COLUMBIA—It was only appropriate that the Diocese of Charleston’s 2017 Respect Life Conference be named for Mary, the mother of God.
Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions in Fatima, “Mary: Patroness of the Vulnerable — Blessed Mother’s Witness to Love and Life”, kicked off the 40 Days for Life campaign Sept. 16 at St. John Neumann School.
It also presented a unique opportunity to parallel the life of Mary with that of the pro-life issues on the conference’s agenda.
“Mary and ‘vulnerable’ doesn’t seem to go together,” said Oratorian Father Joseph Pearce, pastor at St. Mary Church in Rock Hill.
“But as I reflected, I realized that to our surprise, we can find many places in Mary’s life where she was vulnerable just by looking at the Scriptures. Even though she’s the Mother of God, she was also a disciple. We focus so much on Mary as Mother of God we forget that before she was Mother, she was a disciple,” Father Pearce said.
The Oratorian was one of several speakers who addressed the nearly 120 attendees gathered at the conference to discuss and reflect on a number of issues within the pro-life movement, ranging from abortion to human trafficking.
“Having a strong relationship with Mary is very important in the pro-life ministry,” Father Scott Francis Binet said.
In addition to being a priest, Father Binet is also a physician and a bioethicist.
“‘Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.’ I think (Mary) did a lot of that. She is an exemplar for us in many ways,” he said.
He asked: “How many children are lost because of human trafficking? How many children are lost because of abortion and women who are mourning? Mary knows what it is like to lose a child. And what did she find out? Jesus tells her, ‘I’m about my Father’s business.’ God is even in the midst of all of that. There’s a certain learning process that goes on with Mary and that’s why she ultimately is an exemplar for us.”
Other speakers included Lexie Segrest, associate director of Young Adult Ministry, who described her time ministering to pregnant women in prison. Hank Chardos, executive director and co-founder of Birthright of Columbia, said in the organization’s 37-year history, no woman seeking counseling had ever returned stating that she regretted giving birth to her child.
Also that day, 18 new Respect Life coordinators were commissioned. They will represent their respective parish communities on right-to-life issues and events and report its activities back to the diocese.
The conference opened with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone. He said his homily was influenced by an unusual source — an online video of a group of students from East Catholic High School in Manchester, Conn., holding handmade signs and seeking answers to the ongoing acts of violence in both the United States and overseas.
“These violent actions that seem to be so prevalent forces us to ask the question, ‘Where is God in all of this and why isn’t God more present in the world in which we live?’” Bishop Guglielmone said. “The fact is that so many people seem to feel that God can’t possibly exist if all of this is continuing to happen.”
Referring to the Gospel of Luke, Bishop Guglielmone said, “If our foundation is good and strong, and we as Catholic Christians look at a foundation that is Jesus Christ, then God is very, very present. If Jesus is not at the foundation of our lives, it’s like building a house of sand. There’s nothing to sustain any kind of strength, or power, or goodness.”
The bishop said the power of prayer can be seen in people who have turned their lives around.
“It’s because somehow or another the Holy Spirit worked on them,” Bishop Guglielmone said.
How does that happen? he asked. “It happens because there are sufficient people praying for the Holy Spirit to enter into the hearts of people and fill that void in their hearts with the power of love and the power of goodness,” he said.
The students in the video he referred to explained that clearly, saying they hoped and prayed we would be a people who would combat the evils in the world today.
“We have to do it by prayer, by not allowing ourselves to be influenced and by taking action to promote the power of goodness and love,” Bishop Guglielmone said.
The 40 Days for Life campaign began Sept. 27 and runs until Nov. 5, and includes the annual National Life Chain on Oct. 1. Also, Rosaries for Life will take place Oct. 13 at 7 p.m.
Photo provided: Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone receives the gifts during Mass at the Respect Life Conference held Sept. 16 at St. John Neumann School in Columbia.