While the activities surrounding the annual Mass for Life at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock Jan. 17 were scaled back, the pro-life message came through just as strong as the value and brevity of life hits close to home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor opened his homily with a quote from John F. Kennedy, the country’s first Catholic president, just days before the country’s second Catholic president, Joe Biden, is to be inaugurated.
“Kennedy asserted one Catholic truth in his inaugural address when he said that the principles for which our founding fathers fought was the idea that our rights come not from the generosity of the state, but rather from the hand of God. And why do I bring up this higher call as we mark the 48th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade? Because our right to follow our conscience and live according to that higher law continues to be under attack in various sectors of life,” Bishop Taylor said.
Hosted by the Diocese of Little Rock Respect Life Office, the Mass for Life was livestreamed on YouTube, with about 75 in attendance following mask and social distance protocols. It was the first Mass Bishop Taylor has celebrated at the Cathedral since contracting COVID-19 Dec. 10. Concelebrating Mass were Fathers Jack Vu, rector of the Cathedral, Aby Abraham, IMS, associate pastor, and Mark Stengel, pastor of St. Benedict Church at Subiaco Abbey.
The annual eucharistic procession, Hearts for Life Conference and the youth Weekend for Life retreat were canceled this year. The March for Life, hosted by nonprofit Arkansas Right to Life, was postponed.
Respect life director Catherine Phillips told Arkansas Catholic Jan. 11, “We hope that even if people attend Mass at their own parish that day, they might watch the video later. Certainly we hope people read Bishop Taylor’s homily.”
Hollie Snowden, Cathedral parishioner and religious education coordinator at Holy Family Parish in Jacksonville, attended with her daughters Samantha, 16, and Melodie, 8.
“I am an advocate for anything pro-life, I absolutely despise abortion,” Samatha Snowden said. “I feel like it’s more normalized now than it was before; it’s easier, it’s more accessible for young girls, especially teen moms because they push it on you.”
In the January Respect Life Office newsletter, Phillips detailed a frantic call on New Year’s Eve from a mother of a 1-year-old daughter, who was kicked out of her home for refusing to have an abortion.
“I don’t get a call every day,” she said of a woman in a crisis pregnancy, “but every day the abortion facility is open. Every day Planned Parenthood is open and women go there to access services. The main reason they tell us they do (have an abortion), they feel like that’s the best thing for their baby because they don’t feel like giving birth in the world and the challenging circumstances that are their daily reality is a good option.”
Bishop Taylor emphasized that even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade, abortion laws will fall to the states and women will travel out of state or have “back alley” abortions.
“Merely changing laws will not put an end to abortion. The only lasting solution is to change hearts. And we will only change our hearts when we begin to embrace a consistent ethic of life,” Bishop Taylor said.
He pointed to the connection of all pro-life issues, including euthanasia, doctor-assisted suicide, capital punishment, access to universial health care, embryonic stem cell research and an economic system that kills.
“If life is sacred, then immigration, when necessary, becomes a pro-life issue. This planet belongs to all of us, as is welcoming refugees and working to end gun violence and unemployment, and on this Martin Luther King weekend, racism. If life is sacred, then feeding the hungry and giving shelter to the homeless are pro-life issues,” Bishop Taylor said.
Hollie Snowden said of the homily, “I feel like the anti-abortion message could have been stronger.” Cathedral parishioner John Fournier, who attended the Mass with his son Chip, a senior at Catholic High School, said, “All souls are important, especially the unborn. Like the bishop’s sermon reminded us, all life is important. I liked his quote from President Kennedy. I think that’s something we should be reminded of, that all rights come from God.”
Father Stengel, who recently recovered from COVID-19, said he attends annually, but this year, “I recognized the value of my own life, how precious it is, then in thanksgiving that I didn’t have a serious case of it.”
Phillips said the responsibility of wearing a mask and doing our part to combat coronovirus is also a pro-life issue.
“It’s important we give thanks for our lives and our blessings. It’s important we grieve the loss of those that have died. I read the statistics back in the summer that more people die per minute from COVID in the U.S. than from abortion, and that’s so sad,” Phillips said. “If we can’t think of this as a pro-life issue, I think we’re missing the point.”
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