Archbishop Hughes: Pro-life ‘battle’ is spiritual
Although those who work on pro-life endeavors might feel disheartened by the current political landscape, they should be reminded that their battle is not primarily a legislative or judicial one, but a moral and spiritual imperative that involves winning over the hearts and minds of the public, noted Archbishop Alfred Hughes, accepting the 14th annual Proudly Pro-Life award, presented by New Orleans Right to Life.
“The forces of secularism are powerful in our land,” said Archbishop Hughes, speaking at New Orleans Right to Life’s Jan. 18 award dinner at Chateau Estates Country Club. The former archbishop noted that a recent Pew Research Center study reported that 20 percent of Americans claim to have “no religion at all,” up three percent from a few decades ago.
“Secularism reduces faith to the private sphere and aggressively fights to keep it fromthe public square,” he said. “Secularism, aided and abetted by the entertainment industry, the media and academia, ridicules what is sacred and holy. Secularists want the country free from religion, not free for religion,” he said.
The archbishop noted that moral and spiritual battles are won through steadfast fidelity to one’s beliefs over time.
“Let us be encouraged that the fidelity of pro-lifers through legal activism, public protest and political efforts has kept the cause of truth about human life in the public square where it needs to be,” he said, noting significant progress effected by “the angels of life.” For example, more than 2,500 pregnancy health centers are now open serving more than 2.3 million women and their babies, and outnumber the nation’s 1,800 abortion centers.
“For those of us who are Christian, fidelity always involves the cross,” Archbishop Hughes said. “So we embrace the cross when we witness to the truth about life in the face of adversity, opposition and ridicule, and ultimate victory will be ours if we persevere to the end!”
This faith perspective is very important to preserve peace and joy in the midst of pro-life efforts, he added.
“Anger or negativity does not persuade others; the witness of courageous faith, accompanied by inner joy and peace, does,” he said. “We do not seek to impose the truth about life, bur rather to help others see that truth through our persuasive love.”
A staunch supporter of life
In her introductory tribute to Archbishop Hughes, Sharon Rodi, vice president of New Orleans Right to Life, recalled the many instances in which he “unapologetically and forcefully” defended human life. Upon his arrival to New Orleans in 2002, the archbishop met with 25 representatives of local pro-life organizations, she said.
“The archbishop was impressed with the success of these groups involved in pregnancy assistance, community education, advocacy and legislation. He pledged his support to work with us and he never wavered in that pledge,” Rodi said, offering a brief list of the archbishop’s pro-life accomplishments:
• He initiated the annual Respect Life Week and Mass for archdiocesan schools in which students collect needed items for pregnancy resource centers, nursing homes, prisons and group homes.
• As the head of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Hughes recommended that instead of one yearly luncheon for legislators held at the state capital, each bishop would host legislators at his home to get to know the legislators personally. “This one step has borne much fruit and has educated legislators on church teaching and their obligation to further the cause of life for the unborn, as well as other issues of concern to the church,” Rodi said.
• In 2004, the archbishop hosted the 12-part series “Toward a Civilization of Life and Love” on WLAE-TV and published 12 columns in the Clarion Herald addressing life issues. A DVD and study guide was made available to schools.
• Embracing Blessed John Paul II’s pronouncement that the defining issue of our time is our fundamental attitude toward the sacredness of human life, he worked tirelessly to educate his flock on the issue through pastoral letters and by speaking out against those in public life who voted for or encouraged laws allowing abortion and medical research or procedures that failed to respect and preserve the sanctity of human life.
• He has been a consistent presence at the January pro-life rally in New Orleans (now held in Baton Rouge) and at the national march in Washington, D.C. More than 1,000 area students now participate in the national march, joined by priests and seminarians.
Late principal lauded
New Orleans Right to Life also gave posthumous recognition to its former secretary, Jane Capella Silva, who spent 38 years at St. Michael Special School and the last 12 years of her life as its principal. Silva’s award was presented to her two sons, Michael and Kevin.
Silva’s cousin, Celie Clark, noted that Silva always stood firm against the “lie” that society should be compassionate about accepting abortion if it “takes the life of a child who is considered less than perfect.” She thanked New Orleans Right to Life for the new needs-based scholarship set up in Silva’s name.
“Jane recognized that each of those children, though they may take some extra time while here on earth, were actually little saints of the future, for none of them is capable of sin,” Clark said. “So much joy (in Silva’s life) came from the dignity of pursuing the goal of nurturing and setting a high Catholic identity standard for excellent academics and good spiritual direction at St. Michael’s.”
Change takes time
Nikolas Nikas, president of the Bioethics Defense Fund, encouraged audience members to persevere in the fight to end abortion, noting that real social change, such as the 246 years it took to abolish of slavery in America, doesn’t happen overnight.
“We are fighting the greatest social reform movement of the last 150 years, and social reform movements take time,” said Nikas, noting that a mere 40 years had elapsed since the ratification of Roe v. Wade.
“We can say after 40 years and 50 million dead we should just go home,” Nikas said. “But the only way we lose is if we give up. Let us never give up, whether we see Roe reversed and abortion end unexpectedly in one year or 100 years, and it’s our great-grandchildren who are fighting this battle.
“Teach your children; teach your grandchildren. Pass on the baton!” he said.
Noting that Planned Parenthood receives $350 million in government assistance, Rodi urged pro-life advocates to mobilize in advance of the abortion referral center’s unveiling of a new New Orleans headquarters on South Claiborne Avenue in 2014.
“What does Planned Parenthood do with this money? They would like us to think that they are helping women and providing healthy choices for women, but they don’t,” Rodi said, noting that Catholic Charities’ ACCESS Pregnancy Center and Louisiana Right to Life will offer additional “real help” to women when they inaugurate their pregnancy mobile unit, a 35-foot long bus that will take pregnancy support services to women throughout the area.
Although they live in a state that has nearly 9,000 annual abortions, the speakers celebrated Louisiana’s recent ranking as the number one pro-life state in the union by Americans United for Life News, the oldest national pro-life consortium.