by Kelly Phelan Powell
It’s difficult to think of an issue more pressing than abortion. In this country alone, the number of unborn lives that are lost each day is staggering – the Guttmacher Institute reported that for 2011, there were 1.05 million abortions in the U.S. As Catholics, we know that life is sacred from the moment of conception to natural death, but we are also well aware that abortion is a complex societal issue, one that will not be remedied by any simple means. Many of us want to get involved beyond praying for these innocent victims, but the problem of abortion is so overwhelming that sometimes we’re not sure where to begin.
Throughout the Diocese of Shreveport, parishes and individuals are tackling abortion and its many facets head-on. The first, and arguably the most important, is awareness. That’s how the Bishop’s Pro-Life Banquet, now in its fifth year, began. “We as Catholics and Christians can come together and pray for life and witness to life,” said Bernadette Boyd, chairwoman of the event. The banquet has grown each year since it began, but last year, Bishop Duca asked the committee to double the number of attendees, and they did, bringing the total from 250 to 500. They’re attempting to do it again this year, and if they succeed, this highly visible fundraising event will be 1,000 strong.
Boyd happily reported that although the event, the theme of which is “Witness to Life,” isn’t until March 11, they’re well on their way to their 1000-ticket goal. They nevertheless need everyone’s help, so tickets are still being sold and sponsorships, which begin at $1,000, are still available.
Tickets are $60 each, and the proceeds from the banquet will benefit pro-life activities throughout the diocese, one of which is brand-new. Mary’s House will be a pregnancy crisis center for women who have an unwanted pregnancy but want to turn away from abortion. L’Anne Sciba, Communications Volunteer for Diocesan Pro-Life Information, had the idea after she moved to this area from Dallas eight years ago. She saw a need for a Christ-centered pregnancy crisis center and also found that there were limited pro-life volunteer opportunities at the existing crisis center. As part of her efforts to help women who want to turn away from abortion as well as those who have already suffered an abortion, she went on a retreat in Dallas with Rachel’s Vineyard, an experience she calls “life-changing.”
Rachel’s Vineyard is an organization that holds weekend retreats “where women and men can express, release and reconcile painful post-abortive emotions to begin the process of restoration, renewal and healing,” as their website says. Sciba said she saw first-hand the pain both men and women had tried unsuccessfully to bury in their lives and it not only renewed her compassion and desire to help people post-abortion, it also vividly illustrated for her how urgently this area needs an abortion alternative.
Sciba held an interest meeting at St. Joseph Parish in Shreveport, and to her happy surprise, 20 people showed up, all of whom were prepared to volunteer their specific talents. “There are so many people who are pro-life and want to help,” she said. This also became abundantly clear during the Louisiana Right to Life Federation’s Louisiana Life March North, in which thousands marched across the Texas Street Bridge in downtown Shreveport to take a stand against abortion in Louisiana. The next march is planned for Saturday, January 17 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Louisiana Boardwalk in Bossier City. Participants will march across the bridge to Shreveport’s downtown Festival Plaza. For more information, visit LALifeMarch.com.
The Mary’s House committee hopes the center will be a calm, welcoming and safe haven where they can walk women through her entire pregnancies and help them explore non-abortive options. They also want to help women beyond their pregnancies by ministering to them, helping them find work and resources to improve their lives and counseling them to make good choices and positive life changes in the future. Mary’s House will be located in Shreveport, which is also where Hope Medical Group for Women, Shreveport’s main center for abortions, which performed 3,803 such procedures in 2013, is located. Having an alternative within the same city will strike a powerful blow for pro-life efforts in Northwest Louisiana.
Sciba said the Mary’s House message to women is “You’re not just your body – you have dignity and worth.” Acknowledging that abortion is a societal issue that won’t be fixed by simply providing an alternative, she added, “You kind of have to do it by being a light, not just fix their problem with a Band-Aid.” One of the features of the Bishop’s Pro-Life Banquet will be informational booths about local pro-life activities and ways the faithful can help not only Mary’s House, but other pro-life organizations, such as Vita –the pro-life ministry at St. Joseph Parish, as well.
Each guest at the banquet will receive a custom-created, limited-edition holy card along with something else very special: a medal blessed by Pope Francis. In November, Boyd traveled on a pilgrimage to Rome. She and the other pilgrims were accompanied by Fr. Mike Joly. In addition to being a dedicated priest, Fr. Mike is also an accomplished singer, songwriter and pianist, which is all the more impressive given that he is blind. The pilgrimage happened to coincide with the 20th anniversary of his priesthood, and Boyd decided that she wanted him to meet and receive a Papal Blessing from the Holy Father.
Determined but knowing the chances were remote, Boyd carried all 1,000 medals through the streets of Rome so she could hold them up during Pope Francis’s general blessing. But through a series of godly interventions disguised as coincidences and good luck as well as a lot of prayer, Boyd’s wish for Fr. Mike came true, and she was blessed too, all while holding the medals herself. “I am humbled and know that I am very blessed to have been given this amazing spiritual gift,” she said. “I revere this as a special blessing from God and I respect that honor.”
Vocations Director Fr. Matthew Long will emcee the Bishop’s Pro-Life Banquet, and the keynote speaker will be Fr. Jonathan Morris. A news coordinator for the Fox News Channel, Fox Business Channel and the Wall Street Journal, Fr. Morris covers ethical, social and religious news topics. To this work he brings a pastor’s heart as well as a journalist’s eye. In addition to his work as a journalist, he serves as Parochial Vicar of the historic Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in New York City from 2009 to 2013 and currently ministers at Corpus Christi Church near Columbia University. Ordained in 2002, he has served in a number of capacities, including theological advisor in the making of the feature film The Passion of the Christ. In 2008, he published the book The Promise: God’s Purpose and Plan for When Life Hurts. He wrote the book in order to address one of the most common and profound questions people ask, which is “How can a loving and merciful God allow pain and suffering?” He also authored God Wants You Happy: From Self-Help to God’s Help.
Besides Fr. Morris, the banquet will feature a professional string quartet and singers from Loyola College Prep. In fact, all students are encouraged to volunteer and should contact Boyd at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out what service opportunities are available. Students also receive a discounted price on tickets.
“We are excited to bring Fr. Morris to our diocese to promote our pro-life efforts and energize the faithful on how to continue uplifting the sacredness of life in our region,” said Bishop Duca. “I am truly pleased at how our banquet has grown over the years and I am hoping to see 1,000 people in attendance on March 11.” For more information about the Bishop’s Pro-Life Banquet, go to www.dioshpt.org and click on Pro-Life Ministry under the Ministries tab. If you’d like to purchase tickets, inquire about a sponsorship or donate to the event, email Bernadette Boyd at email@example.com. She said, “I know that it will be an amazing night for our diocese that many volunteers have come together with the common spirit of wanting to be a witness for life.” •