by Marc and Julie Anderson
WASHINGTON — As chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann has a myriad of ways in which he is trying to help build a culture of life throughout the nation.
There is one, though, that perhaps he enjoys more than others — that of being among the hundreds of thousands of young people who gather annually in the nation’s capital to march for the sanctity of human life.
As part of events surrounding the March for Life, the archbishop served as the main celebrant and homilist of a Mass for approximately 10,000 pilgrims from across the nation. The Mass was celebrated in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Jan. 23 as the opening of the National Prayer Vigil for Life.
In addition to the archbishop, three cardinals, 39 bishops and 303 priests concelebrated, including the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christoph Pierre.
In opening his homily, the archbishop discussed how the Supreme Court, with the twin decisions of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, “established a so-called right to an inherently evil action — the killing of innocent preborn children.”
“The high court’s 1973 decisions opened the door to a moral Twilight Zone where evil is revered as good,” he said.
“The killing of one’s child is exalted as heroic and brave,” he continued. “Even the most modest regulation of abortion facilities for the protection of women’s health is vigorously opposed.
“Abortion is described by early feminists such as Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul as ‘the ultimate exploitation of women.’ But in this ethically topsy-turvy Twilight Zone, it’s now hailed as the cornerstone of women’s rights.”
And discipleship in the face of that, he told the gathered youth, is not always easy.
“[Jesus] told his first disciples that in order to follow him, they must be willing to take up their cross,” said the archbishop. “We must be willing to follow Jesus all the way to Calvary. It takes heroism today to stand for the sanctity of human life.
“In this cultural, moral Twilight Zone, to stand for the sanctity of the lives of unborn children, you may face ridicule and social exclusion. You may be penalized in the academy and the workplace.
“If abortion extremists achieve their goals, you and I can face fines and even imprisonment to cooperate with the intrinsic evil that is abortion.”
There are signs of hope, however, that the pro-life ethic is gaining traction in America.
“Thankfully, not everything is doom and gloom. In these early days of 2020, there are signs of hope. Despite a biased, secular media, decades of persistent pro-life educational efforts have resulted in our nation’s youth being more pro-life than their parents,” the archbishop said, to a round of applause.
In two months, on March 25, he said, we will celebrate the solemnity of the Annunciation.
“It also marks the 25th anniversary of St. John Paul’s landmark and prophetic encyclical, ‘The Gospel of Life.’ St. John Paul did not make reference to any Twilight Zone episodes, but he did caution us about what he termed ‘an extremely serious mortal danger: that of confusion between good and evil, precisely in relation to the fundamental right to life.’”
Pope John Paul challenged Catholics to protect human life and the dignity of the human person wherever and however it is attacked.
“Wherever life is threatened or the dignity of the human person is diminished, we must, as individuals, and as Catholics — as a church — rise to the defense of those who cannot defend themselves,” wrote the pope.
The archbishop also shared news from a meeting with a different pope — his recent “ad limina” visit with Pope Francis — a trip he made in the company of 14 other bishops from Kansas, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska. In their meeting, Archbishop Naumann told the pope that the United States bishops had reaffirmed protection of the unborn.
“I told him that we received some criticism, even being accused of insulting the pope. Pope Francis appeared stunned and asked, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Because we called the protection of the unborn a preeminent priority,’ And his immediate response was, ‘It is the preeminent priority.’
“Pope Francis said that if we do not defend life, no other rights matter. The Holy Father said that abortion is, first, a human rights issue. Of course, our faith enlightens and motivates our concern for the unborn, but protecting the lives of unborn children is not about our religious faith but upholding the most fundamental of all human rights.
“Pope Francis was aware of this March for Life in the United States and was delighted to the know the anticipated large numbers of pilgrims, especially the participation of so many young people.”
At the beginning of the meeting, Archbishop Naumann said, the Holy Father asked the conversation be kept confidential so everyone could speak freely.
But then “the Holy Father urged me, and I daresay, ordered me, to please tell the pilgrims at the March for Life — and the entire pro-life community — that the pope is with you.
“He is praying for you,” said the archbishop. “He supports you. He encourages you to persevere. The Holy Father asked me to especially thank those who work in our pregnancy resource centers for helping women with difficult pregnancies for being part of these islands of mercy.
“God and 14 other bishops are my witnesses that Pope Francis was passionate in the support of the church’s pro-life efforts.”
“My friends,” the archbishop said to great applause, “the successor of Peter has our backs.”