As rain fell and winds blew outside the Richmond Convention Center, inside Bishop Barry C. Knestout told more than 1,500 worshippers at the Mass for Life Thursday, Feb. 13, that “political winds can change rapidly” and the threat to life can “reemerge with brutal ferocity.”
The Mass, concelebrated by Bishop Knestout and Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, preceded the second annual Virginia March for Life.
The bishop was referring to the legislation being considered in the House of Delegates and Senate, both with Democratic majorities, that would eliminate all processes and procedures, including an ultrasound, which are required under existing law for a pregnant woman’s informed written consent to having an abortion. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has promised to sign such legislation if it reaches his desk.
“Just a few years ago, it was not thought that there would ever be a need for such a march here in the commonwealth,” Bishop Knestout said. “The laws and the political culture ensured life was protected in a greater way than maybe in other states although always in danger of being undermined.”
Bishop Knestout said that while people grieve the loss of so many lives, “There is hope.”
He praised the Knights of Columbus councils that raise money to purchase ultrasound machines, the outreach of Hope4Life in Portsmouth, volunteers at pregnancy centers and those who stand near abortion centers and pray for the transformation of hearts and lives.
“If you haven’t already supported their efforts and work, I urge you to do so,” the bishop said.
Noting that while the gift of new life is always to be celebrated, Bishop Knestout continued, “We must also recognize that a pregnancy, especially when unexpected, can bring with it many challenges. Mothers too often find themselves afraid, vulnerable, abandoned and in need. And God calls us to respond in love.”
Referencing Luke 1:39-45, Bishop Knestout said Mary’s visit to Elizabeth should be the model for helping a woman with an unexpected pregnancy.
“We are called to go without delay, to go ‘in haste’ as the Blessed Mother did, to offer expectant mothers the support, encouragement and love that they need,” he said. “Mary’s example of visiting her cousin Elizabeth at the time of both of their unexpected pregnancies should inspire us to serve mothers and families — even amidst our own conflicting needs.”
Delores Oliver, a member of St. Paul Parish, Portsmouth, echoed the need to care for unwed mothers.
“There are too many stigmas. If a young girl gets pregnant, she’s ostracized. We have to dismiss that,” she said. “People will make an error, not a mistake, because a baby made is not a mistake, not ever. We need to change the ideas about how we feel about an unwed mother conceiving. That child would not have been conceived unless it was through the power of the Holy Spirit. God does not make any mistakes.”
St. Gregory the Great School, Virginia Beach, was one of more than a half dozen Catholic schools represented at the Mass and march. Assistant principal Eric Landon said he was hoping the impact of the march would be that “every life is important, every life is sacred to God.”
He continued, “We are marching, we are speaking, we are showing our support for those who don’t have a voice.”
Kylee Noriega, a seventh grader at the school, was hoping the impact of the march would eventually result in an end to abortion.
“It is really, really sad that people are willing to kill innocent lives,” she said. “Think about all the neighbors we could be missing. It’s sad to think about all the people I could have made friends with.”
Benedictine Sister Kathleen Persson, a therapist and a vocation director for her religious community who worked in hospice for many years, noted the importance of quality of life from beginning to end.
“Having been a mother before I was a sister, I have a very strong desire that people understand life is most important at any stage. I’m hoping we will all learn to support each other when it is difficult for certain people to do that,” she said.
First time March for Life participant Jennifer Joss, a member of St. Mary Parish, Richmond, said she hoped legislators and the community in general got the message that “people care about respecting life.”
She continued, “It’s always going to be a challenge to convince people life is worth fighting for. We must see that people are becoming educated in the issues, that they are not black and white and that there are deeper things involved. We need to become educated, and it is up to us to educate our young people and educate one another.”
Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, said that the protections for the unborn that “have been put in place over the last several decades and in a manner of weeks have been dismantled.”
“As these protections are being dismantled, we’re going to be working very hard to build that back up,” he said. “It might take some time, but that’s what we’re committed to doing. Virginians are not going to stop believing in life, proclaiming life and fighting to protect life.”
At the rally preceding the march, Caruso told the more than 2,500 participants, “Life will prevail because the Lord and creator of life assures us of that. He sends us forth to spread the truth, goodness and beauty of life. We are privileged to have this mission and responsibility.”
A story about Jake and Courtney
Following Mass, Father Dan Beeman, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Newport News, told the crowd about Courtney, the girl his cousin, Jake, met online. They had much in common, but Jake wanted to know more. The priest advised him, “Ask her if she’s pro-life, because in some ways that will tell you so much about her heart.”
Father Beeman related the story the woman told Jake. It was 1963, and her biological grandmother was a 17-year old, pregnant immigrant in New York City. With no family support, she went to an orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity who took her in and then kept her daughter, Courtney’s mom, in the orphanage. She ended up in a foster home where the parents eventually adopted her.
Courtney’s message to Jake: “I’m pro-life, always. Because I wouldn’t be here otherwise. And I can’t imagine any situation where a life isn’t worth saving, where a baby would be better off dying than being given life and love.”
The priest said his response to his cousin was, “You date that girl, you date that girl now!”
Father Beeman said stories like Courtney’s need to become “part of the moral fiber and framework” of the United States and Virginia.
“You and I as pro-life people, as people who know each life as created by God to be sacred, have been dealt some very difficult and sad news in the Commonwealth over the last few months,” he said. “With the turn of the General Assembly in Virginia last November, and the current administration in our governor’s mansion, the Commonwealth of Virginia is now represented in all of our houses of government by people who do not share our reverence for life.”
The priest said the representative majority’s “false application of the word ‘choice’” has replaced the dignity and honor of human life.
“They have taken what we know by our religious teaching and also what you never have to be religious to know – that every life is sacred and that the vulnerable life is the one most worth protecting – and they have turned it upside down in the name of choice,” he said. “This turn has been swift, and their efforts have been unrelenting.”
Father Beeman delineated the legislation that is making its way into Virginia law, e.g., allowing people other than doctors to perform abortions, removal of informed consent, removal of the requirement for an abortion facility to provide the mother with an ultrasound and elimination of the 24-hour waiting period.
He said Gov. Ralph Northam signing these bills presents a “serious challenge” to pro-lifers.
“Perhaps the scariest part is that once this passes, they will not relent,” the priest said. “Many of our pro-abortion delegates and senators and our governor have stated that they would continue to support additional pro-abortion legislation in the future.”
Father Beeman said pro-lifers should not despair nor see the situation as hopeless.
“We join our pro-life stance across the board as a people of faith, demonstrating our willingness to fight for every life, not just in the womb, but through every stage to a natural death,” he said. “We stand against dismissing anyone, regardless of their background, age or status, and we love and support every human.”
The priest noted the consistency of the Church’s teaching regarding assisted suicide, the death penalty “or taking away the dignity of any human life in how they are treated.”
“With that consistency, with the growing sentiments of pro-life Americans, and most especially, with the Light and Truth of Jesus Christ, this is a fight that can be won, and this is a fight worth fighting in order to win,” he said.
— Brian T. Olszewski