U.S. Church News

BRIEF: '9 Days for Life' novena for the protection of human life set for Jan. 21-29

By  Catholic News Service

Pro-life advocates gather near the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington Jan. 19, 2018. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholics across the country are invited to take part in the "9 Days for Life" novena Jan. 21-29 for the protection of human life. Each day's intercession is accompanied by prayers, a short reflection and one or more suggested actions for novena participants to take to help build a culture of life, such as pledging to participate in a parish-based program called Walking with Moms in Need. Participants can go to the website www.9daysforlife.com to sign up for emails or texts about each day's intercession, in English and Spanish. Sponsored by the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the novena encompasses the annual Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children Jan. 22, the day the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton. It coincides with the annual March for Life usually held in Washington every January to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. However, this year's Jan. 29 national rally and march will be livestreamed because of the pandemic and high levels of security following the Jan. 6 Capitol violence.

UPDATE: Pandemic, Capitol violence change March for Life plans but not its commitment

By Kurt Jensen Catholic News Service

Pro-life advocates gather near the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington Jan. 19, 2018. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- If all goes well Jan. 29, Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Defense and Education Fund, and other pro-life advocates, including clergy, maybe some politicians and a handful of Knights of Columbus, will walk from the National Mall to the Supreme Court to carry out the march portion of the national March for Life.

They'll constitute the smallest group that's ever marched. Because Jan. 6, even more so than the COVID-19 pandemic, changed everything.

A symbol of continuity for the nation's largest pro-life event, which will be entirely virtual for the first time, matters. But it also may stand as an act of courage greater than the first time Nellie Gray, founder of the march, stepped off the sidewalk on Jan. 22, 1974.

That first march was supposed to be a one-time event to protest the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion the year before. The idea was to form a "circle of life" around the Capitol and Supreme Court.

Since it drew around 20,000 participants, Gray and the Knights of Columbus decided they could keep attracting public support for overturning the decision. By 1979, the march drew around 40,000, and not even a 1987 snowstorm slowed it down. That year the official tally march officials gave was 10,000.

Although their National Park Service permit application said 50,000 were expected for the rally, organizers of the event this year prepared for an event diminished considerably by the pandemic. The bus caravans from the Midwest that swelled participation to well more than 100,000 had been, for the most part, canceled, and plans were in place to require face masks, social distancing and hand sanitizer for the Mall rally before the march up Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court.

Mancini also hired a production company to livestream all the speeches and interact with participants to give viewers "untethered access."

But that's just one aspect. The other requirement of the March for Life, not as well publicized since Mancini, who took over in 2013, enlarged it as an educational event for college and high school students, is that it be held on a day that Congress is in session.

It is meant to be seen and heard by lawmakers, and also for them to meet with marchers in their offices. Sometimes, members of Congress meet with entire state delegations.

That was the custom before Jan. 6, anyway. The aftereffects of the violence of the Capitol attack by insurrectionists trying to reverse the Electoral College certification of the presidential election are going to linger.

Decades of in-person Capitol Hill lobbying by advocacy groups now seem like a faraway time that's unlikely to return anytime soon after the tall fences around the Capitol and Mall are taken down.

So when Mancini, in her red scarf that recalls Gray's red overcoat, and her small group march, it will be not only with the expectation the pandemic will pass, but also in the hope that one awful day of violence won't stop the march for more than a year.

Washington may not seem so much like a war zone Jan. 29, but a joyfully decorous and reverent street event the size of the March for Life is momentarily unimaginable given additional restrictions on size and security that could be imposed by the District of Columbia and National Park Service on such large gatherings.

Also ahead is a Biden presidency, the 10th in the life of the march. It's also the first time in four years that the march has faced a Democratic administration that supports Roe v. Wade.

Like other advocacy groups, March for Life deals only with the political landscape in front of it after an election is decided. The new House of Representatives has a record 29 pro-life female members, all Republicans, according to the Susan B. Anthony List.

The most prominent at the moment is freshman Rep. Michelle Fischbach of Minnesota, who is scheduled to participate in a Students for Life virtual event along with Rep. Jeff Shipley of Iowa. Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, beginning his third term, is participating in an online March for Life forum Jan. 28.

President Donald Trump, in 2020, became the first president to appear in person at the Mall rally, after having spoken through video hookup the previous two years.

Speakers over the past four years also included Vice President Mike Pence, who made his first March for Life appearance in 2002 as an Indiana congressman, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, and, at the National Pro-Life Youth Summit last year, Russ Vought, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Also last year, Attorney General William Barr stood on a balcony at the beginning of the march, attracting loud cheers.

One surprise that came from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar at a Dec. 16 "Life Is Winning" event at the White House with Pence, was Azar saying he, too, had marched up Constitution Avenue in 2019. He joined an Orthodox Christian group.

Also at the event, Tom McClusky, March for Life's vice president, praised Pence: "In the summer of 2016, (Trump) picked one of us (pro-lifers) to be our (nation's) vice president. This is truly your legacy going forward, that is now our job to carry on."

Some decisions from the Biden administration are predictable. Following the precedent of other Democratic presidents, he's expected to quickly rescind the so-called Mexico City policy, which prohibits foreign organizations from using American aid money to promote abortion.

Harris uses the term "reproductive justice" and has proposed states that intend to add restrictions on abortion must have preclearance from the Justice Department to determine if the new laws are constitutional.

"We anticipate a very difficult four years ahead of us with this administration. Looking at President-elect (Joe) Biden, and Vice President-elect (Kamala) Harris, and especially Vice President-elect Harris, with her track record," Mancini told Catholic News Service in an interview. "We’ll have work aggressively on the defense, especially in light of the Georgia elections."

The Jan. 5 Senate election in Georgia saw the two Democratic candidates win, giving the Senate a 50-50 split between Republicans and Democrats, and Harris, who as vice president, is president of the Senate, would be the tiebreaker.

"So how do we position ourselves? We try to be open and welcoming to any administration. But we're pretty well aware that this is not a friendly administration, and we have to work hard to protect the gains we've made."

Those gains include the Supreme Court. One of Gray's signature rally lines was "Just one more justice." This year, hopes are placed on three justices Trump appointed: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. They anchor a 6-3 conservative court majority expected to eventually uphold state laws that, if not outright banning abortion, would severely restrict access.

Gray, a retired government lawyer, devoted herself to working to overturn Roe; she founded March for life as an organization in 1974. She took no salary and ran it from her Capitol Hill townhouse. In 2009, she reported a total revenue of just over $200,000.

After her death in 2012, the march moved into a suite of offices on 14th Street, added March for Life Action, a political arm headed by McClusky which offers voting scorecards on pro-life issues, and now has a paid staff of 10 and a budget of more than $2 million, most of which comes from donations.

Participants can do their lobbying online this year through the March for Life website, sending emails that go straight to lawmakers' inboxes, and, McClusky promised, "we will print out your message in the form of a letter and hand deliver a hard copy to Capitol Hill."

Students for Life announced four days of online training for activists Jan. 27-30, called #Stand4Life.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington will not be open to the public that weekend, but in addition to the televised Mass for Life that begins Jan. 28 at 8 p.m., bishops nationwide will hold a prayer vigil, taking turns leading livestreamed holy hours every hour on the hour. Those will be available on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The principal celebrant and homilist for the opening Mass will be Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, who chairs the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities. The vigil will conclude at 8 a.m. Jan. 29 with Mass celebrated by Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore.

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Editor's Note: More information about this year's March for Life events is available online at www.marchforlife.org

Gomez: As Rev. King urged, meet forces of hate, ignorance 'with power of love'

By  Catholic News Service

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is seen at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome Jan. 31, 2020. In the spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., "we must meet the forces of hate and ignorance with the power of love," Archbishop Gomez said in a statement for Martin Luther King Jr. Day Jan. 18, 2021. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., "we must meet the forces of hate and ignorance with the power of love," the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement for the Jan. 18 federal observance of the slain civil rights leader's birthday.

"This year as we commemorate the legacy of this great American, we remember especially Rev. King's belief in nonviolence and the power of love," Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez said.

Rev. King, who was assassinated in 1968 at age 39, would have turned 92 Jan. 15. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed on the third Monday of January each year.

"For much of the past year, America has been reckoning with the legacy of slavery and the persistence of racial injustice in our country. Sadly, it is still true that the 'color of our skin' often matters more in our society than the 'content of our character,'" the archbishop said, quoting the words of Rev. King from 50 years ago.

Violent protests over the summer and the violence that took place inside the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6 show " our country has become too angry, too bitter and too divided," Archbishop Gomez said.

"As we confront our deep divisions, we face the same choices that Rev. King and the civil rights movement faced. For us, too, the question is how will we struggle against the injustices in our society, what means will we use?" the archbishop asked in his statement, released late Jan. 15.

The challenge "for every one of us believes in the promise of America and seeks to renew the soul of this great nation," he said, can be found in words Rev. King wrote in 1958: "Along the way of life, someone must have the sense enough and the morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethics of love to the center of our lives."

"We must learn again the wisdom of the Gospel and love our enemies and bless those who oppose us," Archbishop Gomez said. "In this moment, Rev. King would counsel everyone in public life to seek reconciliation and reject the easy temptation to reprisals and recrimination."

He continued: "We do not love those who oppose us because they are lovable, or even likable, Rev. King once said. We love them because God loves them. And by our love, we seek their conversion and friendship, not their humiliation.

"This is our Christian duty in this moment -- to be healers and peacemakers, to overcome evil and lies, not by more of the same, but with words of truth and works of love."

Archbishop Gomez concluded by asking Mary, the Queen of Peace "to guide us in this moment of transition and uncertainty in our country. May she help us to keep believing in the power of love."

Other statements issued for the King holiday included one from the new bishop of Buffalo, New York -- Bishop Michael W. Fisher, who was installed Jan. 15.

On the day "when all lovers of peace" honor Rev. King's memory and legacy, the bishop said, "let us recommit ourselves to cherishing and promoting the dignity of every person; to defeating what Pope Francis defines as the 'sin of racism,' whether in mind or in action and however blatant or subtle; and to demonstrating in these days of conflict and tension the desire for dialogue, understanding and mutual respect."

Quoting Rev. King, Bishop Fisher added: "People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they do not know each other because they have not communicated with each other."

The bishop prayed the civil rights leader's memory will "inspire us always and in every place to discern the good in others and, by our actions, reveal the grace and goodness of God himself."

Alveda King, the niece of Rev. King, who is the founder of Alveda King Ministries, issued a statement reiterating her uncle's words about love -- he said he would "stick with love," because "hate is too great a burden to bear," she said, quoting her uncle.

She urged people to remember the King holiday should be a day of service. "We can all find something constructive to do in our communities, even if it's just shaking the hand of the neighbor who supported a different candidate. Anything we can do to increase the peace is more than worth our efforts," King said.

"When we learn to value the human personality, and understand that we are one blood and one human race, we can learn to live together as brothers and sisters and we won't perish as fools," she added.

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