- Festival of Life
- Promoting Chastity in the Parish
- Bringing the Pro-Life Message Into African American Communities
- Elizabeth Ministry
- Prison Ministry
- Cemetery of the Innocents
Festival of Life
In section 85 of The Gospel of Life, John Paul II calls upon us to publicly celebrate the gift of life each year:
The celebration of this day should be planned and carried out with the active participation of all sectors of the local church. Its primary purpose would be to foster in individual consciences, in families, in the church and in civil society a recognition of the meaning and value of human life at every stage and in every condition.
He recommends making "good use of the wealth of gestures and symbols present in the traditions and customs of different cultures and peoples." Most of us read these words and responded "Great idea!" Marcella Effertz, the Respect Life coordinator for the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, instead answered, "Let it be done!" With only four months lead time, she planned, organized, and ran a spectacularly successful Festival of Life. It should serve as a paradigm for the weekend of Respect Life Sunday (or other appropriate date) for years to come.
The goals of the Festival of Life are first, to celebrate the gift of life and, second, to make people more aware of those Catholic organizations, institutions, groups, and persons who protect, safeguard, promote, and enhance life. The Festival gave an opportunity for those in health care, education, social concerns, and "respect life" areas to tell their story (and interest new volunteers).
Inclusiveness and delegation of responsibilities were key to the Festival's success. A local pro-life event focused solely on abortion and euthanasia might draw hundreds. Tens of thousands will be drawn to a free event that features ethnic groups celebrating their cultural life in dance and song, that features the life-saving work of firemen (complete with pumper wagon and prevention house), highway patrol, police (and police dogs), and search and rescue units, that has carnival games, clowns, face-painting, food vendor tents, high school choirs and bands, and a closing candlelight liturgy. The only caution with respect to inclusiveness is to avoid inviting Catholic exhibitors from fringe "Catholic" groups that dissent from Church teaching. The Official Catholic Directory by P.J. Kenedy & Sons will serve as a guide to which local organizations to invite.
Organizing an event of this magnitude demands delegation of responsibilities to participating groups. In particular, the one organization to which Sioux Falls was most indebted (as is the pro-life movement and the Catholic Church as a whole) is the Knights of Columbus. They gave whole-hearted support to the Festival of Life, taking responsibility for all of the parking arrangements, food preparation, tents, and trash removal.
Who should be invited to exhibit or participate?
Hospitals, nursing homes, and home health care providers (as listed in the Kenedy directory) were invited to exhibit. Booths are professionally set up and exhibitors pay a small fee for the opportunity to tell their story to thousands of people.
Local colleges, Catholic high schools and grade schools provided entertainment by their choirs and bands. In addition, they were able to raise funds for their schools by operating carnival booths and selling snack food from pushcarts. The diocesan Office of Education might coordinate their participation and run poster and essay contests, as well.
All local Catholic institutions and organizations that deal in social concerns are invited to exhibit, among them: Respect Life Office, Project Rachel, Natural Family Planning Office, Youth Ministry Office, Knights of Columbus, Catholic Daughters of America, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Legion of Mary, Cursillo, Serra Club, seminaries and convents, ministries that house the homeless and feed the poor, crisis pregnancy centers, groups that aid the handicapped, RENEW, support groups for divorced, widowed, and separated Catholics, and pro-life legislative advocacy organizations. National organizations participating in the Sioux Falls Festival of Life included Habitat for Humanity, Eternal Word Television Network, Teens for Life, and Priests for Life.
Tap local businesses for donations of materials. Florists donated cases of balloons. Signs on rolls of white vinyl were painted and donated by a local group. Confirmation classes assisted in the set-up and break down of choir bleachers (borrowed from a high school) and seats for the audience. Performers were asked to supply their own sound equipment. First Aid duties were handled by priests who were also Catholic military chaplains. While the exhibitors should be Catholic organizations, the entertainers, such as ethnic dancers and singers, need not be.
Although the Festival of Life requires planning and organization, it is not costly. A special collection at one Mass plus exhibitors' fees defrayed most of Sioux Falls' $7,000 or so in expenses.
Promoting Chastity in The Parish
Rose Fuller, author of this year's article, "Chastity: Its Place in the Gospel of Life" offers the following practical suggestions for promoting chastity through parish programming.
- The engagement period is a perfect time for couples to learn Natural Family Planning (NFP). Make NFP an expected part of marriage preparation. Obtain the NFP schedule and registration forms from the diocesan family life or NFP office and give this information to couples before setting their wedding date. Couples who have attended NFP instruction as part of their marriage preparation often admit that they had no idea what NFP is about, would not have looked into it on their own, and are very grateful to have been given the opportunity to learn about it.
- Teachers of religious education should be committed to the Church's teachings regarding respect for human life and chastity so that they can present this teaching in a winning way. It is important that teachers believe that students are capable of living chaste lives and making the right choices. Pick teachers who hold these beliefs to teach chastity and respect for life. Offer opportunities for teachers to deepen their understanding and awareness of these issues and learn effective ways to communicate them to their students.
- John Paul II has urged us to pray and fast. Prayer groups of mothers can make chastity a special prayer intention. Parishes might pick one day a month or a quarter and dedicate a prayer service (e.g., eucharistic adoration, rosary, scripture meditation) for a renewed reverence for life and respect for the gift of sexuality. In their daily prayers, families can include a special intention for chastity or for women contemplating abortion.
- Offer one-day retreats, known as LifeSaver Retreats, for junior high students to reflect on the sanctity of life and chastity. High school leaders serve as peer mentors to eighth grade students. The young people discuss threats to human life and chastity and provide positive ways to witness to the world. These LifeSaver Retreats, adapted from those developed by the St. Petersburg, Florida Diocesan Respect Life Office, are offered to Catholic schools and parishes in Portland, Oregon by Northwest Family Services, (503) 215-6377.
- Parents are the primary educators of their children. Provide a family workshop on the topic of chastity so that families can benefit from the support and skills taught. How to Save Sex for Marriage is a four-night family workshop discussing chastity, the "safer sex" myth, friendship, dating, self-worth, and setting activity standards. Family communication in the area of sexuality is positively influenced. This workshop is part of the Catholic chastity and virtues curriculum entitled Project Genesis and is available through Leaflet Missal Company, (612) 487-2818.
Bringing The Pro-life Message Into African-American Communities
The Diocese of Saginaw is the home of Rick Nix, associate director for the Mission Office and director of the Office for Black Catholic Concerns. In the past two years, Mr. Nix has directed much of his talent and energies to a national Ministry to Black Catholic Men, of which he serves as president. Chapters are springing up around the country. The ministry's work is many-faceted, but its over-arching goal is to encourage black men to understand, live, and witness to the role of Christian fatherhood in their communities. They are organizing a "Black Fathers' Day March" against drugs and crime. These local marches will occur on the Saturday before Fathers' Day. While events are important to raise awareness, Mr. Nix sees long-term programs as the key to rescuing young people and communities from the culture of death. One immediate goal is to mobilize successful African-American men to mentor teens in troubled communities, informally and through Saturday classes, "freedom schools." They will be taught what fatherhood is about, about the full meaning of parental responsibility. They will be taught that, whether married or not, if they father a child they are responsible for that child's life from conception.
The power of African-American Catholic men united against the culture of death was demonstrated not long ago in Owensboro, Kentucky. About fifty courageous men met in a Catholic Church one Sunday night, in drug-infested area of the city. From the Church they marched with candles, driving the dealers off the streets. The following night they returned to march the streets with their families. Then they assembled with local residents to discuss ways to reorganize their community by increasing the presence of legitimate businesses and decreasing the drug trade. Call your diocesan offices to learn if there is a chapter of the Ministry to Black Catholic Men near you. If not, contact Rick Nix at 5800 Weiss St., Saginaw, MI 58607; (517) 797-6635.
There are a number of national and local organizations working to bring the pro-life message to African-American communities. Educational materials and program information can be obtained by contacting: Black Americans for Life, 419 7th St., N.W. (Suite 500), Washington, DC 20004; (202) 626-8833; Life Education and Resource Network (804) 579-2833; and Texas Black Americans for Life, 704 Chenevert, Houston, TX, 77003; (713) 225-3226.
The Elizabeth Ministry is a parish-based outreach to women in special times of motherhood. It is scripturally grounded in the relationship between the Blessed Virgin Mary and her cousin Elizabeth (the Visitation passage). The purpose of the ministry is to "affirm, support, encourage, and assist women in response to their needs during the childbearing years." Gone are the days when extended families and life-long friends provided reassurance and advice to help young women through the challenges of child-bearing years. Even parishes have grown so large that individuals can feel isolated and ignored in their time of need. Elizabeth Ministry grew out of a desire to address this need. Co-founders Jeannie Hannemann and Fr. Kurt Gessner explain:
Our dream is that this ministry will help the parish truly celebrate the gift of each child conceived and born, and fully mourn each miscarriage and infant death. This will be a strong witness to our belief in the dignity and worth of all life! By assisting those suffering infertility, encouraging those in the adoptive process, and supporting families experiencing an infant crisis, we will be a strong and consistent voice for life in our church, community, and world.
Through the Elizabeth Ministry, women become mentors to other women in the parish, offering companionship, encouragement, prayers, and understanding in personal visits and telephone contacts. These activities allow parishes to do the following:
- Give reassurance and encouragement to women who are pregnant, or caring for a newborn.
- Offer support to women who are dealing with infertility or a childless lifestyle.
- Reach out to women who experience a miscarriage or infant or child death.
- Celebrate birth with parents and families.
- Respond at times of infant and child crisis.
- Assist parents involved in the adoptive process.
- Offer support and encouragement to grandparents during their child's childbearing years.
- Empower women to relate to each other in a spirit of inclusiveness and sisterhood.
- Welcome young families into the church community.
Most Reverend Robert J. Banks, Bishop of Green Bay, where Elizabeth Ministry began, has endorsed this outreach enthusiastically:
My first and spontaneous reaction to Elizabeth Ministry was one of pure delight. The whole program seemed so right, so in accord with the Gospel, so responsive to the real needs of new mothers, and such a great way for parishioners to help one another. I heartily endorse the program.
The popularity of the film "Dead Man Walking" has sparked interest in prison ministry. Prison ministry can take many forms. We offer some suggestions from the dioceses of Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina.
Catholic chaplain Bill Matevie has coordinated prison ministries in the Diocese of Charlotte since 1991. He serves as full-time chaplain in North Carolina's largest correctional facility. He recommends that all efforts should be coordinated through the institution's chaplain or community resource council. Inquire also about a facility's guidelines for volunteers. They will be detailed and mandatory. Among the many activities he encourages are the following:
- Distribute free Catholic literature. TAN Books & Publishers (800)437-5876, (ext. 212—Tony Mioni) provides free of charge to inmates four different sets of Catholic books and booklets, five per set. Simply notify TAN of the names and addresses of inmates who would like to receive these gifts. The facility chaplain can supply you with names or, if he prefers, have the books sent from Tan to his attention.
- Conduct Bible studies.
- Lead the rosary or just drop by to pray briefly with inmates.
- Provide greeting cards ($3.00/100 cards through American Rehabilitation Industries 417-781-9100).
- Collect/donate reading materials (paperbacks, puzzle books, magazines).
- Donate Bibles (paperback only).
- Circulate petitions to abolish the death penalty.
- Encourage daily devotional reading ("Living Faith" is sent free to correctional institutions).
- Have school children create holiday cards (Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day).
- Donate writing paper and envelopes, underwear (boxers and T-shirts, white only, large sizes), personal hygiene items, playing cards, board games, and inspirational wall posters.
Project Link was developed by the North Carolina Council of Churches' program, People of Faith Against Death, as a ministry of companionship through letter writing with persons on death row. The Diocese of Raleigh promoted this outreach by sending announcements to all its parishes about Project Link and offering free training sessions on the do's and don'ts of letter writing. Sr. Joan Jurski of Raleigh's Office of Justice and Peace, (919)821-9751, can provide additional information on how to get Project Link started in your area.
Cemetery of the Innocents
A field of 4,400 white wooden crosses representing the children killed by abortion each day in the United States is a powerful witness to abortion's awesome toll. In recent years, Catholic high schools, parish youth groups, college campus ministries, and pro-life organizations have been undertaking the project of displaying crosses for a few days or weeks, usually on church-owned property along well-traveled routes. A cemetery of innocents is also a vehicle for raising up to $4,400 in donations for local crisis pregnancy centers, from parishioners and others who "sponsor" a cross for $1 each. The material to construct the crosses costs about $400.
Matthew Boyle of University of Buffalo Students for Life has taken the crosses project a step further. This year he organized an effort to coordinate the display of 365 fields of crosses around the country beginning Good Friday, and the subsequent assembly of the 1.4 million crosses on a field near the University of Buffalo later in April. To facilitate parish participation in the nationwide Cemetery of the Innocents project, Mr. Boyle prepared instructions for cross construction and painting, tips for organizing the coordinating committees and for publicizing the project locally, sample letters to pastors and school personnel, sample bulletin announcements, a certificate of spiritual adoption, and other helpful materials. Information can be obtained from Matthew Boyle c/o UB Students for Life, 350 Student Union, SUNY-Buffalo, Amherst, NY 14260; (716) 837-1168. There will be a small charge for duplicating and mailing.