For years, advocacy for life – specifically, a consistent ethic of life — has been central to the Franciscan mission. Friars and partners-in-ministry communicate their values and message through preaching and teaching, scholarly writings,, service to the poor and marginalized, and leadership in social and environmental justice issues.
On Jan. 24, Franciscans — with thousands of others — participated in the 46th National March for Life in Washington, D.C., doing their part to promote the need to uphold human dignity and the common good. Since 1974, people have converged on the National Mall to demonstrate for human rights and to celebrate life.
Two years ago, Pope Francis communicated in his 2018 Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete Et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad) the importance of balance and clarity as people fight for the unborn:
“The other harmful ideological error is found in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. Or they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend. Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection. We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty.” (para 101)
After the 2020 March for Life, two people who participated in the event reported on their experiences. The first was written by a student in her senior year at St. Bonaventure University in Western New York; the second is a reflection by a friar who lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, and who is a member of the Order’s JPIC Animation Committee.
Advocating and Learning – by Michelle Onofrio
Eleven students from St. Bonaventure University, accompanied by Fr. Peter Schneible, OFM, and Amanda Naujoks, St. Bonaventure’s campus minister, attended the National March for Life in Washington, D.C. The group participated in the “largest human rights demonstration in the world,” where upwards of 500,000 people gathered to joyfully defend the sanctity of human life.
As students who meet bi-weekly as part of a group called SBU for Life to discuss a wide range of pro-life topics, an opportunity to engage in activism is valued highly. They see abortion as an injustice that is plaguing our nation and are committed to “be a part of the fight to end it,” as sophomore Talia Maloney attests. Participating in the march is validating for her. She says, “I pray for those who are deceived that ending a life is a choice. The march always validates that I am fighting the good fight.”
On the day after the march, the group attended the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life at Georgetown University. Consisting of keynote talks, concurrent sessions, a panel discussion, and a Mass for Life, participants were given tools to defend life well and with confidence. Topics of discussion included gene editing, poverty, and women’s health, to name a few.
“It was eye-opening to hear from experts on a variety of pro-life issues,” said Samantha Burgio, a senior at St. Bonaventure.
During their visit to the D.C. area, the group from St. Bonaventure was able to see three recent SBU graduates who are postulants of Holy Name Province: Jimmy Kernan, Tyler Grudi and Kevin Hamzik, all from the class of 2019. “It was great to catch up with them and hear about what their daily lives are like as Franciscan postulants,” said junior Brandon Stanton.
The Seamless Garment Approach – by Jacek Orzechowski, OFM
I have been participating in the March for Life for years. I do it because I believe in the sanctity of human life.
As a Franciscan friar, I have preached about the sanctity of life and have pastorally counseled women who dealt with pregnancies in very challenging circumstances and who struggled to choose life. I have participated in the March for Life because I have been awed by the beauty of God’s amazing grace shining through numerous people I cherish whose existence once came so close to being eliminated in the womb. During the March for Life, I hold in my prayers the women and men who have wrestled with the decisions they have made and who came to know the power of God’s healing mercy and new life.
I participate in the March for Life as a Catholic whose thoughts and actions have been shaped by the Bible, the Church’s rich tradition of Social Doctrine, and certainly, by the Franciscan worldview that reminds us that everything is deeply interconnected. One of the large banners I held up at the march read: “Choose Life.” Underneath these words, crossed out, were listed: abortion, destruction of earth’s ecosystems, injustice, nuclear weapons, pandering to fear, racism, social inequality, torture. I have no doubt that my countryman, Saint Pope John Paul II looking down from heaven, is proud of my bearing witness to his call to an all-embracing vision of a “Civilization of Love.”
This is why I have found many actions and policies of the current Administration morally offensive. Many of the policies are antithetical to the Gospel values and to the best of what our country stands for. They scapegoat and attack the poor, immigrants and other vulnerable members of our communities, denying them justice.
The Administration has attacked basic climate science and rolled back basic environmental regulations that protect our health. This is a monumental sin against the Creator.
Promoting a culture of life requires from our Church the gifts of hindsight, insight, and foresight. We cannot sacrifice the moral integrity of the Gospel for political expediency, lest we be guilty of idolatry. There is just too much at stake for us.
Choosing life means protecting the unborn, safeguarding our common home (the earth), seeking justice for the poor, and working to abolish nuclear weapons. Opting for life is about saying Yes to the seamless garment that reveals the face of Christ. Choosing life means caring for the unborn and caring for Earth, seeking justice for immigrants and the poor.
As we follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ with charity, justice and prophetic witness, let us also continue to pray for the leaders of our Church and nation that they be guided by the Holy Spirit and seek the common good.
Editor’s note: The Franciscan Seamless Garment witness at the March was noted by 13 online news sources. Among them were Crux in an article titled “Trump’s visit Complicated March for Life’s pro-woman theme” and National Catholic Reporter’s “Trump tells March for Life Crowd he welcomes their commitment” and “A way out of the US bishops’ tight ideological and partisan corner.”