A respectful encounter

What Pope Francis called for in his first World Communications Day statement was exactly what finally seems to be happening with the pro-life movement and the secular media: pro-lifers are slowly but surely creating “an authentic culture of encounter” by respectfully engaging the press and their audiences with their questions and doubts.

The pope’s statement for the 48th World Communications Day, “Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter,” was released as the message always is, in conjunction with the feast day of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists. The date also happens to coincide with the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., where hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers from around the country and the world gathered in the bitter cold to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that gave us abortion on demand in this country.

Since the march began 40 years ago, the secular press for the most part, with the exception of short video clips on the evening news or a few lines buried in the local and national newspapers, have ignored the event. Rarely did we see or hear in the media an intelligent discussion or informative debate on the issue of abortion. Balanced stories in print or online were just as hard to find.

In the last two years, however, the media finally seemed to be getting a clue that even though abortion through nine months has been legal in our nation since 1973, the issue is far from being a settled one. In 2013 the massive crowd gathering in our nation’s capital on Jan. 22 marked the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision. The anniversary angle did attract some major media. This year the coverage increased dramatically. Several of my TV guests who made themselves available for EWTN’s live coverage of the march told me they had either been interviewed or were scheduled to be interviewed by local and network news outlets in Washington. Almost all of the Fox News’ major talk-shows featured panel discussions, reports on the march, interviews with a pro-life filmmaker, as well as stories detailing new polls showing how Americans are becoming increasingly pro-life.

So what happened? Part of the attention this year was due in part to the weather. A major blizzard came through the nation’s capital bringing the federal government to a halt and leaving behind frigid temperatures with wind chills below zero. I think the media was stunned that so many pro-lifers still made the effort to stand and March for Life in some of the worst conditions since the march began.

But it was more than that. The pro-life movement continues to do what the Church and the Holy Father call us to do: to “respectfully engage.” There has been a stronger media outreach, for example by Jeanne Monahan and other national pro-life groups. The movement also has increased its social media efforts and created quite a stir online.

And last but not least, despite what the culture and Mother Nature throw at us, we keep marching. We keep sending out press releases. We keep showing a willingness to answer their questions and address their doubts because, quite frankly, many of us who show up each year in Washington were once on the other side of this debate.

While we have a long way to go, we are getting better — as the pope said in his statement — at being able to “dialogue with the men and women of today” and to “bring them to the Gospel, Jesus Christ himself, God incarnate, who died and rose to free us from sin and death.”

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.