While walking to class, I noticed a small cemetery of wooden crosses outside the building housing St. Louis University’s campus ministry. I paused for a moment and looked a bit closer before recalling that we were now in the month of November. Every October, as part of the national Respect Life Month, the Students for Life have displayed these crosses on the quad in the center of campus. That was when I realized I hadn’t seen the display during the month of October, which called my attention to the sign beside the cemetery: “We’re back.”
After the cemetery was initially set up at the beginning of October, anonymous individuals dismantled the crosses during the night. Overnight, all the work and effort that had gone into the Students for Life display vanished without a trace. For those not residing on campus, we had no idea that cemetery had even been set up.
What many in opposition to the pro-life movement failed to realize is that the students had drawn particular attention to all forms of life in their display. As part of their “We’re Back” campaign, the colored ribbons fixed to each cross was clearly spelled out. Of course, some crosses represented U.S. abortions. But others represented the homicides occurring in St. Louis. Others stood for the states where capital punishment remains legal, and others represented the residents of Missouri living in poverty. This was not just a display for abortion. The students had tailored their message to speak to the entire pro-life movement and proclaim the Catholic Church’s defense of the dignity of every human person.
Standing over the cemetery, the message for me was quite clear. But for those in opposition, the problem seems to be an unwillingness to pause, to reflect, to listen. A group of students took time to clearly relay their message: to identify different aspects of the church’s pro-life teaching and apply it in a very concrete and approachable way. This was truly a message honoring the dignity of all life and the injustices done by violence, poverty and wrongful death. And yet, the commentary on campus remains focused on the issue of abortion and the church’s stark denouncement of the pro-choice movement.
If such a message cannot be proclaimed on the campus of a Jesuit university, where can it be proclaimed? If oppositional voices cannot tolerate the conversations about the value of life and find common ground on a Catholic campus, where can these conversations happen? For surely, there is common ground: all of us can certainly identify with the crosses’ proclamation of injustice to the impoverished and to the underlying racial tensions that have brought about recent St. Louis homicides.
And yet, as I stood before the reassembled cemetery, reading the message created by the Students for Life, I realized an even larger message. “We’re back.” These students learned a harsh realization – the same realization that many of us face outside the walls of college campuses when we live out the church’s teachings. These students realized hatred and disrespect from members of their campus community.
And yet, they stood their ground. They could have easily packed it all in. Yet, just in time for November, dedicated to the souls in purgatory, the cemetery for life reappeared with a stronger message. We will not back down.
Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org