Thoughts on National March for Life 2017

I’m home again after a 45-hour trip to the March for Life in Washington, DC. Most of that time was spent on a bus, and God bless the driver who took us safely to and fro.

A few thoughts as I decompress from the journey:


The March skews young. This was my fifth or sixth trip to a national March for Life. Back in 1993 at my first one, the presence of thousands of high school and college students surprised me. Now, nearly a quarter of a century later, high school and college students all but own the March. They show anyone who’s paying attention that the pro-life movement is not going away, and it’s broadening in scope at the grassroots level.

Students for Life banners outside U.S. Supreme Court at March for Life 2017. All photos by Ellen Kolb.

Member of Congress Mia Love of Utah owned the stage at the pre-March rally. That’s hard to do when you share a stage with Abby Johnson, Cardinal Dolan, and a Vice-President. Hands-down, she showed how it’s done. The rally went on way too long with too many speakers, running until half an hour after the scheduled start of the march, but I would happily have listened to Love all afternoon.

Watch her, and enjoy seven edifying minutes.

Save The 1 was highly visible along the march route, and New Hampshire’s Darlene Pawlik was right there. Think of the women of Save the 1 whenever you come across an abortion regulation with a rape-and-incest exception.

Darlene Pawlik and daughter Julie at March for Life 2017.

I did not make the trip intending to attend a Trump rally. The pre-March rally came dangerously close to being one anyway. I did not vote for now-President Trump. To be sure, I am gratified by his recent reinstatement of the Mexico City policy.  I was hugely entertained by his recent calling-out (or shaming, as AOL prefers to say) of media outlets that downplay the Marches year after year. So he has made one respectful gesture toward the conscience rights of pro-life Americans, and he has called for better March for Life coverage. Let’s say the President has dabbled one toe in a single aspect of pro-life policy. He has a lot to learn. I hope he realizes that.

That said, I was happy to see Vice-President Mike Pence speak at the pre-March rally. This was practically Old Home Day for him, since he has spoken at past Marches back when he was in humbler offices. His presence this year, as Vice-President, was momentous.

The Jumbotron view of the Pence family at the March for Life – as close as most Marchers could get.

About that: the announcement of his participation came only the day before the March, and I heard about it with my fellow passengers as our bus rolled down the New Jersey Turnpike. Two thoughts collided – hey! this is great! followed by omigosh, the security thing…! The March has never had to deal with Secret Service protocol before. It was an inconvenience, and it kept many people at a distance from the rally (see below). As it happened, the Secret Service agents at the station I went through on the morning of the rally were efficient, businesslike, and good-humored, kinda like they’re used to this sort of thing.


I’ve never been in the midst of a bigger crowd. There’s one stretch of the march route, going up Capitol Hill, where it’s possible for a marcher to see what’s ahead and behind. I could see only waves and waves of fellow marchers – no beginning or end in sight.

March for Life 2017: the view behind me as I approached Capitol Hill.

No photo or report of the rally size could possibly do justice to the size of the March itself. The Secret Service set up a security perimeter on part of the National Mall. No one could bring a backpack inside the perimeter. Keep in mind that marchers from around the country learned this while they were already enroute to DC. What do college students use to carry their gear for a full day? Yup – backpacks. Solution: stand just outside the perimeter fence in order to hear all the speakers at the rally. Cameras scanning the inside-perimeter crowd missed everyone outside.

The view ahead of me, March for Life 2017.

March organizers are apparently trying to make the pre-march rally as big a deal as the March itself. I suspected as much in 2016 when the rally was not shortened in spite of a blizzard warning. (I’m still shaking my head over that decision.) I will never buy into that shift in emphasis. With all due respect to this year’s eleven scheduled speakers, when I travel to Washington for the March for Life, it’s not to listen to speeches. Not eleven of them, at any rate.

I saw more press trucks and reporters than usual, although I don’t know how that played out on-air. Why the increase? I think Pence’s presence, Trump’s public references to poor coverage of earlier marches, and a journalistic desire to compare the March for Life with the “Women’s March” of the previous Saturday all played a role.

I’d say something about the New Hampshire Congressional delegation’s participation, if there had been any.

Three cheers for Bishop Libasci. I am a Catholic woman who traveled to the March with other New Hampshire Catholics. I was surprised and delighted that we were met at our bus departure point at 5:45 in the morning by the bishop himself, seeing us off with a smile and a prayer. I later learned that he had been in Bedford a half-hour earlier to see off another busload of March for Life pilgrims.

He didn’t have to do that. I’m glad he took the time.


 

Bishop Libasci on refugees: “we are called to respond with compassion”

[Since the Paris slaughter committed by jihadists, I’ve heard plenty about what the United States should or shouldn’t do with refugees. I’m skeptical that calls for increased vetting of refugees reflects an understanding what’s involved in the existing vetting. I’m repelled by the comparison of refugees with M&Ms (“if you knew a handful of M&Ms included one poisoned one, would you let your child eat them?”). Thank you, Bishop Peter Libasci, for your statement marked by calm good sense and respect for life.] 

Statement from Bishop Peter Libasci of the Diocese of Manchester, NH on the Syrian Refugee Crisis (11/20/15)

Bishop Libasci: "Through individual acts of mercy we can, in the words of Thomas Merton, 'leaven the mass of human misery with the charity and mercy of Christ' and in the aggregate we can overcome evil by doing good." (photo: catholicnh.org)
Bishop Libasci: “Through individual acts of mercy we can, in the words of Thomas Merton, ‘leaven the mass of human misery with the charity and mercy of Christ’ and in the aggregate we can overcome evil by doing good.” (photo: catholicnh.org)

Here in New Hampshire, we are far away from the violence of the Middle East. The images we see do not capture the enormity of the refugee crisis, the more than 4.2 million people who have fled Syria, and the estimated 7.6 million who are displaced within their own country. Many observers, including Pope Francis, have said that this is the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.

One week ago today, innocent victims in Paris were terrorized by violent extremists. I continue to offer my prayers and support for the people of France. The crisis continues and so does our heartfelt concern for all those coping in the aftermath of these terrorist attacks.

In our shrinking world, events many miles away do impact us here in New Hampshire. In reaction to the Paris attacks, many political leaders have called for the United States to deny entry to those seeking refuge from religious persecution and brutal violence in Syria. The questions and concerns that have been raised are understandable because we all want to keep our nation, our families safe. And for reasons of security, it is necessary to continue to carefully screen those seeking asylum. But we also are called to respond with compassion to those who are resettled in the United States. The Catholic Church in New Hampshire, through Catholic Charities New Hampshire and other ministries, stands ready to offer our assistance to refugees who may come to the Granite State seeking asylum from Syria. I ask the people of New Hampshire to consider the stories of the persecution these poor souls have suffered and to learn more about the existing security screening required before refugees may resettle in the United States.

I urge our elected officials, the Catholics of the Diocese of Manchester, and all people of good will to welcome those who travel here fleeing persecution in other countries, including refugees seeking asylum from Syria. We can continue to be a country that resettles refugees of all faiths while continuing to ensure the safety of our nation and its citizens. We are not required to choose, and we can do both.

Even though we as individuals cannot stop what is happening in Iraq and Syria, we can help. Through individual acts of mercy we can, in the words of Thomas Merton, “leaven the mass of human misery with the charity and mercy of Christ” and in the aggregate we can overcome evil by doing good. I pray that the perfect love of God, as expressed in the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ, may inspire in our leaders and ourselves a generous response to those fleeing the violence in the Middle East.

###

 

Scenes from NH March for Life 2015 (gallery)

The temperature barely broke into double digits as people filled the State House plaza in Concord for a pro-life rally before the March for Life on January 17. This is January in New Hampshire, though, and more than 300 people had gathered by the time the rally began. Dozens more joined during the course of the march, and the post-march gathering at St. John the Evangelist church featured an overflow crowd.

The day’s events were organized by the New Hampshire Right to Life Committee, led by president Jane Cormier.

“We should be planting trees … the tree of life”

(Original version posted June 23, 2013.)

Bishop Joseph Libasci sees a storm coming as religious liberty is challenged in today’s America. In his June 22 homily in Manchester, New Hampshire at a Mass dedicated to the Fortnight for Freedom, he declared “the winds have begun to blow, and they are coming with gale force….Fighting for freedom includes standing for the freedom to stand before God in clear conscience.”

  • The Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. “The mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services forces religious institutions to facilitate and/or fund a product contrary to our own moral teaching. Further, the federal government tries to define which religious institutions are religious enough.”
  • Threats to Catholic foster care and adoption services. “Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, the State of Illinois, have driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services by revoking their licenses, ending their government contracts, or both, because those charities refuse to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit. [This] cut[s] down the tree of civility, and indeed cut[s] down the tree that is the healthy, good, life-giving, charitable alternative to abortion.”
  • Threats to State immigration laws. “Several states have recently passed laws that prohibit what they deem as harboring of undocumented immigrants and what the Church deems Christian charity and pastoral care for these immigrants. And I know it’s a hot topic. …The fact of the matter is when the winds blow strong enough that we become refugees, and don’t think it can’t happen, …could we find ourselves in great need? ‘Blessed are the merciful; they shall obtain mercy.’”
  • Barring use of public facilities by people of faith. “New York City adopted a policy that bars the Bronx Household of Faith, a small community, and other churches from renting public schools on weekends for worship services, even though non-religious groups could rent the same schools for many other uses. This is still in the courts, still eating up the little money they have.” [2014 update to this case here.]
  • Threats to programs aiding victims of human trafficking. “After years of excellent performance by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services, administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed its contract specifications to require migration and refugee services to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion services, in violation of Catholic teaching.”

Bishop Libasci repeatedly used a metaphor from the 1966 film A Man for All Seasonsabout St. Thomas More, onetime Chancellor of England, martyred for his faith. In the film, More addressed a young protegé who expressed impatience with the law. As recalled in the Bishop’s homily, More counseled caution. “If you cut down all the laws, it’s like the trees in a forest. You begin to cut them down until you cut them all down, and when the winds begin to blow, where will you run then for shelter?”

Back to the Bishop’s own words: “We should not be allowing others to cut down the trees, and God forbid we help cut them down. Instead, we should be planting trees. The tree of life. The tree of salvation. The tree from which hung the Savior of the world.”

“We can and we do lobby for just laws, and for the overturning of those laws, the repeal of those laws, that are unjust. But whenever it is unsuccessful, we are called to make those laws obsolete. … We’re probably not allowed to do something about tying up our horses outside on Lowell Street. There must be some law somewhere. But it’s useless. Such must be the unjust law. That we have grown beyond such things… because we live in such a time where adherence to God’s law has turned us away from discrimination, murder, inordinate living, disordered belief, and the shame of a people who no longer value the true dignity of human life. Let us grow beyond, so that where Jesus said I have come to set one against the other, in that balance of justice, the justice and the mercy of God will cause the others to float off into space.”

I looked around the Cathedral as the Bishop spoke. I saw no cameras or press. Perhaps a hundred people were there.   In a secular environment, I’d have said that the man needs an agent. This was a church, though; a community of faith was present. Everyone there is the “agent,” so to speak, charged with getting out the message. In how many other  churches will the same message be delivered in the coming days? From there, who knows where it could go? Small beginnings, perhaps, but with great potential and great hope.


Bishop Libasci opens “Fortnight for Freedom” in NH

Bishop Peter Libasci of Manchester, NH
Bishop Peter Libasci of Manchester, NH; photo from catholicnh.org

“Fighting for freedom includes standing for the freedom to stand before God in clear conscience.”

Bishop Joseph Libasci sees a storm coming as religious liberty is challenged in today’s America. In his homily in Manchester, New Hampshire at a Mass dedicated to 2013’s Fortnight for Freedom, he declared “the winds have begun to blow, and they are coming with gale force.”

  • The Mandate. “The mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services forces religious institutions to facilitate and/or fund a product contrary to our own moral teaching. Further, the federal government tries to define which religious institutions are religious enough.”
  • Threats to Catholic foster care and adoption services. “Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, the State of Illinois, have driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services by revoking their licenses, ending their government contracts, or both, because those charities refuse to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit. [This] cut[s] down the tree of civility, and indeed cut[s] down the tree that is the healthy, good, life-giving, charitable alternative to abortion.”
  • Threats to State immigration laws. “Several states have recently passed laws that prohibit what they deem as harboring of undocumented immigrants and what the Church deems Christian charity and pastoral care for these immigrants. And I know it’s a hot topic. …The fact of the matter is when the winds blow strong enough that we become refugees – and don’t think it can’t happen — …could we find ourselves in great need? ‘Blessed are the merciful; they shall obtain mercy.'”
  • Barring use of public facilities by people of faith. “New York City adopted a policy that bars the Bronx Household of Faith, a small community, and other churches from renting public schools on weekends for worship services, even though non-religious groups could rent the same schools for many other uses. This is still in the courts, still eating up the little money they have.”
  • Threats to programs aiding victims of human trafficking. “After years of excellent performance by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services, administering contract services for victims of  human trafficking, the federal government changed its contract specifications to require migration and refugee services to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion services, in violation of Catholic teaching.”

Bishop Libasci repeatedly used a metaphor from the 1966 film A Man for All Seasonsabout St. Thomas More, onetime Chancellor of England, martyred for his faith. In the film, More addressed a young protege who expressed impatience with the law. As recalled in the Bishop’s homily, More counseled caution. “If you cut down all the laws, it’s like the trees in a forest. You begin to cut them down until you cut them all down, and when the winds begin to blow, where will you run then for shelter?”

Back to the Bishop’s own words: “We should not be allowing others to cut down the trees, and God forbid we help cut them down. Instead, we should be planting trees. The tree of life. The tree of salvation. The tree from which hung the Savior of the world.”

“We can and we do lobby for just laws, and for the overturning of those laws, the repeal of those laws, that are unjust. But whenever it is unsuccessful, we are called to make those laws obsolete. … We’re probably not allowed to do something about tying up our horses outside on Lowell Street. There must be some law somewhere. But it’s useless. Such must be the unjust law. That we have grown beyond such things… because we live in such a time where adherence to God’s law has turned us away from discrimination, murder, inordinate living, disordered belief, and the shame of a people who no longer value the true dignity of human life. Let us grow beyond, so that where Jesus said I have come to set one against the other, in that balance of justice, the justice and the mercy of God will cause the others to float off into space.”

I looked around the Cathedral as the Bishop spoke. I saw no cameras or press. Perhaps a hundred people were there.   In a secular environment, I’d have said that the man needs an agent. This was a church, though; a community of faith was present. Everyone there is the “agent,” so to speak, charged with getting out the message. In how many other  churches will the same message be delivered in the coming days? From there, who knows where it could go? Small beginnings, perhaps, but with great potential and great hope.


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