Human Life Guild Day participants told to 'be not afraid' to stand up for life

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WARWICK — Pro-life activists from parishes throughout Rhode Island gathered at Saints Rose and Clement Parish on Saturday, Sept. 30, for the 13th annual diocesan Human Life Guild Day. The conference, organized by the Human Life Guild and the Office of Life and Family Ministry, offers those concerned with respect for human life a chance to gather for prayer, discussion and education about pressing issues with regard to respect for life.

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin celebrated Mass, reminding those gathered of the feast day of St. Jerome, an early Church father known for his spiritual writings and translation of the Bible.

“Today, we pray that same word will always direct and inform and inspire our lives, especially in our commitment to the gospel of life,” said Bishop Tobin.

Father Timothy Reilly, chancellor, served as homilist. He shared the story of a woman who died shortly after he administered the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, an experience he said illustrated the fragility of human life and the perfection of God’s timing. He spoke about the prevalence of fear in modern society and its role in driving people to extremes to try to control or avoid suffering, especially as they approach the end of life.

“In that context of fear without the moral compass, suffering and death become mere enemies to somehow outwit or eliminate altogether,” said Father Reilly. “Fear is never from God, and fear can never be a lasting fruit for that reason.”

He encouraged listeners to contemplate the wonder of God’s creation and remember the gospel of life even as in times of difficulty and pain.

“Be not afraid of suffering. It’s where God usually wants to reveal himself and reassert his rightful authority in frailty,” he said.

Following Mass, those in attendance made their way to the parish brunch with other pro-life activists. Many participants were active in pro-life advocacy in their respective communities or members of Respect Life committees at parishes around the state.

“This is a great opportunity for all of us, if we can, to come together as one, to pray together and then to come back into our ministries,” said Deb Carey, a parishioner at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, and member of the parish’s Respect Life committee. “It’s a time to build one another up and to be encouraged and to bring the joy into the ministry.”

Virginia Cerbo, a parishioner at Immaculate Conception Church, Cranston, attended the conference for the first time with her daughter, Bianca. Cerbo, also a member of her parish’s Respect Life committee, said her reasons for attending were simple.

“Just to honor the gift of life and to promote it,” she said. “Mass has been very inspiring, so I’m looking forward to some great speeches.”

Father Christopher Murphy, assistant director of vocations for the Diocese of Providence and chaplain at Bishop Hendricken High School, began the day’s talks with a keynote address on “Inspiring Our Youth to Stand Up for Life.” Referring to the “hyper-opinion age” that envelops young people through online platforms, he stressed the need to offer clear and solid truth on pro-life issues amid a barrage of commentary.

“Our young people want clarity. The first thing we have to do to inspire them to stand up for life is to be clear in our arguments,” he said.

Father Murphy also emphasized the importance of teaching youth to engage their peers with secular reasoning against the evils of abortion and euthanasia, a point echoed by Father Raymond Suriani in his talk, “10 Suggestions for Spreading the Pro-life Message Effectively.” Both priests cautioned against relying only on theological arguments, warning that as religion becomes less popular as a moral guide, especially among young people, discussing such arguments with those who do not come from a religious background can distract from the universal human rights concerns at the heart of every pro-life issue.

“In teaching our youth about the pro-life movement, we have to equip them not only with theological arguments, but with reasons based on science and philosophy,” said Father Murphy. “If we want our youth to stand up for life and to do it with confidence, we need to prepare them to engage a secular age.”

Additional speakers for the day included Father Nicolas Fleming, assistant pastor at Saints John and Paul Church, Coventry, Barth Bracy, executive director of Rhode Island Right to Life, and Destiny Smith, education coordinator for Rhode Island Right to Life.

Recipients of the annual Human Life Guild Awards were also recognized during the day and included Arthur Boise, a parishioner at St. John Paul II Parish, Pawtucket, Debbie McCarthy, a parishioner at St. Luke Parish, Barrington; Sister Joyce Gardella, a Franciscan Missionary of Mary; Debra Almeida, a parishioner at St. Vincent de Paul and Our Lady of Czestochowa Parishes, Coventry; Timothy Madsen, a graduate of Bishop Hendricken High School and student at Saint Anselm College; and Safieyatu Lamin, a parishioner at St. Philip Parish, Greenville. Award recipients were recognized for their leadership in contributing to a culture of life in Rhode Island through various ministries, including Rachel’s Vineyard retreats for individuals who regret abortion, St. Gabriel’s Call ministry for pregnant women, testifying at State House hearings, praying outside abortion clinics and participating in local and national pro-life oratory and essay contests.