Respect Life Month: Working to End the Death Penalty

“Nowadays the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed.” Pope Francis, March 20, 2015

This memorial dedicated to Sister Paula Merrill, a member of the Sisters of Nazareth, and Sister Margaret Held, a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, was blessed and dedicated May 20 in Durant, Miss. The women, who were murdered in their home last fall, were nurse practitioners at a local health clinic. (CNS photo/Ruthie Robison, Mississippi Catholic)

Just over a year ago, two Catholic nuns were brutally murdered in Durant, Mississippi. Sister Margaret M. Held, a School Sister of St. Francis, and Sister Paula J. Merrill, a Sister of Charity of Nazareth, were beloved and committed nurse practitioners serving some of the poorest children and families in the country.  The community health clinic where they worked is in the 7th poorest county in the country, in the hungriest and poorest state in our nation.

The sisters’ ministry embodied what the Church calls “preferential option for the poor.”  The senseless loss of these sisters has caused tremendous pain for their families, their local clients, and their religious communities.

If you have followed this story at any length, likely you have been captivated by the courageous, Christ-like response the sisters’ religious Congregations shared following the murder, in part: “We want to reiterate our beliefs as women of faith, that we value life. For years now the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and the School Sisters of St. Francis have worked to abolish the death penalty, even as we seek justice and truth.”

Close family members and fellow sisters alike say that coming forward with a statement to oppose the death penalty was clear and certain for them. Given the strong faith-held convictions and the life-long healing ministries of Sr. Paula and Sr. Margaret, everyone immediately understood the merciful action the sisters themselves would have wanted to respond to such a tragedy.

The modern Catholic Church is against the death penalty; the last three popes have made the Church’s opposition very clear. And while more Catholics are opposed to the death penalty than ever, statistics reveal that upwards of 43% of U.S. Catholics still support capital punishment.  Given this sobering reality, the response made by the families and sisters is even more courageous an example for us and witness for our times.

The truth is the death penalty is coming to an end and the time is now to make a difference.

As we observe Respect Life Month this October, we are invited to reflect on the depth of our convictions related to dignity of all life and our pro-life stance.  At the time of this writing, a disturbing six executions are scheduled throughout October. These executions demand action.  Catholic Mobilizing Network’s Mercy in Action Project  is an easy way to direct your faithful advocacy to end the death penalty and take a stand for life.

In their living, Sr. Paula and Sr. Margaret sought to heal people on the margins of society.  In their dying these sisters left their legacy of life – lived, shared and sacrificed; a story we recognize by our faith in Jesus Christ.

 Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy is Managing Director of Catholic Mobilizing Network. She is co-author of Advocating for Justice: An Evangelical Vision for Transforming Systems and Structures.


Going Deeper

Respect Life Month is the perfect time to recommit yourself to our faith’s pro-life call.  To facilitate this, Catholic Mobilizing Network has created a Respect Life Month Toolkit to help your parish community renew its dedication to all life. This toolkit is full of resources to help you educate, advocate, and pray to end the death penalty, including a pro-life prayer service, social media ideas and bulletin articles. The toolkit also contains CMN’s new initiative, the National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty, a great way to begin your advocacy for all life, consider signing the pledge if you haven’t already.

Jesus, Healer of Wounds and Source of Mercy

Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley carries a monstrance during eucharistic adoration at the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” July 2 in Orlando, Fla. Leaders from dioceses and various Catholic organizations are gathering for the July 1-4 convocation. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The recent Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America was an unprecedented gathering. Led by 155 bishops, over 3,200 Catholic leaders attended from 159 dioceses and over 200 national Catholic organizations, apostolates, and movements. Inspired by Evangelii Gaudium, the Convocation equipped and re-energized leaders to share the Gospel as missionary disciples.

One special moment set the tone for honest conversations throughout the Convocation–the Sunday evening of adoration and reflection: “Encountering Jesus, Healer of Wounds and Source of Mercy.”

Introducing the reflection, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas shared: “We pause to pray and reflect together on both our wounds and the ways that we, as individuals and as Church, have participated in or failed to prevent the woundedness of others.” Seán Cardinal O’Malley of Boston led the devotion, which included a Litany of Sorrow based on the five wounds of Christ. Five specific areas were addressed.

The Scandal of Clergy Sexual Abuse

Bishop Flores prayed to Jesus, Healer of Wounds and Source of Mercy: “We implore you to heal the hearts of all those who have been wounded by the evil of sexual abuse, especially within the Church. We pray that your Divine Mercy will move to repentance all those who, in any way, have contributed to this evil by their actions or inactions. Prompt the Church to acknowledge its failures in protecting children in the past and the loss of trust that has resulted. May we never again forget our responsibility to protect the children in the care of the Church.”

A Lack of Respect for Human Dignity

An African American leader prayed for a profound respect for the dignity of every human life: “Awaken in us an acknowledgement of the multitude of ways in which human dignity is threatened–with abortion and assisted suicide, on death row, in abusive homes, and amid racial or ethnic discrimination.”

Selfish Disregard of the Common Good

A young refugee prayed that Jesus would cleanse us of our disregard for others: “Help us to promote peace in war-torn lands, to assist refugees, to seek justice for the poor who suffer each day from homelessness, hunger, and hopelessness, and to protect the beauty of your Creation which sustains us all.”

Suffering from Participation in Abortion

A diocesan Project Rachel director offered the intention for the millions of women and men in our nation who are wounded from their participation in abortions: “Help us as a Church to recognize the unique pain that abortion brings to individuals, families, and our society.”

The Hurt We Have Individually Caused Others

A leader from the National Catholic Partnership on Disability prayed for Jesus to help us acknowledge all the hurt we have ever caused ourselves or others through our thoughts, words, actions, inaction, or times when we excluded others: “Grant us the grace to sincerely repent of our sins. Fill us with your overflowing love and mercy that will enable us to serve as your loving hands and faithful disciples who proclaim your gospel throughout the world with great joy.”

From sins of commission to sins of omission, from excluding persons to racism, from sexual abuse to not addressing domestic violence, from abortion to turning our backs on the inconvenient, as this litany indicates, we needed to begin the Convocation by acknowledging our failures and seeking forgiveness. Thankfully, there were many opportunities for the Sacrament of Confession throughout the course of the Convocation

That grace, and the overflowing love of Jesus, Healer of Wounds and Source of Mercy, made all the difference in making the Convocation an authentic moment of healing for the Church in America.

Tom Grenchik is the Executive Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Learn about the bishops’ pro-life activities at www.usccb.org/prolife

 This post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version at the Life Issues Forum.


Going Deeper

 How are you called to help heal wounds and imitate Jesus’ mercy? Join the Church’s work to fight racism, prevent sexual abuse, protect the unborn, and welcome migrants and refugees.

 

Catholic Schools: Un-rivaled

HPIM0658.JPG

Last week our Church joined ecumenical efforts worldwide in praying for and celebrating our Christian Unity. Perhaps Catholic Schools Week will not only be a time to celebrate the great gift and legacy of Catholic education, but also a time to answer our call to Catholic unity, even if that means working with your high school’s arch-rival!

Often times, our Catholic schools may unintentionally compartmentalize our efforts for peace and justice formation. An invitation comes to your high school for your students to participate in a social action. “Oh, stick it his box. He is our peace and justice guy.” Does this sound familiar? That was me. I often had many service or faith-based advocacy invitations from religious congregations, local pro-life and human rights groups, or our diocesan social action office with whom I would have loved for my students to become acquainted. It can sometimes feel like one teacher or campus minister is tasked with a colossal project: introducing our students to Catholic social teaching and the discipleship of living out our faith in society. At least that is how it felt to me.

Until one day about 15 years ago.

It was the run-up to the war in Iraq, and our pope and bishops had been speaking out to slow our nation’s rush to military action. I was a busy high school theology teacher, and my conscience was tugging at me to engage my students with the reality unfolding before our eyes. But I felt somewhat overwhelmed and disconnected – the moral stakes of war were just too big a task for one person to address. Little did I know, I was not alone. The Holy Spirit was about to spark a flame of justice in a new generation, bringing to birth Catholic Schools for Peace and Justice (CSPJ) in the Diocese of Cleveland. A former teacher of mine was feeling the same call to act in his school, so he sent an email to several friends and colleagues from various academic disciplines in high schools across our diocese. He invited us all to meet, and it was this motley collection of mostly teachers and campus ministers who came up with an unrivaled proposal. Eventually, we would approach our bishop and ask if we could gather with students at the Cathedral to pray for peace and continue with a public witness at Cleveland’s Public Square. The collaboration was exhilarating. As adult leaders, we found solidarity with one another in our common struggle to support our students in living out our baptismal call to work for justice and peace. The prayer and witness for peace (2003) exceeded our wildest expectations. We had representative participation from nearly all of the high schools in the diocese, totaling around 750 students and teachers. The collaborative spirit of that event began to spread as an inextinguishable fire. Students and teachers found hope and freedom in joining beyond the parochial boundaries that usually separated us. As in many places, folks from our Catholic high schools in Cleveland most commonly met one another at competitive athletic events or in uncomfortable admissions-related encounters. CSPJ was different. We found common ground in our faith and vocation to live the gospel.

Bishop Anthony Pilla believed in us and guided us to work with our Diocesan Social Action Office to formalize our relationship with one another in this work through renewing annual covenants between the CSPJ adult team and the schools we represented. We have since received the vital support of not only Bishop Pilla, but also his successor, Bishop Richard Lennon. Consequently, CSPJ has been graced with a tremendous cast of partners at each of our schools: encouraging administrators, energetic and emerging student leaders, and a contagiously inspiring mix of both veteran and rookie educators. CSPJ has engaged thousands in the past 15 years through countless events. Our creativity is not bound by the divisive political climate that separates us into “either-or” boxes. Rather, our collective energy arises explicitly from our Catholic “both-and” moral conviction and imagination. We gather annually during Respect Life Month in October for a Mass and public witness where our students courageously share their personal stories and dreams for building a Culture of Life.  This is not a one-issue event. Rather, all life issues in the Consistent Ethic are valued and represented. Following the lead of the Ohio bishops, CSPJ has also advocated for the end of the death penalty through our presence at vigils at the

Southern Ohio Correctional Facility during executions. We have organized public witnesses at the Statehouse, including “Wheels for Justice,” a 3-day, 150-mile bicycle trip from Cleveland to Columbus (2006). Other highlights over the years include:

Some may not think it possible that long-time high school rivals can work together. But when we come together with humble hearts, the Holy Spirit may grant us a glimpse of the unity we seek – realizing we’re all on the same team.augie-pacetti

Augie Pacetti is a co-founder of Catholic Schools for Peace and Justice and serves as Director of Campus Ministry at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio.

 Going Deeper

Read more about Catholic Schools for Peace and Justice on our WeAreSaltAndLight.org website. There, you can also access resources and educational activities to engage high school students in learning about Catholic social teaching and poverty.

 

Moved by Mercy

rlp-16-cover-photo

On a recent drive home from work, I pushed “play” on my audiobook to pass the time in traffic. It’s not an unusual activity for me, but what I didn’t anticipate was my own bittersweet heartbreak.

As the author shared stories of her visit to Africa, she spoke of one place preserved from the destitution she had witnessed elsewhere. One building in particular, though small and simple, was nicer than others she had seen. But the reason for its better conditions cuts to the heart: it was a hospice home for children.

In this home lived a little girl, with whom the author became fast friends the day they met, each blessing the other with the love they both needed. As the author continued reading, she shared her desire to do something to help the people she’d fallen in love with.

It’s so easy to feel discouraged by the thought of all that is wrong in our world, to feel that our personal efforts wouldn’t really matter or make a difference. But the author’s reflections reminded me of the incredibly personal nature of large-scale issues.

Our world’s tragedies aren’t faceless. They are the experiences of individual people who have faces, names, and their own stories. It’s hard to wrap our heads around large-scale suffering, but its personal nature means that anyone can make a concrete difference—person to person.

One of my favorite parts of Pope Francis’s official Jubilee of Mercy proclamation (Misericordiae vultus) describes God’s mercy as “a concrete reality with which he reveals his love as of that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child…It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion.”

Having been made in God’s image and likeness, we are called to love as he loves, to be moved as he is moved. Everything we believe and do as Catholics is rooted in this love. Just as God cherishes each person, so too, we are called to cherish one another.

The 2016-17 Respect Life Program, beginning in October with the celebration of Respect Life Month and continuing through next September, explores what this means through the theme “Moved by Mercy.”

New, easy-to-read brochures give practical tips on providing compassionate support that respects and protects life from beginning to end. A resource guide provides tools for Catholics to go deeper into the message of merciful reverence for life—either by integrating it into their respective efforts in Catholic education and ministry, or for personal enrichment. A poster, flyer, folder, and catalog round out the printed materials.

These as well as other online-only resources (downloadable images, a social media toolkit, bulletin inserts, and more), can be ordered or downloaded from www.usccb.org/respectlife.

During Respect Life Month and throughout the year, let’s allow God to move our hearts with mercy for those who are marginalized, ignored, and especially those at risk of losing their lives. How does God want to work through you today?
Anne McGuire, USCCB

Anne McGuire is the Assistant Director for Education and Outreach for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. Visit www.usccb.org/respectlife for NEW Respect Life Program resources!

A New Year’s Resolution for Life

9Days-Top-BannerIn his address to Congress, Pope Francis reminded us, “every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity.” These are clearly not empty words. During his visit to the U.S., our hearts were warmed by the Holy Father’s stops to spend time with the most vulnerable, loving them and empathizing with their struggles. Through his words and actions, he challenged us to also care for our brothers and sisters.

Being pro-life is about cherishing and protecting each person and his or her life at every stage and in every circumstance. It means staying up with a sick baby until 2 a.m.; it means supporting families going through a hard time; it means visiting those who are sick and alone. That’s why the U. S. Catholic bishops are asking you to participate in 9 Days for Life—a digital pilgrimage from January 16-24.

Wherever you are, you can join with thousands across the country in praying for increased respect for life, in reaching out to others, and in sharing the joyful truth that every life is worth living.

You can download the novena online, or receive it through Facebook, email, text message or an app. You’ll be able to access new intentions, brief reflections, suggested actions, and more each day. (Sign up at 9daysforlife.com.)

As part of 9 Days for Life, the bishops are also asking you to share with others what it means to embrace a culture of life. One way you can do this is by posting a 5-15 second video of why you are participating in 9 Days for Life, how you participated that day, or what being pro-life means to you. Pro-Life Selfie SignOr, you can print out the customizable sign, fill in the sentence, “Being pro-life means _________,” and post a selfie with your sign. Whether you share a video or picture, use the hashtag #9DaysforLife, and if you’re posting on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, be sure to tag @USCCB—they’ll pick the best to share!

If social media isn’t your preferred way of connecting with others (or even if it is!), you can find some other creative suggestions here. From participating in diocesan or parish events, to holding your own pro-life potluck, these days are a time to reinvigorate our recognition and celebration that every single life is loved and valued by Our Father in heaven.

Of course, the ultimate goal of 9 Days for Life is that these prayers and actions will last well beyond January 2016. As you come up with resolutions for the New Year, ask yourself how you can spread a culture that values every life, from the beginning to the end.

We look forward to seeing what being pro-life means to you! Get started at 9daysforlife.com.

 

TGrenchik_Headshot_Web

Photo Credit: Renata Grzan / RenataPhotography.com

Tom Grenchik is Executive Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.usccb.org/prolife

 

Integral Ecology and Respect for Human Life

“Everything is connected.”  This phrase echoes throughout the recent encyclical from the Holy Father, Laudato Si.  Pope Francis presents a comprehensive vision.  Our attitude toward our common home is inseparable from our attitude toward the unborn, poor, and all who are vulnerable.  The crises of our age have arisen because we refuse to receive created things in humility, simple joy, and awe at the work of God.

Francis proposes an “integral ecology” – an approach to creation care rooted in the Christian conviction that the earth, and everything in it, is a gift from our gracious Father.  Everything is connected, and so we must resist the temptation to see the problems that we face today as piecemeal. We can’t build a culture of life and trash the planet at the same time. We can’t clean up the mess left by a consumer society if we disregard the preciousness of human life.

Care for creation flows naturally from our commitment to protect all human life.  For example, polluted drinking water causes birth defects.  We who march for life ought also to do our part to make sure that families have clean water for their children.  In our different places in life, we can build up a human ecology by taking account of how our actions affect the lives of the most vulnerable.

Most fundamental is our need to examine ourselves and how we receive God’s good world.  We are immersed in a throwaway culture, which exerts its force on us. In our consumer society, we are prone to think of our surroundings, and even the people in them, as objects to help us fulfill our selfish desires.  The habits formed in the throwaway culture need to be reformed and redirected.  We must tend to our interior life and learn to receive created things as gifts, always remembering the unique dignity of each human being.

Pope Francis reminds us that everything comes from God and can point to God.  A fish or a grasshopper, a prairie or a canyon, each thing has its own loveliness and is to be admired as a creation of our Creator – not only for what benefit it brings us.  When we can behold created things in their own particular glory, we move closer to an integral ecology.  In the throwaway culture, land is only good as an energy resource. In a culture of life, it is seen as an integral ecosystem, pointing to a loving God who delights in making a world filled with diverse creatures and landscapes.

The Pope offers simple suggestions for developing gratitude and reverence.  He suggests that praying before and after meals might help inspire thankfulness for the food we receive.  He notes the importance of resting on the Sabbath.  In this spirit I offer a possible exercise.  Choose some seemingly simple object, and consider the complexity and grandeur of it. Consider doing this with a different piece of creation each day.  Let us take time to cultivate a spirit of gratitude and awe at the beauty of the earth, which reaches its pinnacle in that most marvelous of creatures, the human person. Such an attitude animates a culture of life.

Aaron Matthew Weldon is a staff assistant for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In the Tsarnaev Case, Will Justice be Served?

Rachel Malinowski

Rachel Malinowski

Justice.

That was the single word at the top of my newsfeed when I opened Facebook after the thirty-count conviction of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. As I continued to scroll, I saw similar cheers for justice and chants of “Boston Strong”.

I must admit that following Tsarnaev’s conviction, I felt a sense that justice had been served. As a native Bostonian, it had been painful to see my city and my neighbors under attack in 2013. I remember frantically texting my mom and being glued to the television during the chase in Watertown. Even from my current home in Connecticut, I felt angry and upset; I cannot fathom the pain, fear and anger that runners, spectators and victims felt when our city was attacked. In light of this, the conviction of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev brought some sense of justice to this tragedy.

But Tsarnaev’s conviction was somewhat expected and thus the real focal point of this case will come with the sentencing phase, which just began. So this begs the question, will justice ultimately be served in the penalty phase of this case?

In the Catholic worldview, justice is not a death sentence for Tsarnaev. Rather, for there to be justice, Tsarnaev’s life should be spared, a position that is rooted in the belief that the application of capital punishment today, unnecessarily violates the inherent dignity of human life. When we as Catholics talk about the inherent dignity of life, we are referring to the sacredness of life that springs from the fact that each and every human has been made in the image and likeness of God; nothing—not even committing heinous crimes—can take this dignity away from a person. Thus, taking a brother or sister’s life as a penalty for a crime violates the image of God among us and as such, is unjust.

But it is not only the dignity of the individual sentenced to death that is violated when the death penalty is utilized; the dignity of the entire society is violated. In a 2005 statement on the death penalty, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed the hope that, “our nation will no longer try to teach that killing is wrong by killing those who kill.” More important than the logical flaw with the application of the death penalty, is the fact that the death penalty perpetuates a vicious cycle of violence and death that threatens all human life. By violating the dignity of our brothers and sisters, we necessarily violate our own.

I do not mean to make an anti-death penalty stance sound easy. In fact, it would be much easier to refuse to see the dignity of our enemies and not to worry about the culture of death that we are creating. It is imperative, though, that we resist this culture of violence and death. Violent penalties only breed more violence; they proclaim a disregard for life and express that violence is an acceptable vehicle for communicating ideals. Justice can only be realized when we boldly assert the sanctity of life in the face of horrific destruction.

I invite you to join me in praying that justice will be served and the culture of death and violence will be resisted.

Rachel Malinowski is a third-year Master of Divinity candidate at Yale Divinity School. She received her undergraduate degree at Fordham University. Rachel is an alumna of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development intern program.