The Diocese of Little Rock is taking a more holistic approach to celebrating respect life issues with several new events in October for Respect Life Month.
Respect life director Catherine Phillips said in the past, most of the pro-life events revolved around the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., and the Arkansas Right to Life’s March for Life in January. The creation of new events in October helps to “promote a consistent ethic of life” in the Catholic Church.
“We’re trying to add to our outreach, programming, educational and spiritual opportunities to fully promote our Church’s teaching,” Phillips said. “We are simply beefing up what we do, not taking away.”
Since 1972, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has designated October as Respect Life Month. While the diocese supported the USCCB’s efforts by sending out posters and promoting Respect Life Sunday to parishes, Phillips knew that more could be done.
This year, a Respect Life Mass will be held at noon, Sunday, Oct. 1 at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock, with vicar general Father John Connell presiding. A Holy Hour for Life will be held at the Shrine of Divine Mercy at St. Edward Church in Little Rock at 3 p.m.
Phillips hopes attendees will use this hour to “pray for greater respect for the life and human dignity of every person.”
“Pray for God's love and mercy,” Phillips said. “Particularly tied in with abortion is the fact that many people, even in our own churches sitting next to us in the pews, still carry this deep wound from having been involved in abortion. And sadly, it's hard to come back from that.”
In the future, Phillips hopes to do a Respect Life Eucharistic Procession to the Shrine of the Divine Mercy as well.
Phillips said the new events will be part of a much-needed step toward holistic, pro-life awareness. This year, the USCCB’s national theme is “Radical Solidarity.”
“Nationally, we’re still very much working against abortion, we’re promoting working with moms in need,” Phillips said. “We have around 55 pregnancy centers throughout the state … I’m not suggesting that a parish default their caring for pregnant women or a community to pregnancy centers, but instead to partner with them, work with them, support them and also to stand in the gap when services, support and prayer are lacking.”
As Respect Life Month events grow in future years, Phillips said she hopes to educate the public about the negative role of contraceptives in the Church’s pro-life teachings, while also emphasizing the role that other social issues play in the pro-life movement. Some of these issues include immigration, human trafficking, sexual assault, the death penalty, end-of-life care, euthanasia and the environment.
“The constant teachings of our Church is that human life matters, that it deserves protection, dignity and respect,” Phillips said. “Pope Francis says that radical solidarity isn’t just a few random acts of kindness. Radical solidarity speaks to how we can work and think and act together to change circumstances and situations that diminish someone’s human dignity.”
Phillips is also creating a four-part educational series for the diocese’s educational platform, learn.dolr.org, about fostering a consistent ethic of life, for catechists and the general public.
“Of course, working against abortion is huge, but we also want to talk about other things that touch people's lives — experiencing a miscarriage or navigating an adverse prenatal diagnosis,” Phillips said.
Liz Tingquist, director of Catholic Youth Ministry, said these respect life events in October would not replace any January events or youth events but would instead add to the pro-life opportunities available for Catholics throughout the Diocese.
“We’ll continue in fashion with our January events, our Weekend for Life retreat and our Mass for Life,” Tingquist said, noting that the Weekend for Life event would feature pro-life speakers discussing the death penalty, adoption and other issues.
For Phillips, October is another opportunity to reaffirm what Catholics have believed all along.
“We want to really get the message out, especially to Catholics in Arkansas and to all people, that our Church's constant teaching has been from the very first moment of life until natural death … We uphold human dignity — that simple. We want to get that message out with no political agenda, just God-given human dignity.”
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