helps provide a context for what it means to build a culture of life year round, and to live this out as part of our lives.”
According to the novena‘s website (9daysforlife.com), 9 Days for Life is an annual period of prayer and action focused on cherishing the gift of every person’s life. While focusing primarily on bringing an end to abortion, the novena “also highlights other facets of respecting each person’s God-given dignity, especially by respecting human life at every stage and in every circumstance.”
The novena surrounds the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children.
“As Catholics, we recognize the inherent dignity of every person in every circumstance and at every stage of life,” the event’s website continues. “Yet we continue to see many threats to life and violence against it. We cannot look the other way.”
Paul Senz writes from Oregon.
|Overcoming Apathy in the Pacific Northwest
Far from Washington, D.C., in the Pacific Northwest, the dignity of human life is under almost constant attack. The area has some of the least restrictions on abortion in the country and physician-assisted suicide is legal in both Oregon and Washington. But there is no need to despair; there is a strong and vocal minority that is working for life.
Matt Cato, director of the Office of Life, Justice & Peace for the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, works to educate people on Catholic social doctrine. Among the challenges he faces are that being pro-life is often perceived as a partisan issue and that the Church needs to maintain a consistent witness across other life issues in order to find credibility with those outside the Church. All of this plays out against the backdrop of a regional culture that is more libertarian than liberal. The principle of the common good is often missing, he said. “We live in a community, not alone; together we share common values.”
But Cato sees more than challenges in the Pacific Northwest. There is much to hope for in the pro-life movement, particularly as it is driven increasingly by young people who are enthusiastic and full of vigor in the fight for the dignity of human life.
“The mission of the Office is to build God’s heavenly kingdom of justice here on earth,” Cato said. “That is my hope. It will happen one day. It may seem unlikely, but we will realize it one day.
“When that day comes, the unborn, the stranger, the poor, the criminal, and the dying will all be universally valued.”
“There is a great deal of apathy here in the Pacific Northwest,” said Father Matt Libra. Father Libra is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Portland, Oregon, and also associate director of respect life activities in the Archdiocese of Portland’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace. “That’s one of our major challenges: apathy.”
Father Libra sees it as a problem that is true of the region overall — including many pro-life individuals. “There’s a very small, vocal minority who are advocating for pro-life causes; but there are many who might be pro-life but they don’t necessarily do anything, they don’t see what they can do to solve the problem or even help.”
To help illustrate the problem, Father Libra referred to sage advice he received from his mother as a child. “When I was a kid,” he said, “my mom used to say the worst thing you can do to somebody is ignore them, because ignoring them is like a slap in the face — but it’s worse than a slap in the face. Even if you disagree, you should at least acknowledge that you disagree; if you can’t do something, then at least acknowledge that you can’t do it; but don’t ignore. So, that apathy here is really hard to deal with.”
An example of this apathetic attitude can be seen in the various ballot measures that pro-lifers have tried to move forward in Oregon. “Oregon is the only state with no restrictions on abortions whatsoever,” Father Libra explained. “It’s kind of recognized across the board that public funds shouldn’t be used for private things — pro-life and pro-choice advocates often agree on this point — but Oregon does not agree. We can’t even get enough signatures to get it on the ballot!”
This apathy is a real challenge for young people, in particular, to fight against, according to Father Libra. “I think that’s hard, as a young person, knowing that the people who came ahead of you are not going to be giving you really any support,” he said.
Father Libra points out that young people have never known a world without abortion. “In their lifetimes, it has been as either just fine, or even as a good.”
“I once heard from someone whose mother tried to reassure them after Roe v. Wade happened,” Father Libra said. “She told this person, ‘You don’t have to be afraid; this is only for exceptional situations,’ and I think that’s what a lot of people really thought (or told themselves). They didn’t think abortion on demand was a good thing, and they didn’t really see it coming.”
But come it did. It has become tragically commonplace. But Father Libra sees a great deal of hope in younger generations, and the vibrancy and determination they are bringing to the pro-life movement.
“They have lots of energy,” he said, “which is awesome. I think a consistent strong point that I’ve seen in the younger generations is that, when they do identify a value, even if they don’t have the tools to explain it all the way, they support and act in accordance with that value.”
“I see a lot of vibrancy in young people, and a lot of rejection of that apathy,” he continued.
“There’s a lot of hope!”