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August 16, 2009

Persevere with joy, Cardinal Rigali says Diocesan pro-life leaders gather here for conference

By Joyce Duriga

EDITOR

Working to promote the dignity of human life has become more difficult in the past year but those doing the work — particularly diocesan pro-life directors — must not get discouraged. They must persevere.

That was the message conveyed by Philadelphia’s Cardinal Justin Rigali and echoed by Cardinal George at an annual conference for pro-life directors sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Archdiocese of Chicago’s Respect Life Office hosted this year’s event held Aug. 10-13 at the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel in downtown Chicago.

“Your work of respecting, protecting, loving and serving life is often misunderstood in today’s culture. Yet it is work that is desperately needed,” Cardinal Rigali told attendees during the homily at Mass on Aug. 10. The cardinal serves as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Pro-life Activities.

Citing the witness of St. Lawrence, who was martyred for the faith in the mid-200s and whose feast was commemorated Aug. 11, Cardinal Rigali told attendees that they too must exhibit joy in the face of adversity.

“We too, dear friends, must remember to remain cheerful witnesses to the truth about human life,” no matter what suffering may be involved, he said.

The pro-life directors must turn to Christ and prayer to remain persistent and enthusiastic in the face of increasing resistance to the church’s message, he said.

“In a world where Christian values are so often challenged and repudiated, we encounter increasing hostility in our efforts to uphold and guard these values. This is especially true in your pro-life work,” he said.

The Catholic teaching on life continues to meet with more resistance than other church teachings.

“Those of us in the pro-life movement know how the attacks against life have increased rapidly in the past year. There are greater challenges in the effort to restore legal protection for the unborn as we deal with an administration and Congress that supports socalled abortion rights.”

But we must not lose heart in the face of opposition, Cardinal Rigali said, because these values are rooted in God and his love for all human beings.

“We go forward in the name of the Lord, Jesus. And life will be victorious.”

More than 90 people representing 43 dioceses attended the conference. They listened to lectures and panels on topics such as physician-assisted suicide, abortion reduction and youth and priest outreach.

The conference is a time for those who work in the pro-life community to learn the latest developments in the ever-changing arena of sanctity of life issues.

Larry and Marge Theriault of Glenview said they try to attend this conference every year because they always get so much out of it.

“Being among all of these beautiful people is a blessing,” said Marge Theriault. “It would just be awful to miss this.”

The couple chairs the right-to-life committee for the Knights of Columbus Illinois State Council. Even though she and her husband have been working in the pro-life movement since 1969, Marge said they keep returning to this conference because “there is always more to learn.”

During the conference, the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-life Activities awarded the “People of Life” award to Vicki Thorn, founder of the national post-abortion healing program Project Rachel, Sister Hanna Klaus, developer of the Teen STAR international pregnancy prevention program, and to Virginia McCaskey, matriarch of the Chicago Bears’ family. McCaskey is well known for her philanthropy, which includes support of the archdiocese’s Chastity Education Initiative.

While she rarely accepts personal awards for her philanthropic work, the mother and grandmother told attendees, “I accept this on behalf of all the little old ladies who sent [FOCA] post cards, and write checks, and pray rosaries, and listen to Relevant Radio and who usually struggle to get to daily Mass.”

She also encouraged attendees to keep up the work that they do. “I salute you,” she said.