Hilary White

From 40 Days for Life to street evangelization

Hilary White
Hilary White
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PORTLAND, OR, December 6, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – If you are strolling around Portland, Oregon, you might come across a pair of friendly people presiding over a table of rosaries and pamphlets explaining the basics of the Catholic faith. This is the St. Paul Street Evangelization (SPSE), a group of lay people inspired by the 40 Days for Life campaigns, to “convert the culture” and rescue a society that has become enamoured of the “contraceptive mentality”.

The group was founded by Steve Dawson, 37, a former seminarian inspired by the late Fr. John Hardon, S.J., a family friend who spent his life forming lay people for apostolic work. The group is growing, and in the few short months since it was founded in May this year, it has expanded to 15 U.S. cities with 130 volunteers and contacts abroad.

Dawson, who calls himself a “revert” to Catholicism, had served on the leadership team of 40 Days for Life in Michigan. He told LifeSiteNews.com he believes he was directly inspired by God to take a more broad approach.

“I felt that we needed to be doing something similar for evangelization,” he said. He took a lesson from his Protestant friends who do street evangelism. “I felt that if we did not convert the culture, it would crumble. We would never put an end to abortion or the culture of death.”

“The Protestants took the faith to the streets, but the Catholics didn’t. I kept asking my friends, when was the last time you were out in public and someone tried to evangelize you to the Catholic Faith.” He balked, however, at impersonal methods employed by some, like speaking through a loudspeaker or being “confrontational,” saying they are “not effective.”

“I believe that pro-life work is important and needs to be done,” he told LifeSiteNews. “Yet, in my spiritual growth and listening to Hardon, it became clear to me that abortion was not the problem. It is a symptom to a deeper problem. Deeper is the contraceptive mentality, which is a symptom of a culture that has lost its way from God. A de-Christianized culture.”

The work, he said, is simple, and mostly consists of talking in a friendly and non-confrontational way with anyone who stops to chat.

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Street teams of two or three people will set up a sandwich board sporting a picture of Jesus and a small table, or sometimes just a blanket on the sidewalk, arranged with rosaries and pamphlets, and then wait. Invariably, someone will stop by and the evangelizers will simply ask, “Are you Catholic?”

The evangelizers will offer a free rosary, with a leaflet to explain what it is and how to use it, and conversations just get started. And with that, they often find themselves opening new directions in the lives of others.

After three years doing direct, person-to-person pro-life work with 40 Days, Dawson left to explore a possible vocation to the priesthood with the Franciscan order. He came back after 14 months, deciding he wanted to be married, but did not want to stop working to convert the culture.

Dawson is now finishing up a degree in business administration at Portland State University and runs SPSE on donations out of his living room.

He told LifeSiteNews that the inspiration comes in part from conversations with the late Jesuit priest, Fr. Hardon, the author of a widely used catechism, and a training program for lay catechists. Fr. Hardon, who inspired hundreds to enter the religious life, also was immensely supportive of lay initiatives.

The project has moved along rapidly from humble beginnings, through Facebook and their website and blog, with people contacting Dawson from all over the country.

SPSE has started a training website that will provide a means of connecting evangelizers, he hopes, around the world. Currently, SPSE street evangelizers are working in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Boise, Idaho; Belleville, Naperville and Chicago, Illinois; Detroit and Lansing, Michigan; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Great Falls, Montana; Las Vegas, Nevada; Glens Falls, New York; Portland, Oregon; Coventry, Rhode Island; and Dallas and Forth Worth, Texas.

“We have about 120 evangelists that we are working with who are involved or are seeking to get involved. We are working with people in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Philippines, and UK,” he told LifeSiteNews.com.

Asked why he decided to switch from pro-life work to religious street evangelism, Dawson said the two are inextricably combined, but that he came to believe that the latter must precede the former, particularly in combating the wide acceptance, even among Christians, of contraception.

“So to me, the only way we are going to end abortion is by fighting the problem at the root. We need to convert the culture.”

“It’s like a whack-a-mole game,” he said. “Catholics are whacking down the moles as they pop up. Homosexual marriage pops up…whack. Abortion over here…whack.” But he realized that he could not continue to fight piecemeal.

“I refocused my energy and started asking myself what is the best way that God can use me to bring about the conversion of the culture,” he said. “This is where my learning and experience with 40 Days for Life comes in. After coming up with the non-confrontational street evangelization idea, I applied the 40 Days model to it.”

He said he was inspired in part by the emphasis placed on the “new evangelization” by Pope Benedict XVI. “The idea of public evangelization is not new in the Catholic Church, but it has been lost, at least in the West.

“We are here to bring it back, using all the technological means at our disposal such as web training, social media, etcetera, to do our part in bringing the faith back to the land and to saving our culture.”

Is the work effective? Dawson said that he hopes so, and has seen dramatic conversions more than once. One man who approached him after being offered a free Rosary was a “fallen away Catholic”. Asked why he left the Church, the man said that he believed everything the Church taught but did not believe that abortion was immoral. He said that he would personally never have an abortion, but he thought that a woman had a right to choose what she did with her own body.

After a conversation, the man agreed that it is always wrong to kill an innocent human being, and that the unborn child is human, and therefore abortion must be wrong. The man returned to the Catholic faith and was converted to the pro-life position.

“Abortion is a common topic when we talk to people about the Catholic faith,” Dawson told LSN. “Sometimes we are able to change a person’s mind on the morality of the practice. Sometimes we are just planting seeds. Once in a while God can use us to save a life.”

One young woman was given a medal that Catholics believe can bring about miracles when prayed with. That brought on a 15-minute conversation about Catholic beliefs on abortion, and the girl took home some literature and a small life size 12-week model of a fetus. Several months later, Dawson “ran into her.” She ran up to him and said that the day she had talked about abortion, she had just found out that she was pregnant, and she was planning on having an abortion. After their talk, she said, she felt that “God was giving her a sign to keep her baby.”

One SPSE group in Dallas-Fort Worth reaches out to Latino gangs. Another is led by a former gangster and rapper who uses his talents to reach out to disenfranchised young people. Not all their encounters “go smoothly” of course, Dawson said. “Sometimes we get people who have a chip on their shoulder and something to say.”

“They tell us that the Catholic Church represses women and restricts a woman’s right to choose.” But the group simply prays for those they cannot reach the first time and for another opportunity the next time.

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Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
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Vatican pressing forward with reform of US feminist nuns: Cardinal Müller

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, says the Vatican is pressing forward with plans to reform the U.S.-based Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

In an interview published in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, the cardinal said that the reform of the LCWR, which was undertaken after an assessment of the group found serious doctrinal problems, will be carried out with the goal of helping them "rediscover their identity.”

“Congregations have no more vocations and risk dying out," Müller said. "We have first of all tried to reduce hostility and tensions, partly thanks to Bishop Sartain whom we sent to negotiate with them; he is a very gentle man. We wish to stress that we are not misogynists, we are not women gobblers! Of course we have a different concept of religious life but we hope to help them rediscover their identity.”

Moreover, the cardinal said that problems specific to the LCWR are not a reflection of all the women religious in the US.

"We need to bear in mind that they do not represent all US nuns, but just a group of nuns who form part of an association,” Müller said.

“We have received many distressed letters from other nuns belonging to the same congregations, who are suffering a great deal because of the direction in which the LCWR is steering their mission.”

Cardinal Müller's remarks confirmed the assertion he and the Holy See’s delegate to the LCWR, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, made in an address to LCWR officials in Rome on April 30, that the theological drift the feminist nuns are taking constitutes a radical departure from the foundational theological concepts of Catholicism.

The Holy See “believes that the charismatic vitality of religious life can only flourish within the ecclesial faith of the Church,” Müller said in the address.

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“The LCWR, as a canonical entity dependent on the Holy See, has a profound obligation to the promotion of that faith as the essential foundation of religious life. Canonical status and ecclesial vision go hand-in-hand, and at this phase of the implementation of the Doctrinal Assessment, we are looking for a clearer expression of that ecclesial vision and more substantive signs of collaboration,” he stated.

The LCWR has openly defied the mandate of reform intended to bring their organization into line with basic Catholic doctrine on the nature of God, the Church, and sexual morality.

Among the CDF’s directives, to which LCWR has strenuously objected, is the requirement that “speakers and presenters at major programs” be approved by Archbishop Sartain. This, Müller has explained, was decided in order to “avoid difficult and embarrassing situations wherein speakers use an LCWR forum to advance positions at odds with the teaching of the Church.”

The LCWR has invited speakers to their Annual Assembly such as New Age guru Barbara Marx Hubbard, and Sr. Laurie Brink, who is particularly noted for flagrantly denying the Divinity of Christ and telling the sisters that to maintain their “prophetic” place in society they need to “go beyond” the Church and even “go beyond Jesus.”

In one of the first public statements of his pontificate, Pope Francis affirmed that the investigation and reform of the LCWR must continue.

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Brian Fisher

Birth mothers: real heroes of the pro-life movement

Brian Fisher
By Brian Fisher
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What does it mean to be brave? Is it the doctor who dedicates himself to improving the health of a third-world nation? Is it the woman who faces her third round of chemotherapy to fight the progression of cancer? Is it the teacher who forgoes the comforts of a suburban school to reach minorities in the inner city? All of these are examples of bravery demonstrated in exceedingly challenging circumstances. And our society longs for stories of bravery to inspire us and fill us with hope.

As someone who works day in and day out with those on the front lines of helping rescue babies from abortion, I’m no stranger to stories of bravery. I see courage every day in the eyes of the men and women who sacrifice their time and energy to help women facing unplanned pregnancies. I see it every time a young mom — despite being pressured by her parents or significant other to get an abortion — chooses LIFE. And perhaps more profoundly than in any other situation, I see it when an expectant mom with no relational support, job, or income chooses to place her baby for adoption rather than abort her son or daughter.

This was Nicky’s situation.

When Nicky found herself pregnant with her boyfriend’s child, her life was already in shambles. During her 26 years, Nicky had already given birth to and surrendered sole custody of a little girl, committed several felonies, lived in her car, lost several jobs, and barely subsisted on minimum wage. So when she met up with an old boyfriend, Brandon, Nicky believed she was being given a second chance at happiness. “Our first year together was beautiful. We were getting to know each other and deciding if we would stay together forever.” Unfortunately, a positive pregnancy test result changed everything.

“When I told him I was pregnant, Brandon sat down on the bed, looked me in the eyes, and told me to ‘get an abortion’.” Nicky says those three little words changed everything for her. “I became depressed living with someone who wanted his child ‘dealt with.’”  Like thousands of women every day, Nicky began searching online for information on abortion, hoping her boyfriend would eventually change his mind. Through our strategic marketing methods, Online for Life was able to guide Nicky to a life-affirming pregnancy center where she received grace-filled counsel. “The woman I sat with was beyond wonderful. She helped me to just breathe and ask God what to do….And so I did.”

Nicky left the pregnancy center that day with a new resolve to choose life for her child, even though she still wasn’t sure how she’d financially support a child. “I was alone with just $10 in my pocket…and without any type of plan for what I was going to do.” So Nicky relied on the support of the staff she met at the life-affirming pregnancy center. With their help and through a chain of fortunate events, Nicky was put in contact with the couple who would eventually become her daughter’s adoptive parents.

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After meeting this couple face to face and coming to terms with her own desperate situation, Nicky conceded that the best thing for her unborn child would be to place her in someone else’s loving home. She told Brandon about her plans and he agreed that adoption would give their child the best chance at a happy and secure future. He even returned home to help Nicky prepare for the birth of their child. “The weeks leading up to my delivery were filled with a mixture of laughter, tears, protectiveness and sadness,” Nicky recalls. But one sentiment continued to be shared with her. “Brave…so brave.” That’s what everyone from the life-affirming pregnancy center to the adoption agency to the birthing center kept calling Nicky. “The nurses kept coming up to me and telling me they were honored to care for and treat someone like me.” After several weeks of preparation, Nicky finally gave birth to a healthy baby girl, and she made the dreams of a couple from the other side of the country come true.

Nicky’s adoption story continues to be riddled with a strange combination of pain and joy. “I cry every day, but I know my baby, who came out of a very bad time, ended up being loved by people from across the country.” When asked what message she’d like to share with the world about her decision to give up her child for adoption, Nicky responds, The voice of the mother who gives up a baby for adoption isn’t heard. We need to change that.”

To learn more about Online for Life and how we’re helping to make stories like Nicky and her daughter’s story a possibility, please visit OnlineforLife.org.

Author, speaker, and business leader Brian Fisher is the President and Co-Founder of Online for Life, a transparent, metric-oriented, compassion-driven nonprofit organization dedicated to helping rescue babies and their families from abortion through technology and grace.

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New York farmers stop hosting weddings after $13,000 fine for declining lesbian ceremony

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By Dustin Siggins

New York farmers Robert and Cynthia Gifford, who were ordered last week to pay $13,000 for not hosting a same-sex "wedding," say they are closing that part of their operation.

"Going forward, the Giffords have decided to no longer host any wedding ceremonies on their farm, other than the ones already under contract," said Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) lawyer James Trainor. ADF represented the Giffords in their legal fight against New York's non-discrimination law.

Last week, the Giffords were ordered to pay a $10,000 fine to the state of New York and $3,000 in damages to a lesbian couple, Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin, who approached them in 2012 about hosting their "wedding." The Giffords, who are Roman Catholic, said their religious convictions would not let them host the ceremony, but that McCarthy and Erwin could hold their reception on their property.

Unbeknownst to the Giffords, the lesbian couple recorded the two-to-three minute conversation. After declining to hold the reception on the Giffords' farm, on which they live and rent property, the lesbian couple decided to make a formal complaint to the state's Division of Human Rights.

Eventually, Judge Migdalia Pares ruled that the Giffords' farm, Liberty Ridge Farm, constitutes a public accommodation because space is rented on the grounds and fees are collected from the public. The Giffords argued that because they live on the property with their children, they should be exempt from the state law, but Pares said that this does not mean their business is private.

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Trainor told TheBlaze that the Giffords' decision to end wedding ceremonies at Liberty Ridge “will hurt their business in the short run," but that was preferable to violating their religious beliefs.

“The Giffords serve all people with respect and care. They have hired homosexual employees and have hosted events for same-sex couples,” he said.

However, "since the state of New York has essentially compelled them to do all ceremonies or none at all, they have chosen the latter in order to stay true to their religious convictions," Trainor explained to LifeSiteNews. "No American should be forced by the government to choose between their livelihood and their faith, but that’s exactly the choice the state of New York has forced upon the Giffords."

"They will continue to host wedding receptions," said Trainor.

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