For 41 years, Catholics have observed October as Respect Life Month. This year, church leaders and people in the thick of the pro-life movement in South Carolina say it is one of the most crucial times in history to get more of the faithful concerned about the sanctity of life.
Events in the Diocese of Charleston are already in full swing, from the 40 Days for Life campaign that started Sept. 26 to the Rosaries for Life prayer drive going on simultaneously. People are organizing prayer vigils outside abortion clinics, listening to speakers, and preparing for the annual Life Chain set for Oct. 7, Respect Life Sunday, in most locations.
“Our nation’s Catholics will be called to renew their personal commitment to defend all human life, especially the most vulnerable members of the human family,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, in a Sept. 25 statement.
He said this year’s theme comes from Pope Benedict XVI: “Faith opens our eyes to human life in all its grandeur and beauty.”
In a recent speech while on a trip to Lebanon, Pope Benedict said a deep respect for all life is linked not only to the constant struggle for world peace and justice, but to the very core of Christian belief and existence.
“The effectiveness of our commitment to peace depends on our understanding of human life. If we want peace, let us defend life!” Pope Benedict said. “The unconditional acknowledgement of the dignity of every human being, of each one of us, and of the sacredness of human life, is linked to the responsibility which we all have before God.”
Those involved in pro-life activities echo his sentiments.
“Respecting life should be a priority in Christian life because our faith teaches us all human life is sacred,” said Kathy Schmugge, assistant director of the diocesan Office of Family Life.
“Each human person reflects God’s image and likeness and provides an opportunity to love and be loved,” she said. “Do we trust God enough to welcome a child no matter the circumstances? Do we believe that God is the author of life and death? As long as there are people who do, there will be a Respect Life Month.”
John Kost of Myrtle Beach has worked to defend life for 40 years. It’s a cause he never tires of because the unborn, the disabled, the sick and the elderly never stop being in danger, he said.
A member of St. Andrew Church and president of Grand Strand Citizens for Life, Kost said a respect for life should be second nature to anyone who professes to follow Christ.
“With all the knowledge we now have about life beginning at conception, there’s absolutely no question that an abortion is truly a murder, the taking of life,” Kost said. “If you’re doing God’s will and following his commandments, it’s very difficult to do anything else but stand up for life.”
Kost said abortion is not the only issue that should concern people. Being pro-life also includes working against euthanasia and fetal stem-cell research. Also, recent attacks against traditional marriage, the family and religious freedom play into an overall cultural disrespect for life.
“These general trends offer much more motivation to keep the movement alive, because in some areas we’re gaining ground,” he said. “All these things going on can’t be tolerated, and I’m going to keep on fighting for life until the day I die.”
Kost said everyone can do their part to promote life, whether on the personal or public level. Those who work behind the scenes by prayer and fasting and learning about the issues are just as effective, he said, as those who choose a more public commitment to the effort through attending the Life Chain or joining a vigil outside a clinic. He said the important thing is awareness.
Beatrice Fedor of Greenville has spent years working with post-abortive women and their families, and spreading the message that abortion destroys not only the women who have them, but their families and the culture at large. Since 2008, she has led the Greenville chapter of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, and blogs about women’s issues at www.400wordsforwomen.com.
For Fedor, abortion is the central focus because there is so much misinformation about the issue in the mainstream media.
“When an issue this widespread has become banal, the faithful need a reminder to take a stand and help save lives,” she said. “My hope is that more people familiarize themselves with the teachings of the church about the fifth commandment, you shall not kill, and get the facts about abortion in America.”
“The faithful can get involved, for instance, in their parish’s Respect Life ministry and speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves. Forty years of legal abortion have not magically erased poverty and domestic abuse. We shouldn’t be afraid to engage the culture about these issues, keep ourselves informed and use social media to defend the church’s position,” she said.
Personal experience led to her commitment, she said, and Respect Life Month is the perfect opportunity for others to reflect on issues like abortion and euthanasia and hopefully discover a way to fight for the vulnerable. Even the home-bound can link up with the spirit of the month through prayer, especially the rosary, Fedor said.
“Since October is the month of the holy rosary, praying it is a powerful spiritual weapon,” she said. “Through our actions and prayers, we can change the culture of death into the culture of life.”