From 40 Days for Life to street evangelization
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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Planned Parenthood closes rural Iowa abortion facility because of low business
DUBUQUE, Iowa, May 3, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Planned Parenthood closed an Iowa abortion facility on Friday, noting low business that left the facility unsustainable from a financial standpoint.
Although Planned Parenthood of the Heartland announced in January that it planned to close the Dubuque, Iowa, office, pro-life sidewalk counselors were overjoyed on Friday to read the sign in the window that read: “Our office is closed, effective April 28, 2016.”
The office did not perform surgical abortions but did provide medication abortions to the community of about 58,000.
“Rejoice with us for the lives of unborn children saved!” Iowa Right to Life said in a statement after the closure.
As with numerous other closures, Planned Parenthood, which styles itself a provider of “care no matter what,” emphasized it was closing its doors to preserve its bottom line.
“After assessing the shifting health care landscape, changing demographics, and the challenges of operating in areas with low patient volumes, we made the tough decision to close the Dubuque Health Center,” the group said in an announcement. “This change allows us to expand hours and see more patients in Cedar Rapids, where there is unmet demand due to lack of clinician hours.”
“While we regret making this change, we know it is a necessary step in order to continue our mission to provide, promote and protect reproductive and sexual health through health services, education and advocacy. Patients have been notified, and if they wish, they can receive a broader array of services at our health center in Cedar Rapids, where we have expanded hours to accommodate more patient,” Planned Parenthood said.
American Life League’s vice president, Jim Sedlak, remembers speaking to the county right to life group nine years ago.
“I told them at the time that they needed to protest outside Planned Parenthood at least once a week,” he said. “They told me they would do better than that. Over the last eight years, these dedicated pro-lifers were outside Planned Parenthood every hour it was open. And now...it’s closed for good.”
That aligns with advice that David Bereit, the founder of 40 Days for Life, once told young people who wanted to know how to end abortion.
Be loving and compassionate, he said.
“Your peaceful, loving presence out there flies in the face of all the stereotypes they want to throw onto us,” he added. “When you show them love instead of condemnation, when you show them peace and joy instead of anger and judgment, that will begin to break down the walls.”
Iowa Right to Life credited just such tactics with closing an office in Red Oak that performed webcam abortions. “Planned Parenthood shut down in Red Oak in large part because of the constant, prayerful presence outside their clinic,” the group said.
Upon hearing of the latest abortion facility shuttering, the Dubuque County Right to Life said that Planned Parenthood isn't the only group that will move its base of operations. “We will probably put our efforts in Cedar Rapids and will continue to spread the pro-life message,” said Executive Director Marian Bourek.
Ted Cruz confronted by mom who supports aborting disabled babies…just like hers
MARION, Indiana, May 3, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Senator Ted Cruz was met on the campaign trail by a mother who strongly opposed a state pro-life law that would have protected children with birth conditions – like her own.
Andrea DeBruler, a 41-year-old nurse, confronted the presidential hopeful in the city of Marion as Cruz campaigned with Gov. Mike Pence.
DeBruler first asked Cruz, then Pence, about House Bill 1337, which bans abortions performed due to the child's race, sex, or disability, such as Down syndome.
DeBruler held up a picture of her daughter, Jania, who was born with cerebral palsy. “This was a choice,” she said.
She asked Sen. Cruz if he supported the bill, which made Indiana the second state in the nation to ban abortion for Down syndrome, after North Dakota.
“I'm not Governor Pence,” he replied. “But I'll tell you this: I believe in protecting human life.”
Pence, who endorsed Cruz in today's make-or-break Indiana primary, listened to her objections.
“I'm not here as a Republican, I'm not here as a Democrat. I'm here as a woman, a woman with choices, choices that you guys should not make,” DeBruler said.
After hearing that she felt many families lacked sufficient resources to care for children, especially in an area like Marion, Gov. Pence offered to connect her with social services.
“God bless her,” he said, looking at Jania's picture, “and God bless you.”
Though it may be unusual to encounter a woman arguing for the right to abort her own child, the governor handled it calmly. Pence had specifically reflected on “precious moments” he spent with “families of children with disabilities, especially those raising children with Down syndrome” when he signed the bill into law in March.
"We are truly thankful for the passage of this historic legislation by the Indiana House and applaud the new civil rights protections this bill creates for unborn children, as well as the new provisions this bill establishes for the humane final disposition of aborted babies," Indiana Right to Life President Mike Fichter said at the time.
DeBruler told the UK media outlet The Independent that H.B. 1337 “means you can no longer have an abortion based on deformity. I’m against this law, because I think it should be a woman’s choice” to abort for any reason.
Congressional Democrats made similar statements during hearings last month for Rep. Trent Franks' federal Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA), with Congressman John Conyers saying the bill is “patently unconstitutional,” because a woman has the right to abort a child before viability for any reason.
Both leading contenders for the Democratic nomination expressed their displeasure with the law, which protects unborn children from racial or sexual discrimination, as well as discrimination on the basis of an inborn trait like mental capacity.
When Gov. Pence signed the law, Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted:
The decision to have an abortion is for a woman to make, not the Governor of Indiana. https://t.co/1VOroXS2br— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 24, 2016
Hillary Clinton later said, “I commend the women of this state, young and old, for standing up against this governor and this legislature.”
DeBruler told The Independent, despite her comment about not being a Democrat or a Republican, she is in fact a Democrat and will vote for Hillary Clinton in today's primary.
The moral challenge to Cardinal Wuerl in pending Notre Dame outrage
May 3, 2016 (CatholicCulture) -- In 2009, when the University of Notre Dame invited President Barack Obama to deliver a commencement address, dozens of American bishops lodged loud public protests. Yet this year, as Notre Dame prepares to confer an even greater honor on Vice President Joe Biden (together with former House Speaker John Boehner), the silence from the hierarchy is deafening.
Back in 2009, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston said that Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama was “very disappointing,”, while then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan termed it a “big mistake.” The late Bishop John D’Arcy, then leader of the Indiana diocese in which the university is located, spoke of “the terrible breach which has taken place between Notre Dame and the Church.” For the first time in his 25 years of service to the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese, Bishop D’Arcy declined to attend the Notre Dame commencement exercises; instead he addressed a protest rally organized by pro-life students, faculty, alumni, and staff.
These prelates and others explained their dismay by referring to the statement “Catholics in Political Life,” released in 2004 by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. In that document, the bishops reflected on the need to maintain a consistent public witness in defense of human life, and therefore to distance themselves from public officials who support legal abortion. The statement set forth a clear policy that Catholic institutions should not give public honors to “pro-choice” politicians:
The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.
By giving President Obama an honorary degree and offering him an opportunity to speak at graduation, Notre Dame clearly violated that policy. University officials could offer only garbled partial defenses, claiming that they were honoring Obama not because he supports unrestricted abortion, but because he is President of the United States.
This year the university cannot offer even that lame defense of the decision to award the Laetare Medal to Vice President Biden. Unlike Obama, Biden is a Catholic, and by granting him this award the university is explicitly saying that the Vice President has “illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity.” In other words, Notre Dame is honoring Vice President Biden as a Catholic political leader despite his unwavering support for abortion and same-sex marriage.
Give credit to Bishop Kevin Rhoades, the current leader of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese, for raising a lonely voice of protest. “I believe it is wrong for Notre Dame to honor any ‘pro-choice’ public official with the Laetare Medal, even if he/she has other positive accomplishments in public service,” Bishop Rhoades said. But if any other bishops have joined him in that rebuke to Notre Dame, I must have missed their public announcements.
Some observers, of liberal political sympathies, have argued that it is wrong to honor John Boehner, too, because the former Speaker disagreed with the US bishops’ stand on immigration. This is a tired old argument, conflating disagreement with the bishops on a prudential political decision with defiance of Church teaching on a fundamental moral principle. But it is noteworthy that Notre Dame officials saw fit to make a joint award, no doubt in a cynical effort to dodge political criticism by choosing one honoree from each side of the political spectrum.
“We live in a toxic political environment where poisonous invective and partisan gamesmanship pass for political leadership,” said Father John Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame, in announcing the Laetare Award recipients. (Notice the pre-emptive suggestion that those who criticize the school’s choices may be engaged in “poisonous invective.”) He went on to make a tortured argument that although Notre Dame is honoring two politicians, it is not honoring them for what they have done in their political careers:
In recognizing both men, Notre Dame is not endorsing the policy positions of either, but celebrating two lives dedicated to keeping our democratic institutions working for the common good through dialogue focused on the issues and responsible compromise.
By now we all know the familiar dodges. The politician claims to oppose abortion personally, but to feel a delicate reticence about imposing his views on others. He says that we must be willing to compromise (even on life-and-death decisions). He insists that he is not “pro-abortion” but “pro-choice.”
That last bubble of rhetoric was unceremoniously burst by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC, when he celebrated Mass at Georgetown after Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richard had delivered a lecture there. “The word ‘choice’ is a smokescreen,” he said, “behind which those killing unborn children take refuge. Every chance you get, blow that smoke away!”
Now Cardinal Wuerl himself has a chance to “blow that smoke away.” As things stand, he is scheduled to celebrate Mass at the Notre Dame commencement, and to receive an honorary degree. He could pull out; he could absent himself from the ceremonies, to ensure that he does not become part of an event that pays homage to a “pro-choice” Catholic politician.
And there is a precedent. Back in 2009, the Harvard legal scholar (and former US ambassador to the Holy See) Mary Ann Glendon was chosen to receive the Laetare Award. But when she learned that President Obama would be speaking, she announced her decision to decline the award. Clearly annoyed that her presence might be used to quiet the critics of the honor for Obama, Ambassador Glendon wrote that she did not want to be used as a counterweight, nor did she see the Notre Dame commencement as an appropriate venue for a genteel debate about legal abortion:
A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.
Could Cardinal Wuerl do this year what Ambassador Glendon did in 2009? Even at this late date, his withdrawal would send a powerful message of support for the right to life: an unmistakable rebuke to politicians who hide behind the smokescreen that the cardinal himself identified. To be sure, if he did withdraw, the cardinal would be caught in an avalanche of public criticism; he would suffer for his public witness. But there is a reason why cardinals wear red.
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