Our Catholic Church holds every life sacred, from the unborn child in her or his mother’s womb to the person dying of illness, accident, violence or old age. This month we commemorated the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that declared all state laws against abortion null and void. Also in January, we observe Poverty Awareness Month. Both observances serve as a reminder of the work ahead of us to convince the world in which we live that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. We are called to go to the peripheries — through prayer, action and/or advocacy — to bring about the changes necessary to ensure that every life is protected and the dignity of every human person is respected.
In 2013, during the conclave to elect a new pope, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio gave a short speech to his fellow cardinals on going to the peripheries. He said: “The Church is called to come out of herself and go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.”
A story in this week’s Catholic Messenger illustrates how Bishop Thomas Zinkula has taken the Holy Father’s message to heart in his visits to the peripheries in the Diocese of Davenport. The peripheries are places to encounter the other, which Pope Francis calls clergy and lay people to do, as Christ instructed his followers to do in Matthew 25, the bishop says.
So where do we begin? The Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC), the official public policy voice of Iowa’s bishops, has developed a list of legislative priorities for 2018 (iowacatholicconference.org). These priorities embrace Catholic teaching and the mandate of Matthew 25. “We support the protection of human life from conception until natural death,” the ICC states. “This can include supporting legislation that reduces the incidence and harmful effects of abortion, opposing assisted suicide, and strengthening a culture of life. We promote the common good, which is comprised of ‘the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.’”
Going to the peripheries to protect life can be a physical effort. Serve a meal to people in need in your community, volunteer at a food pantry, tutor a child or adult, mentor a parolee, or help out at a pro-life center. For suggestions about how to be of assistance, ask your parish leaders or Kent Ferris, director of the Diocese of Davenport’s Social Action Office at (563) 888-4211 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Going to the peripheries to protect life can focus on advocacy. Research topics you care about: conscience protection, the Born Alive Survivors Protection Act, immigration, health care, Medicaid, physician-assisted suicide and water quality, among others. Information is available on the ICC website (iowacatholicconference.org) and the USCCB website (www.usccb.org) and the diocesan Social Action Office’s “Two Feet Newsletter” (http://bit.ly/TwoFeetNewsletter). Each resource provides information about how to contact elected representatives so that you can follow through on advocacy efforts.
Going to the peripheries to protect life can focus on prayer and spiritual reading. Pope Francis’ “Share the Journey” campaign provides prayers and stories to walk in solidarity with refugees and migrants (www.sharejourney.org). Catholic Relief Service (www.crs.org) offers a monthly prayer on various topics, such as this month’s “Cry of Peace.” The USCCB will conclude a 9 Days for Life novena Jan. 26 (www.usccb.org). The Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the church, is another way for people of faith to fortify their efforts to protect life. Consider reading papal encyclicals and letters — from Pope Paul the VI’s encyclical “Humane Vitae” to Pope Francis’ letter “Amoris Laetitia” (on marriage and family) to get a broader perspective on issues of life.
Our desire to protect life requires each of us to go beyond ourselves, to go beyond the familiar places … to go to the peripheries to recognize the face of Christ.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor