Now more than ever, people are looking for hope. More than 70 individuals in the Diocese of Phoenix found such hope Sept. 11 when they attended the virtual 17th annual Defend Life Luncheon, sponsored by the diocese’s Office of Marriage and Respect Life.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted kicked off the event by bringing to light two historic documents as reminders of the need to respect life and to focus on marriage and the family.
This year marks the 90th anniversary of Resolution 15 of the Church of England’s Lambeth Conference, which stated, “In those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood and where there is morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the conference agrees that other methods may be used,”thereby opening the door as the first Christian denomination to allow the use of artificial contraceptives.
Bishop Olmsted explained those words “contradicted 1,900 years of consistent Christian teaching.”
This shift started a wave of immorality that we are still experiencing the effects of, the bishop said. This shift was deeply felt throughout the world, the Washington Post even saying in a 1931 article, “Such teaching if carried into effect would sound the death knell of marriage as a holy institution by establishing the grating practices which would encourage immorality.”
Bishop Olmsted then referred to St. Teresa of Calcutta’s speech during the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing 25 years ago.
“A woman’s love is one image of the love of God and a man’s love is another image of God’s love. Women and men show forth God’s love more fully than either can do alone,” declared St. Theresa. “Aboriton is the greatest destroyer of peace in the world today, and those that want to make men and women the same are all in favor of abortion.”
Bishop Olmsted concluded his address amonishing those attending of the importance of the truth.
“We need more than ever to trust the truth and to live each day as if the truth were true,” he said.
Ron Johnson, the director of the Arizona Catholic Conference – the official public policy arm of the Catholic bishops of Arizona, gave examples of things everyone can do this election to defend life and to live each day as if “the truth were true.”
First, he encouraged everyone to register to vote, noting that Arizona is one of the top swing states in the country. Americans United for Life recognized Arizona as the No. 1 pro-life state, thanks to laws that were passed in previous legislative sessions, such as the Minors and Abortion Law and Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care Law. However, those laws have the risk of changing in this election, as these pieces of legislation get introduced every year.
“Use your voter guides, form your conscience well,” Johnson urged. The ACC recently posted a voter’s guide for the upcoming general election.
Johnson then offered to those in attendance ways to not only be pro-life but live pro-life, a motto of Matt and Adrianna Birk.
Matt, a former NFL player for the Baltimore Ravens, said that Adrianna was the one who jump started their desire to live pro-life. Pregnant with their first child before being married, Adrianna remembered many people asking, “How could you give up your career?”
“I couldn’t believe how many people gave me their opinions of what they thought I should do,” Adrianna said.
Matt and Adrianna chose life and now have eight children. Matt first spoke publicly about his views at a March for Life even after Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien of Baltimore invited him. At the event, he quickly realized there were hundreds of women who had abortions in attendance.
“I thought to myself, ‘Who cares what a football player has to say about this? These women are the heroes,’” recalled Matt.
What Matt is most known for, was the moment he denied Barack Obama’s invitation to visit the White House with the rest of the Ravens team after winning the Super Bowl. He received the invitation shortly after Obama ended a speech with, “Thank you, Planned Parenthood. God bless you.”
“That’s a tactic of the devil, to try to get us to be quiet, to be scared to stand up. There’s nothing to be scared of if you’re standing in the truth,” Matt said, reflecting on that decision. “As Catholics we have the truth and we’re called to defend the truth. It’s not just enough to be pro-life; we have to live pro-life.”
Following the Birks’ witness, Mother Agnes Mary Donovan SV, mother superior of the Sisters of Life, made a special announcement.
“I’m coming to you on behalf of all of the Sisters of Life and the joy that we have in having accepted Bishop Olmsted’s invitation to join our efforts to yours in living and proclaiming and celebrating the Gospel of Life,” said Mother Agnes, explaining that several sisters will be permanently moving to the diocese in June 2021.
Mother Agnes has been with the Sisters of Life since their beginning in 1991. The sisters – whose charism is to promote the Gospel of Life – have communities in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Denver and Toronto.
Even via computer screens, the excitement of everyone present was contagious, with attendees unmuting themselves temporarily to cheer and exclaim, “Awesome! Awesome! Awesome!”
The virtual luncheon concluded with a word and blessing from Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares. Bishop Nevares’ sister and brother-in-law adopted after finding it difficult to get pregnant. Imagine their excitement when a short while later, they were pregnant. During one of their visits to the doctor, they realized that their baby girl would be born with down syndrome. The doctor suggested abortion but the couple instead chose life.
“The doctor broke down and cried saying, ‘You are the first couple in all of my years of practice that have chosen to give a down syndrome baby the gift of life,’” explained Bishop Nevares. “Now my little niece is 34 and she’s the joy of our family. We thank and praise God for the gift of life in all of its forms, colors and shapes.”