Veronica among the pro-lifers

My mother, at her best moments, was Veronica.

When she could still write and speak, she was wonderfully articulate, even brilliant. She cannot speak now. But here I am, learning from her how to be a Catholic—not so much from what she said but from what she did and what it showed me.

My parents were pro-life activists. As adult converts, they had already spent several years among evangelicals, some more earnest than others. They had encountered true holiness and Christian simplicity; and they had also encountered people like their landlord, who preached the Gospel and then told my mother she must hang her hand-washed cloth diapers up to dry in her tiny kitchen all winter because wet clothes on the porch just looked too poor. Blessed are the classy, for their property value will not depreciate.

Eventually, they made their way into the church, and once their Howard Johnson swimming pool baptism was conditionally repeated, they waded ashore as Catholics around 1978—right in the thick of liturgical silly season. I remember a Snoopy-themed catechism, altar balloons and some of the most Caucasian dancing known to mankind. My mother, praying in her makeshift chapel in the darkened back stairs, would wrestle with the homoousion late into Saturday night and then wake up early for Sunday Mass, which turned out to have clowns. And sometimes actual heresy.

I was young and only dimly aware of what my parents faced as they tried to anchor their spiritual boat in such choppy waters. They did try. My mother wrote about some of her efforts in this short, hilarious essay, “How I Wrecked Two Parish Ministries,” that you will skip at your peril. As I remember it, she struggled to keep her own massive hunger for truth in proportion with the equally urgent mandate to treat other human beings with love. Yes, even those who sneered and raged at her for giving up everything to follow Christ. Yes, even those who said they loved him and then told lies in his name. In all her many spiritual incarnations, my mother was always a personalist, long before I knew there was a name for it.

She was, as I say, a pro-life activist, which took many different forms. She prayed peacefully outside abortion facilities. She wrote letters to the editor. Shy as she was, she manned the booth at community health fairs and showed teenagers accurate models of fetal development. I think she tried sidewalk counseling but decided it was not right for her, so instead worked with agencies that helped new mothers with clothing, housing and food. She fielded her share of profanity and abuse from abortion activists. And she irritated her conservative friends by insisting we acknowledge the chastity of Jesus, not just the purity of Mary. She knew what so many of her fellow Catholics seemed to have forgotten: That Jesus was a real man, a virgin, and that how he behaved in his actual human life meant something.

She believed that you could touch his face.

Our minivan had a bumper sticker that said, “One abortion: One dead, one wounded.” My mother especially liked this message because it was not about society or politics, but it reminded us that every single abortion represents a massive failure toward some particular woman.

One day on the highway, we passed another car, and my mother thought she saw a short vignette play out: A woman saw the bumper sticker and began to cry, and the man at the wheel tried to comfort her as he drove.

Who knows what really happened. But as soon as she got home, my mother peeled the bumper sticker off the car. The last thing she wanted was to wound someone. That was the whole point: It does not matter how right you are. What you do has to be about the human person. You cannot just go around wounding people who are already wounded and call it “Christian.” It is our job to heal, not to wound.

My mother was so socially baffled at all times. She could talk about ideas, but petty chit-chat left her stymied. As if they realized this, the needy and disabled who were too weird and smelly for everyone else were drawn to her in droves. I always imagined her in paradise, followed, like Sarah Smith in The Great Divorce, by an adoring, jabbering crowd of all the hapless, gormless outcasts she awkwardly welcomed and comforted, fed, clothed. Social pretensions she understood not at all, but a person in need or a person in pain claimed her entirely. It was always about the human person, the real human person. When no one else would touch their faces, she would.

My mother had a drawer where she kept her pro-life materials—her posters, her pamphlets, her reams of purple mimeographed facts and resources. In the back of the drawer was a box, and in the box was an envelope. This was where she kept some photos of aborted babies . . .

Continue reading the rest of my latest for America.

Image: Holy Hill Station VI: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus, photo by Sharon Mollerus via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Graphic abortion images have their place, but they don’t belong at the March for Life

Are you going to the March for Life, either in DC or in your state?  If so, are you planning to display graphic photos or videos of aborted babies?

If so, I’m begging you to reconsider.

I understand why people use them. Many Americans are still somehow ignorant about what abortion really is — what it really does to real babies.  They believe the lies about a “clump of cells” or “fetal pole activity,” or let themselves get confused in a cloud of euphemisms about “choice.” Many pro-lifers remember seeing those bloody images for the first time, and can recall being shaken out of a vague, fuzzy support for the pro-life cause into the realization that this is a life-and-death struggle — real life, and real death.

These images have their uses.

But a public place is not the place to use these images — ever, I’m convinced.  These images are like a terrible weapon which should be used with fear and trembling, and only as a last resort.  Ideally, they should only be used in the context of a relationship. Why?

Those are real babies.  Christians are almost alone in affirming the dignity of the human person.  The human body is sacred and always worthy of respect.  When we use pictures of real babies as a tactic or a tool, we are allowing ourselves to forget that these are children with an immortal soul, and who have a name that only their Father knows.  They have already been killed.  Let us treat their poor bodies with respect.

There will be children at the march.  Do you let your little kids watch slasher films or play gory video games?  No?  Well, those things show us actors with fake blood, pretending to be tortured and killed, or computer-generated images.  It’s bad enough when it’s fake. Why would you let your kids see the real thing?  The pro-life cause is about protecting innocent life, and that includes protecting the innocence of young children.  Violent images stay with us for a lifetime, and they damage us.

There will be post-abortive women at the march.  Imagine their courage in being there at all.  Then imagine what it does to them to see, once again, the dark thing that keeps them from sleeping at night — the thing that often keeps them in decades-long cycles of self-loathing and despair.  We don’t ask victims of rape to look at videos of rape in progress.  We don’t ask holocaust victims to look at huge banners showing the piles of emaciated bodies.  As pro-lifers, we must remember that every abortion has two victims:  the child and the mother.  We must never be on the side that hurts mothers.  Never.

Women who have miscarried will be there.  Thousands of the women at the March are mothers — mothers who have already given birth, mothers who are pregnant as they march, and mothers who have miscarried, delivered dead babies.  For many of them, the grief over a miscarriage never goes away entirely.  Many women stay away from any public march for fear of being subjected to these images so similar to the thing that caused them so much pain.  Motherhood makes a woman’s heart tender.  The pro-life movement should be a shelter that protects that tenderness — because the world needs it desperately.

Public image matters.  Some people’s only contact with obvious pro-lifers is with people who shout and condemn and terrify.  It’s just basic psychology:  if you want people to listen to you and have sympathy for your cause, don’t come across as a lunatic.  You’re not a lunatic — but to people who don’t already agree with you, you sure look that way if you’re out in public with an oversized photo of gore flapping in the wind.  Yes, your cause is worthy.  No, you’re not helping it.

They’re not an unanswerable argument that pro-lifers imagine, because people see what they want to see.  When the apostles begged the Lord to send the dead to persuade people to repent, He said that if they didn’t listen to the prophets, then they wouldn’t be impressed by the dead coming back to life, either.  Many pro-choicers speak as if it’s a foregone conclusion that pro-lifers use photoshopped images — that the tiny, mutilated feet and hands and heads are a hoax that’s been thoroughly debunked.  It’s a lie, of course.  But people believe it all the same, because they want to (and pro-lifers don’t help their cause by being sloppy about things like identifying gestational age on photos).

Desensitization is a real danger — even among pro-lifers.  It’s just how humans are made:  see something too often, and you stop really seeing it.  I thank and bless those who work so tirelessly for the pro-life cause, including those who had to spend time up close with the heart-rending remains of babies, rescuing them from dumpsters and photographing them.

But to those who use these images routinely everywhere, indiscriminately, I beg that they to stop and consider that, like policemen or like soldiers, they are human, and are in danger of becoming hardened out of self-preservation. People who have become hardened must never be the public face of the pro-life cause.  If you, as a pro-life activist, see a bloody image and you don’t flinch, then it’s time to take a break — move into a different segment of the ministry, perhaps one that emphasizes prayer and reparation.

*****

These are all arguments against using graphic images indiscriminately, in a public place. Does this mean they should never be used?

Absolutely not.  Bloody and shocking images have their place.  Pro-life activists are right when they say abortion depends on silence and darkness, and that truth must be exposed.  Too many people who are pro-choice because they somehow still don’t know what fetuses actually look like, or what happens to them when they are aborted– or because they’ve simply slipped into a comfortable shelter of euphemisms.  These lies, this comfort must be stripped away.

So when should you use graphic images?  When a teenager shrugs and says, “My health teacher says it’s not a person until 25 weeks.”  When someone who works in the front office of a clinic says she’s doing a gentle, compassionate work of mercy.  When your boyfriend wants you to get rid of “it” before it becomes a real baby.  When a college girl likens unborn babies to tumors or parasites.  Then you can respond to the actual situation, to the actual person.  Then you can take out the picture and say, “Is this what you’re talking about?” And let the poor, dead child speak for you. 

I believe that everyone should see an image of an aborted baby once in their lifetime.  And I believe that, like any traumatic image, it will stay with you.  Once or twice in a lifetime is enough. 

Abortion is violent.  Abortion is cruel.  Abortion inflicts trauma and pain on the vulnerable.  Abortion is dehumanizing to mother and child. As pro-lifers, we should have no part in any of that.  Let use those graphic images with care and respect, as a weapon of last resort. 

***
Photo used with kind permission of the photographer, Matthew Lomanno, from his photo documentary of the March for Life 2014.

 

Pro-life spotlight: Who wants a discount code for the REHUMANIZE INTERNATIONAL conference?

I’ve been putting off featuring Rehumanize International for my pro-life spotlight, because I love them so much and wanted to do them justice. 
 
However, I just got my hot little hands on a discount code for their upcoming conference, so today’s the day!  The conference is at at Loyola in New Orleans, and it’s from Oct. 18-20. Details below.
If I were anywhere in the area, I would absolutely be there. You know I reject the whole “vote GOP or the baby gets it” mode of being pro-life, but I also get frustrated with “whole life” thinking that’s so open-ended, it doesn’t have time for cheesy stuff like protecting the unborn. Left and right, pro-lifers and pro-choicers both so often descend into dehumanizing someone, all for the sake of the cause.
 
REHUMANIZE INTERNATIONAL never does this. Rehumanize International is the antidote. All of their work is marked with a genuine concern for the life and dignity of all human persons. 
 
Lately, I’m especially impressed by Rehumanize International’s dedication to featuring the voices of pro-life people of color, including a former abortion clinic worker who’ll be speaking at the conference. (They also have kickass swag.) 
 
Use the code RUSH to get $20 off any ticket purchased. This code is only valid for this week. This is an amazing freaking deal, as you’ll see if you look at the tremendous line-up they’re offering. If you can’t make it, share the code! Here’s the details about the conference:
 
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The lineup of speakers is extraordinary, the wide-ranging depth of the presentations will enlighten and engage you, and the community of attendees will become fast friends. This year’s conference will include talks by abortion survivors and a death row survivor… as well as a session with a veteran for peace, a former abortion clinic worker who works for life, and a former state executioner who now works to end the death penalty. We feature the voices of grassroots advocates and experts on topics ranging from war and peacemaking to embryonic stem cell research and affirming life.

We at Rehumanize International embrace a philosophy called the Consistent Life Ethic, and we know that y’all would benefit immensely from the edifying talks that will engage and equip you for your work for human dignity.

You really don’t want to miss this phenomenal event!

Regular General Admission passes are so affordable: Adult tickets are $75, and Student tickets are only $50! 

You can register now: www.rehumanizeintl.org/conference

BUT WAIT!!! — The Rehumanize team doesn’t want finances to be an obstacle to attendance — if you and your friends and followers want to come, but the cost is just not doable right now, send us an email (aimee@rehumanizeintl.org) and we’ll work out a scholarship, discount, or fee waiver option for you! We don’t want finances to get in the way of folks hearing these vital messages of our inherent human worth.

Here’s a rundown of what this year’s conference will include:

Friday, October 18

2:00 PM – 4:00 PM — 40 Days for Life Vigil outside local abortion clinic

5:30 PM – 9:00 PM — Create | Encounter art show

Saturday, October 19

8:00 AM — Registration opens

9:15 – 10:00 AM — Keynote 1: On Dehumanizing Language

Herb Geraghty, Rehumanize International

10:15 – 11:45 AM — Workshop 1: ISO Secular Abortion Recovery Resources

Kelsey Hazzard, Secular Pro-Life

Michaelene Fredenburg, Abortion Changes You

10:15 – 11:00 AM — Breakout Session 1

A: Where Did I Leave My Shield? (on suicide prevention)

Kara Wiggins

B: A Post-Abortive Sibling’s Testimony

Krista Corbello, Rehumanize International

C: Literary Device as Defense for the Indigenous

Jennifer Reeser

FORUM: Alternatives to Violence

Lisa Stiller, Consistent Life Network

11:15 – 12:00 PM — Breakout Session 2

D: Building a Whole Life Culture in Louisiana

Rep. Katrina Jackson (D) – LA state representative

E: Grassroots Organizing 101

Greta Zarro, World Beyond War

F: Accompanying Survivors of Sexual Violence

Aimee Murphy, Rehumanize International

FORUM: Preventing Burnout: Self-Care for Activists

Alex Lucas, Wolf Pack for Life

12:00 – 1:00 PM — LUNCH & service project

Lunch Sponsor TBD

1:00 – 2:00 PM — Keynote 2: Leaving Violent Institutions

Thad Crouch, Veterans for Peace

Jerry Givens, former VA executioner

Toni Turner, former abortion clinic worker

2:15 – 3:10 PM — Workshop 2: Equipping the Church to Uphold Life

NOLA Embrace Grace

2:15 – 3:00 PM — Breakout Session 3

G: Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress, Moral Injury, and the CLE

Rachel MacNair, Consistent Life Network

H: The Secular Case Against Abortion

Kelsey Hazzard, Secular Pro-Life

I: Rehumanizing Immigrants & Refugees

Martin Gutierrez, Catholic Charities of New Orleans

FORUM: Voting & Politics

Alex Seghers, Louisiana Right to Life

3:15 – 4:15 PM — Keynote 3: I Survived Abortion

Claire Culwell, abortion survivor

Josiah Presley, abortion survivor

4:15 – 4:40 PM — Networking break

4:45 – 5:30 PM — Keynote 4: I Survived Death Row

Death Row Exoneree, Witness to Innocence

5:45 – 8:00 PM — Dinner on your own

8:30 – 9:00 PM — Vigil for Victims of Ableism (for Disability Rights)

Sunday, October 20

8:30 AM – Registration opens

9:30 -10:30 AM — Keynote 5: Countering Ableism in Medicine

Sarah Terzo, Consistent Life Network & PLAGAL

Sophie Trist, Wolf Pack for Life

Jamie Duplechine, Ms. Wheelchair Louisiana USA 2016-17

John “Frank” Stephens, Former global messenger with Special Olympics

10:45 – 11:45 AM — Workshop 3: Working w/ Incarcerated People for Justice Reform

Miea Walker, Forward Justice

Shareef Cousin, Witness to Innocence

10:45 – 11:30 AM — Breakout Session 4

J: Restorative Justice After Abortion

Catherine Glenn Foster, Americans United for Life

Aimee Murphy, Rehumanize International

K: Choosing Life After Rape

Jennifer Christie, Love Louder

L: Ending Violence Against LGBT People

Alice Lee, LGBT advocate

FORUM: Disability Inclusion

Sophie Trist, Wolfpack for Life

11:30 AM – 12:50 PM — LUNCH on your own

11:45 AM – 12:45 PM — Rehumanize Baton Rouge/NOLA Meetup

1:00 – 2:00 PM — Keynote 6: Restorative Justice After Slavery

Ismail Smith-Wade-El

2:15 – 3:45 PM — Workshop 4: Rehumanizing Art

Maria Oswalt, Rehumanize International

2:15 – 3:00 PM — Breakout Session 5

M: Overlooked: Women and Incarceration

Miea Walker, Forward Justice

N: The Revolution: 100 Years of Pro-Life Feminism

Deanna Wallace

O: Guantanamo & History of US Torture

Marie Meza, Witness Against Torture

FORUM:  Protests, Marches, and Nonviolent Actions

TJ Burgess, National Men for Life

3:15 – 4:00 PM — Breakout Session 6

P: Apocalypse Never: Why We Must Reject Nuclear Weapons

John Whitehead, Consistent Life Network

Q: Embryo Rights Beyond Abortion

Herb Geraghty, Rehumanize International

R: Assisted Suicide & Ableism

Diane Coleman, Not Dead Yet

FORUM: Women in the Movement

Madison Tuck & Sophie Trist, Wolf Pack for Life

We hope that you can see how valuable of an event this would be to you and your friends, and that y’all will join us in the Big Easy in a couple weeks — we promise that you will learn so much, you will be truly edified and strengthened in your activism to rehumanize the world! Please share this opportunity with your colleagues, volunteers, and anyone else who you think might be interested.

Use the code RUSH to get $20 off any ticket purchased. This code is only valid for this week.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Fr. Pavone cashes in on dead babies again

You will remember when Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life dragged the naked corpse of a baby onto a consecrated altar, in order to bully Americans into voting for Trump. I guess he wasn’t quick enough to snag the thousands of fetal remains recently discovered in the house of a late-term abortionist; but he’s doing the next best thing: Name the Aborted Babies is up and running on the PFL site:

“Along with bestowing a name . . . ” What gives anyone that right? Are these babies pandas at the zoo, to be “adopted” by critter-loving fans? Or maybe Pavone will offer a certificate of authenticity for only $29.99, so you can proudly display the name of your very own aborted baby in beautiful calligraphy. Suitable for framing, great as a Christmas present. 

This is grotesque. The grotesquerie never ends. 

Naming is an act either of authority, or of ownership — the act of a parent, or of an owner. You don’t get to name a baby unless you’re the parent; and you don’t get to name anything else unless it’s something that can be owned. So what does this mean, for strangers to name unborn babies they’ve never met, who do have parents? Who gave them that right? The abortionist who collected their little bodies apparently saw them as trophies, as something to collect. And now the second wave of vultures descends to squabble over their bodies again.

You cannot restore dignity to unborn babies by treating them like objects, or like trophies, or pets, or mascots, or props. You don’t treat them like objects when you want to kill them, and you don’t treat them like objects when you want to show how pro-life you are. You don’t treat them like objects, because they are human. That’s all there is to it.

But Fr. Pavone, who never met these children and has no idea who they are, will offer you the chance to name them, and all you have to give him in exchange is your email address. No doubt a respectful 24 hours will pass before you start getting appeals for money to reelect Trump in the name of your very own dead baby. 

With our evening prayers, we recite the prayer written by Fulton Sheen: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I love you very much. I beg you to spare the life of the unborn baby I have spiritually adopted who is in danger of abortion.” It’s a little chewier than I normally get in prayer, but I do it as a tiny act of penance, for the sake of all those unborn babies. “Spiritually adopting” an unborn baby means pledging to pray for him; and praying for a child means turning him over to the Holy Spirit.

So pray, yes, pray for these poor babies. Pray for them as individuals, known and cherished by their Father in Heaven. And pray for their parents. Pray for the mothers — some of whom have surely repented and named their own babies themselves.

But do not dare to let yourself think of these children as something you can have, something you can get a piece of while this story is still hot on social media. They are not yours. They are real people, not gimmicks to inflate a political mailing list. It is grotesque.  

I don’t fault well-meaning pro-lifers who are in agony thinking of those poor children held captive by a ghoul. They read about an outrage, and they want to do something, and this feels like doing something. I don’t fault people looking for something meaningful to do in the face of evil. 

But I do fault Fr. Pavone, and everyone who works with him. His work is a lucrative, scandalous scam. and he should be forced to retreat from the public eye. He is grotesque. 

***

Related reading: The Scandal of the cross, and the scandal of Fr. Pavone

Graphic images have their place, but not at the March for Life

For my series covering pro-lifers actually serving the vulnerable, see:

“Our humanity doesn’t begin at birth, and it doesn’t end at the border.”

St. Joseph’s House and Isaiah’s Promise offer support, respite, and joy to families of the disabled

We Dignify

Gadbois mission trip to Bulgarian orphanage

Mary’s Shelter in VA

China Little Flower

Immigrant Families Together

Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center

photo via Wikipedia (public domain)

Skip the semantics.The Jeffrey Epstein case is about victimizing girls, not “young women”

Cui bono? Who benefits from squeezing language until it bleeds jargon? The guilty, of course.

But another important question is: Cui plagalis? Who stands to lose? Whose suffering is likely to be minimized if normally careless people suddenly become very careful about their word choice?

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine

Image: by Linnaea Mallette  CC0 Public Domain

Pro-life spotlight Vol. 8: “Our humanity doesn’t begin at birth, and it doesn’t end at the border.”

The border, the border, the border. It’s so heavy to think about. Children are, by definition, innocent. We are, by definition, obligated to help the innocent. There’s no “but we have to teach their parents a lesson” clause or “they should never have come” loophole or “my grandparents did it the right way” excuse note. Children are innocent. We are obligated to help the innocent. 

People are aching to give detained kids food and blankets, diapers, toys, and anything to make them feel like someone cares about them; but they are not accepting donations at detention centers. 

So you help where you can. When migrants are released from detainment, often after tireless legal intercession by groups like Immigrant Families Together, they are in desperate need. Respite centers, where migrants go when they are released, are accepting donations

New Wave Feminists, a secular pro-life group founded by the irrepressible Destiny Herndon De La Rosa, has organized a massive pro-life effort, with over fifty pro-life sponsors from across the political spectrum, to bring supplies and funds to the people on the ground ministering to people in dire need. 

“Our humanity doesn’t begin at birth, and it doesn’t end at the border,” it says on NWF’s donation page. They will pass all donations until July 13th along to help families at the border.

“We should be able to stand with the vulnerable wherever they are,” Herndon-De La Rosa said, “and that extends beyond the womb.”

They have reached the capacity of how many physical goods they can haul to respite centers, but they are still gratefully accepting donations, which they will pass along to two respite centers and a legal aid fund that works to reunite families by helping them through the legal system and posting their bails. 

***

Previous volumes of Pro-life Spotlight:

We Dignify

Gadbois mission trip to Bulgarian orphanage

Mary’s Shelter in VA

China Little Flower

Immigrant Families Together

Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center

If you know or have worked with an organization that works to build a culture that cherishes human life, please drop me a line at simchafisher at gmail dot com with “pro-life spotlight” in the title.

 

Death for nonsense, death for love

How can I persuade your mind to accept something even your body has known since before it was born? The body knows that life is better than death. People who attempt to drown themselves will tie their own ankles together because they know that even in the very act of self-extinction, their bodies will fight hard to live. I wonder if we are on our way to reprogramming our brains to evolve past our body’s involuntary thrashing toward life. It does seem like we are trying.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine

Prolife spotlight: St. Joseph’s House and Isaiah’s Promise offer support, respite, and joy to families of the disabled

Cubby LaHood used the term “D-day” for the day parents first hear their unborn child has a severe or fatal birth defect.  

“The baby is the same baby they conceived and were joyful about, but … the baby can become a stranger,” she said in a 2013 40 Days for Life address.

LaHood, who died in 2015, suffered the same crushing shock herself, when her baby Francis got a likely fatal prenatal diagnosis. Everyone offered the couple abortion — doctors, clergy, family, and friends. But she and her husband Dan decided that they would love and carry their son Francis as long as he lived.

 
The LaHoods firmly believed unborn children with severe or fatal diagnoses deserve to live. But they also came to understand that carrying such children to term, rather than resorting to abortion, can bring healing, strength, and even joy to the parents and family, and even to the rest of the community, whether the child dies before he is born, or if he goes on to live for several years. 
 
“Hope led to grace, grace led to faith, and faith led to peace,” she said. 
 
Cubby and Dan LaHood went on to found two organizations based in Maryland, to offer encouragement, resources, and tangible support to people with disabilities and their families. Isaiah’s House, founded in 1995, offers personal support for families carrying to term after a severe or fatal prenatal diagnosis.
 
“In seemingly the most hopeless and difficult of circumstances surrounding the birth of a child, a simple ‘yes’ to life reveals the presence of God, and the presence of love,” she said in a video called “Destined to Live Forever.”  
 
They believe that even a very short life has meaning and power. “[These parents] conceived a miracle, and that miracle deserves all the support that you can give it. It’s about more than you,” LaHood said. 
 
Pro-lifers are frequently accused of being merely pro-birth, of counseling parents to reject abortion, but then abandoning them after the delivery. The LaHoods’ mission refutes this accusation. The other organization they founded, St. Joseph’s House, offers daycare, summer camp, and after-school programs, and respite programs for families of children with disabilities.
This effort, too, sprung out of a personal experience. When Cubby LaHood was pregnant with her first child, she wanted to stay at home, so she decided to open a daycare. The first client she found had a disability, and word quickly spread that LaHood was willing to care for disabled children. 
The family soon made it their mission to make a true home for these children, and to counter “the eugenic impulse” of the world that wants to reject anyone deemed imperfect or useless. St. Joseph’s House is now run by the LaHood’s daughter, Natalie. 
 
Cubby LaHood didn’t believe her family was special. “We all have the capacity to give love,” said LaHood. “It can be done without support — we did it without support — but there’s no reason for it to be done that way.”
 
 The LaHoods do not minimize or sentimentalize the difficulty of carrying and caring for a child with disabilities.
 

“Nobody wants to go through the Passion,” said Dan LaHood “No one wants to go through the Garden of Gethsemane. But once you go through it, you find there’s the spirit of God. There’s resurrection. Not only there’s life, but it’s eternal, and it’s more than you could ever imagine; and you can experience it now.”

None of the hundreds of couples they’ve walked with have regretted their choice, the LaHoods said. 

“Even in this worst, most darkened, most rejected place, God is. Love is.”

***

 

Image from this video:

Destined to Live Forever from Lumen Catechetical Consultants on Vimeo.

St. Joseph’s House

​Saintjosephshouse1983@gmail.com

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/saintjosephshouse/

Isaiah’s Promise

info@isaiahspromise.net

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IsaiahsPromise4915/

St. Joseph’s Place also runs Cafe St. Joe in , “part job skills training, part community builder, and part fundraiser.” The Cafe offers a specialty blend of coffee made by a roaster that employs adults with disabilities, and half the proceeds to go the cafe

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Previous volumes of Pro-life Spotlight:

We Dignify

Gadbois mission trip to Bulgarian orphanage

Mary’s Shelter in VA

China Little Flower

Immigrant Families Together

Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center

If you know or have worked with an organization that works to build a culture that cherishes human life, please drop me a line at simchafisher at gmail dot com with “pro-life spotlight” in the title.

Pro-life spotlight #5: We Dignify mentors pro-life students to lead with charity and humility

Abortion is part of a quick-fix culture, said Morgan Korth of We Dignify. A woman finds herself with a scary pregnancy, and the pro-choice world tells her she can solve all her problems by simply getting an abortion.

But the pro-life world sometimes looks for a quick fix of its own, explained Korth and her guest Zac Davis of America Magazine, in a recent podcast. There’s the temptation to try to swoop in and intellectually clobber our pro-choice opponents with a single conversation or a devastating scientific fact.

But this approach is not only futile, it doesn’t take into account the perspective, life experience, and dignity of pro-choicers or of women in difficult pregnancies. We Dignify is an organization that seeks to train and mentor young people “how to not only be pro-life, but live pro-life.”

The mission of We Dignify is to “mentor college students into skilled, virtuous, pro-life leaders, so they can build and nurture a culture of life on campus and in their future communities.”

Based in Illinois and founded in a dorm room in 2006, they want to transform college campuses into “centers for a culture of life where people treat life with love, new life is welcomed with joy, and people suffering from abortion are led to healing hope.”

They connect pregnant or post-abortive students with resources they need, and train students in practical skills like how to advertise pro-life events and how to lead pro-life groups that may be made up of students with various degrees of conviction.

And they train students how to engage in “dialogue with dignity.” It’s about more than giving the other person the benefit of the doubt, but also “the benefit of their life experience,” said Davis, who interned with We Dignify when he was a college student at Loyola in Chicago. They encourage you not to let yourself see others as a project, or to approach the conversation as a challenge to win.

In an age of hot takes and snarky memes, they challenge you always to consider how what you’re saying is going to be received, and to give the best possible interpretation to what the other person is saying; to avoid being defensive, in person and on social media; and to discern whether to be bold or to be content with helping pro-choicers realize that pro-lifers aren’t thoughtless, heartless caricatures.

In the recent podcast, Davis said that pro-lifers sometimes have a “savior complex;” but they need to be willing to accept that they are here in large part to be witnesses of love, life, and joy, and that much of what they do is to plant seeds.

At the core of it all, said Korth, is “charity and humility.”

They laughed somewhat ruefully over how everyone exclaims happily, every year at the March for Life, at how young the pro-life movement is. But when the march is over, where do young people go? Often, they disengage. WeDignify seeks to train students not only how to help and witness effectively on campus, but how to bring the skills and virtues they acquire forward into their future lives.

Davis said that he’s learned it’s normal for pro-lifers’ fervor to wax and wane, and so he knows what it’s like to become disengaged with the movement. He encourages pro-lifers to have the courage and humility to reengage, and to challenge their peers to do the same.

He said the pro-life movement does include a lot of people who are well-meaning, but crazy. It’s best not to seek these folks out, but instead to seek out those who are good at heart and also good at what they do.

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Contact: info@weDignify.org
217.255.6675

We Dignify podcasts

WeDignify on Facebook

WeDignify on Twitter

WeDignify on Instagram

***

Previous volumes of the Pro-life Spotlight:

Gadbois mission trip to Bulgarian orphanage

Mary’s Shelter in VA

China Little Flower

Immigrant Families Together

Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center

If you know or have worked with an organization that works to build a culture that cherishes human life, please drop me a line at simchafisher at gmail dot com with “pro-life spotlight” in the title.

Pro-life Spotlight Vol.3: Mary’s Shelter offers so much more than shelter

“Why do pro-life activists only seem to care about unborn lives?” asked a Slate writer in 2017, echoing a question asked by scores of people who want to discredit pro-lifers for focusing only on the fetus.

Well, some of them do only care about the unborn. But many of them, including the folks at Mary’s Shelter in Virginia, have a much wider and humane vision, offering not only physical shelter and goods to pregnant mothers in time of crisis, but also classes and mentorship, so women who want a better life get get themselves and their children on a track toward independence.

Mary’s Shelter volunteers warmly supply a broad range of encouraging and educational supports, from cooking and knitting classes to book clubs, mentoring, doula services and roundtables, transportation, a private thrift store, academic tutoring, guest speakers, and baby showers. Residents get help earning their GEDs or degrees and finding jobs, finding counseling, and building new lives. The homes are cozy and friendly, and many women go there and find hope when everyone, including other shelters, have abandoned them.

Mary’s Shelter provides an expectant mother, and any additional children she may have, with housing for up to three years in order to further her education and/or secure employment. She must receive counseling, attend in-house parenting and life-skill classes and adhere to the program covenants which offer structure, self-discipline and guidance.

Each resident is blessed with a mentor who provides hands-on support, compassion and encouragement. This foundation ensures that our mothers have the necessary time and tools to work toward their goals and provide for their children, making the possibility of independent living a reality.

They rely very heavily on donations and volunteers, and since their founding in 2006 have helped more than two hundred pregnant women work toward a goal of independent living. They started out with a basement apartment and now have four houses, capable of sheltering and mentoring as many as fifty women and their children.

Here’s a video from Mary’s Shelter that features some of the women telling their stories and explaining how their needs were met:

In 2014, I did a short interview with Kathleen Wilson, the director of Mary’s Shelter. Here’s an excerpt that gives more detail about what kind of support and community they offer:

Kathleen Wilson: If the woman is abortion-minded, we’ll give her a place to live, if that’s what’s holding her back. If a woman walks in and she’s in a domestic violence situation, we get her counseling.  We don’t even kick them out if they’re drinking or doing drugs; we give them an opportunity to do a program and stay with us.

We give women up to two years with us; and women who are “rock stars” – the ones who are really looking to move on and get a nursing degree or something like that — she can stay up to three years while she does school and work and gets everything together. That’s all about the woman. That’s for her.

SF: I was amazed at the long list the services you offer: cooking and knitting classes, book clubs, mentoring, doula services and roundtables, a private thrift store for residents, academic tutoring, guest speakers, baby showers, and on and on. How many people do you have on staff?

KW: We have so, so many volunteers. The main group is me and two people that get small paychecks – a total of only $24,000 a year, and that’s for crazy hours. Then there are two or three volunteers I consider staff. Then there’s a whole slew of people doing other things.

For instance, we hook up every resident up with a mentor or two. And there’s a woman who comes every other week with a van, to take them shopping. A local church sends over volunteers to do service projects, paint room, put in a swing set, redo a bathroom – big projects like that.

SF:It sounds complicated. How do you coordinate everything?

KW: We started out in a basement apartment – didn’t even have a file cabinet! But it’s evolved. Everything we need comes along. Someone says, “Oh, I can do that.” We say we want a book club, book club leader comes along. These volunteers just fall out of the sky.  We even have a volunteer coordinator who is a volunteer herself.

SF:I know you sometimes fit in more residents than you comfortably can. What’s the ideal number of women you’re set up to shelter?

KW: Yes, we will roll beds into our office, or put women in hotels in an emergency. We have four houses now, and we’ll be opening our fifth on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15th . When we open the new house, it could be seventeen or eighteen families in the homes all together.

We’re one of the few shelters that take in women with additional children. That really is rare. We’ve got a lot of kids floating around the houses. We don’t offer daycare, but we do have babysitters available during for classes, guest speakers, and baby celebrations.

SF:Do you feel like the residents form a community?

KW: Some of them do. At one of our houses, the women have family dinners together once a week. There’s independent living, but they get together once a week, and their kids play together.

They have babies, and they have to lean on each other a bit. They have to ask for babysitters, or just had a C-section, and they have to step up to the plate. A majority of them haven’t had family relationships. This starts opening that door.

SF: Are you a Catholic organization?

KW: Most of our staff is Catholic, but non-Catholic Christian churches have been getting involved. We’ve had a Muslim resident; there’s no religious criteria for getting involved. We believe life begins at conception, and we ask that if you work for this ministry, you respect that.

It would be lovely to convert everybody, but that’s not our mission. It’s to show them God through our witness, and we hope they will sees God’s hand in everything.

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More information about Mary’s Shelter:

You can donate to help sustain Mary’s Shelter residents here and find out more about how to donate goods, volunteer, or help in other ways here.

Expectant mothers, who are at least eighteen years of age and are motivated to make positive changes in their lives, are welcome to apply.

We welcome all races and religions and will support and respect your decision to keep your child or place him/her in a loving adoptive family. Please call us for an interview.

Intake Number: 540-376-2108
540-374-3407 • info@marysshelterva.org

***

Previous volumes of the Pro-life Spotlight:

China Little Flower

Immigrant Families Together

Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center

If you know or have worked with an organization that works to build a culture that cherishes human life, please drop me a line at simchafisher at gmail dot com with “pro-life spotlight” in the title.