More than 100 people gathered in downtown Syracuse Jan. 17 to speak out against abortion and stand up for the sanctity of human life.
The annual Syracuse March for Life took place ahead of the national March for Life to be held in Washington, D.C., Jan. 22, the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
The local march is organized by the Syracuse Right to Life Association. Area Director Christina Fadden Fitch noted that, at more than 30 years old, the Syracuse march is the “longest standing, continuous local March for Life in New York State.”
“We do this year after year to be a witness and to remember, and we are going to keep going,” she said. “It’s a long-term movement, but we will get there — where everyone is valued.”
Participants of different ages and faiths, united in their respect for life, carried signs and red roses as they walked from Armory Square to the steps of the diocese’s chancery.
There, Father Christopher Seibt, parochial vicar of St. Rose of Lima Church in North Syracuse, addressed the crowd. He noted the day was “a great opportunity to stand up for life, to serve as witnesses to the dignity and importance of all human life from the moment of conception to natural death.”
Drawing on the theme of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Respect Life program, “Each of us is a masterpiece of God’s creation,” and the story of the World War II platoon tasked with recovering masterpieces of art depicted in the film “The Monuments Men,” Father Seibt told the crowd that “we are present-day ‘monuments people,’ a platoon of men and women who have a mission. We are called to speak out and to rescue the people, the beautiful masterpieces of God’s creation, who are currently under attack and or in danger: the poor, the unborn, victims of war and violence, the elderly, the sick, the dying, and all those who have been pushed to the peripheries of our society.” (Read the full text of his address below.)
On Jan. 21, more than 200 students and chaperones from the diocese, led by the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, were to embark on a three-day pilgrimage to the national March for Life. They’ll be sharing stories and photos from their journey with the Sun; visit www.thecatholicsun.com for more.
Each of Us is a Masterpiece of God’s Creation
Rev. Christopher R. Seibt
For the past eight years I was fortunate to be involved in the annual Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. and in the March for Life that took place the next day on Capitol Hill. Each year I witnessed hundreds of thousands of people – many of them young and on fire with the faith – stand up for life.
While our March for Life today in Syracuse is a bit smaller than the one in Washington, it is nonetheless as important because it gives us the opportunity to stand up for life; to serve as a witness to the importance and dignity of all human life from the moment of conception until natural death.
Last year a movie came out called “The Monuments Men”It was based on a true story of a World War II platoon that was tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and return them to their owners. What struck me about the mission of the platoon was that it was fairly easy for them to identify these masterpieces. They were famous and beautiful: the Ghent Altarpiece, Michelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges, and other masterful works.
I mention that to you because this year the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has declared that the theme of the annual Respect Life Program is “Each of Us is a Masterpiece of God’s Creation.”
Today, our gathering reminds us that you and I are monuments people. We are a present-day platoon of men and women and we have a mission. We are called to speak out and try to rescue the people – the beautiful Masterpieces of God’s creation – who are currently under attack and/or in danger: the unborn, the poor, the victims of war and violence, the elderly, the sick, and the dying; all those who have been pushed to the periphery of our society.
Our mission, however, is more challenging than that of the World War II platoon in the movie “Monuments Men” because the Masterpieces of God’s creation that we are called to protect and preserve are not as easily identifiable to the world around us and the culture in which we live.
Very often, they are not beautiful on the outside: the poor, the sick, the dying. Very often, they are not even visible or noticed: the unborn, the victims of war and violence. But we know that they are greater – that we are all greater – than masterful works of art because each of us – no matter what stage of life we are at, no matter what quality of life we have is loved so intensely by God and are of such great worth to him that we cannot even comprehend it. Indeed, we are his masterpieces.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis has demonstrated this so beautifully to the world. With great humility and compassion, he shows us that the weakest and most vulnerable are “made in the image and likeness of God, destined to live forever, and deserving the utmost reverence and respect” (Pope Francis: 2013 Day of Life Greeting).
My friends, many of us have already taken up this great mission of being monuments people. And so, there are three things that I would like to offer for our reflection today on this great mission to which we are called as people who stand up for life:
First, we have to know the enemy. It is a scientific fact that human life begins at conception. The only moral norm needed to understand the Church’s opposition to abortion is that “each and every human life has inherent dignity and thus must be treated with the respect due to a human person. This moral norm is the foundation for the Church’s social teachings on war, the use of capital punishment, euthanasia, health care, poverty, and immigration” (USCCB Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church). Nevertheless, it is violated over and over again by actions which claim that human beings do not deserve respect or should not be treated as persons.
For example, a large percentage of children pre-diagnosed with Down Syndrome are never given the chance to live outside their mothers’ wombs. Also, a woman named Barbara Wagner, a retired school bus driver in the State of Oregon, was recently denied treatment for lung cancer, but at the very same time offered 100 percent coverage for her assisted suicide. Finally, the Nigerian terrorist group, Boko Haram, recently used children as human bombs to kill roughly 2,000 people; a gruesome reality that our world and the media have chosen to ignore. Know the enemy – the enemy is vast, ignorant, often ruthless, and sometimes evil.
Second, we have to respond appropriately. Yes we are called to act, but not with violence, anxiety, or doubt. Rather, with confident trust in and dependence on God. We are called to care for ourselves and for others.
Instead of condemning expectant mothers who cannot afford a baby or see no other option than abortion, we must find ways to reach out to them, to provide them with other options, or to offer healing to those who are in need of God’s forgiveness after having been affected by an abortion. And, we ourselves must always be prepared for what could happen to us and help others to do the same. For example, when difficult medical decisions must be made, advance directives help to relieve anxiety and make the right moral decision, a decision for life. Respond appropriately – in all circumstances in which life is threatened or under attack we are to pray, do what we can with love and compassion, and leave the rest in God’s hands.
Third, we have to have hope. Many of us struggle with seeing our brothers and sisters being pushed to the peripheries of society. Many of us struggle with loving ourselves and others or with witnessing people who do not or cannot love. All of this as well as a number of other things can easily discourage us.
Yet, our mission is to show each person the love of Christ. With simple gestures of compassion we can do this in profound ways. But, we can only do this if we ourselves are working for the transformation of our own hearts and cultivate the joy of the Gospel in them. This is what keeps our hope alive just as it keeps the hope alive of a man named Larry Peterson who cares for his wife who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease through the gift of laughter.
The love of Christ and the joy of the Gospel is what keeps our hope alive just as it kept the hope alive of a man named Martin Pistorius, who recently woke up from being trapped in his body for 12 years in a vegetative state, unable to communicate but able to understand everything that was said and that was going on around him.
And, the love of Christ and the joy of the Gospel is what keeps our hope alive just as it keeps the hope alive of the Florida Bishops who, while mourning the deaths of the more than 56 million victims of abortion since the court’s 1973 decision (Roe V. Wade), joyfully note the current decline in abortions and the increase in pro-life laws.
Hope is what helps us to know and continually reminds us that we ourselves are a masterpiece of God’s creation and to witness to the fact that all human beings made in his image and likeness are masterpieces too whether they are visible or not so beautiful on the outside because they bear the marks of illness or old age. We have to have hope always because “Each of Us is a Masterpiece of God’s Creation.”
My friends, let us now renew our commitment to our mission as monuments men and women who stand up for life and are called to rescue and preserve God’s masterpieces among us by always knowing the enemy, responding appropriately, and keeping the hope that comes from our faith always alive in our hearts. Thank you and God bless you.
Sources: The Catechism of the Catholic Church; “Respect for Unborn Human Life: The Church’s Constant Teaching,” “Preaching for Life,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities; “Message for Respect Life Month in US,” Zenit; “Trapped in His Body for 12 Years, A Man Breaks Free,” NPR.