A gym full of volunteers and parish Respect Life coordinators were energized Sept. 15 with words about the sanctity of life from birth to natural death from Archbishop Gregory Aymond, archdiocesan Respect Life coordinator Debbie Shinskie and others who, in their small way, make a difference for life. It was the third annual “Jazzed for Life!” event.
Shinskie introduced Archbishop Aymond as a “staunch defender of life.” He then thanked the pro-life leaders for their courage in speaking up for the voiceless, such as a child in the womb, for their prayers and for their actions that forge a path for others to follow.
“We do not believe it is anyone’s right to take a child (through abortion),” he said. “We take our position for protecting the life of a child in the womb seriously.”
Archbishop Aymond demonstrated society’s changing viewpoints on the sanctity of human life by mentioning the escape of the jaguar Valerio from his habitat at Audubon Zoo and his killing of nine animals. He said people defended that as Valerio doing what he was supposed to do to survive – in stark contrast to how killing another human is not what humans are supposed to do.
He said the passage from the 43rd chapter of Isaiah – “I have formed you in the womb. I have called you by name. You are mine” – is a clear call to respect human life. Archbishop Aymond said God breathed his life in us, and we are called to respect this life from conception to natural death.
“We must be a people who acts on that, speaks about that and prays on that,” Archbishop Aymond said.
Being pro-life also means fighting against euthanasia, assisted suicide, the death penalty and human trafficking, which Archbishop Aymond called modern-day slavery. The archdiocesan Respect Life Office has taken up this cause.
He lauded Pope Francis’ recent word change in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” on the death penalty, saying he followed in St. John Paul’s and Pope Benedict’s footsteps that capital punishment could not be justified.
“This is a moral issue that takes away life,” he said, adding that the death penalty takes away the possibility that the incarcerated can repent.
Archbishop Aymond specified positive results from their efforts: Being a voice for those who can’t speak; helping others form values and consciences and giving witness to Jesus through their actions, words and prayers.
He echoed the recent United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) new pro-life theme, “Cherished, Chosen and Sent” by telling participants they were cherished, called by name and chosen as God’s beloved sons and daughters to live a life of discipleship and to make a difference in the world and in the church.
“As we gather today, you are enriched and nourished by each other and the body of Christ,” he said. “You are leaders to follow.” He sent them forth as ambassadors for God’s will.
Shinskie traced cultural changes that began in the 1930s when the Anglican Church sanctioned artificial contraception. Widespread use of the birth control pill took root in the 1960s, and abortion was legalized in the United States in 1973. Today, she said, some states permit euthanasia and assisted suicide, showing disregard for the disabled, elderly and chronically ill. Scientists are experimenting with human embryos and animal-human hybrids. Human trafficking has become a scourge.
“We have to get back to who we were,” Shinskie said. She reminded those gathered of the prophetic voice of St. John Paul, who told his countrymen in Poland in 1979 that they had forgotten who they were because they began taking God out of their life and culture.
“Let me remind you of who you are. We are human beings made in the image and likeness of God,” he said.
“The human body is either meaningful or meaningless,” Shinskie said. “There is no middle ground. If we don’t live a life where we live in the image and likeness of God, our life is meaningless.”
Shinskie said it was no coincidence that the USCCB chose the Respect Life program theme, “Every life. Cherished. Chosen. Sent.”
“The U.S. bishops are reminding us who we are,” she said. “Each of us is cherished by God. You are in this room because you were chosen and said yes to God and are on a wild ride with the Holy Spirit to go forth and proclaim and live the Gospel.
“When you are a leader, people watch you, and you need to live life like that,” she said.
Shinskie told participants to refer to the Respect Life office website https://respectlife.arch-no.org for helpful tools as pro-life leaders.
Incidents in her life led Jeanne Keene to join St. Andrew the Apostle Parish’s pro-life efforts. As Respect Life coordinator, she hopes she can encourage others who say they are pro-life into action.
“Let’s not take a back seat,” she said. “We need to get involved … speak to the young people.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.