Fr. Peter West

Pilgrims seek victory over Russia’s culture of death

Fr. Peter West
By Fr. Peter West
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June 12, 2012 (Zenit.org) – As I write this, a small band of pro-life missionaries is driving through the vast desolate plains of Siberia, on a historic pilgrimage across Asia and Europe.

On June 14, the pilgrims left the port city of Vladivostok on the Pacific Coast of Russia with a replica of the famous icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa. The icon will be venerated by tens of thousands across eight time zones in Russia, and eventually will zigzag across Europe to Fatima, Portugal and, hopefully, will even come to the United States in the spring of 2013.

What would motivate a small band of believers to undertake this long and potentially dangerous journey in what is being called the “From Ocean to Ocean International Campaign in Defense of Life?” The pilgrimage of the icon, led by a coalition of Catholic and Orthodox leaders including Lech and Ewa Kowaleski of Human Life International (HLI) Poland, is intended both as a response to nearly a century of legalized abortion in Russia, and for victory over the culture of death throughout the world. The pilgrims believe that this victory for life will take place through the powerful intercession of Mary, the Mother of God.

Scripture and Church history are full of precedents for this extraordinary event. In the Book of Joshua, we read that the Jews carried the Ark of the Covenant into battle (cf. Joshua 3, 3-6). In the Mother of Christ, the Ark of the New Covenant, the Church has long carried on the Old Testament tradition of carrying the Ark into battle. Indeed, several Fathers of the Church, as the original scholars of the Old Testament, help us understand why Mary is known to the Church as the Ark of the New Covenant. Saint Ambrose, for example, wrote:

The Ark contained the Tablets of the Law; Mary contained in her womb the heir of the Testament. The Ark bore the Law; Mary bore the Gospel. The Ark made the voice of God heard; Mary gave us the very Word of God. The Ark shone forth with the purest gold; Mary shone forth both inwardly and outwardly with the splendor of her virginity. The gold which adorned the Ark came from the interior of the earth; the gold with which Mary shone forth came from the mines of Heaven. (Serm. xlii. 6, Int. Opp., S. Ambrosii)

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Throughout history, the faithful have called on the Blessed Virgin Mary in time of battle to win great victories against overwhelming odds.

In 1571, when the Bishop of Mexico heard that Europe was threatened with an invasion from the Turkish Navy, he sent a replica of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Pope Pius V. The Pope gave the image to Admiral Andrea Doria, who carried it into battle on one of the lead ships at Lepanto. On October 7, 1571, Christian forces defeated the much larger Turkish Navy and saved Europe from invasion.

In 1812, Russian forces carried the icon of “The Reigning Mother of God” into battle as they drove Napoleon and his invading army out of Russia. Just over a century later, on March 1, 1917, a pious Russian widow named Eudocia received a revelation from the Blessed Virgin Mary to look for the icon, which had been lost for many years. The next day, at the same time that Tsar Nicholas of Russia abdicated his throne, the icon was found, having been hidden in a basement in the village of Kolomenskoye, just outside Moscow. Many people began to venerate the icon and miraculous healings began to occur, even as the October Revolution was launched against the ruling Tsars of Russia. The Mother of God told her that if the icon was marched around the Kremlin seven times it would not fall. Tragically, her requests went unheeded. The Bolsheviks captured the Kremlin, marking the onset of Russia’s century of darkness.

The icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa has a fascinating history of its own. Tradition holds that St. Luke the Evangelist himself “wrote” the icon of what has now become known as “Our Lady of Czestochowa” on a cypress table made by Jesus Himself. The Icon was damaged by anti-Catholic, Hussite raiders in 1430 who slashed it and attempted to burn it, so much so that today she is referred to as the “Black Madonna.” In a sense, the icon is a symbol of Poland herself, scarred but persevering in faith.

Our Lady has interceded for the Polish people many times in her history. Just a relatively recent example, from May 1-7, 1979, many Poles held what became known as “The Siege of Jericho.” At the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa they prayed continuous rosaries for the intention that the Communist government would relax its restrictions on the visit of Pope John Paul II to his native land. On May 7, the Polish government unexpectedly relented and dropped the major obstacles that were preventing the Pope’s visit. Blessed Pope John Paul lit a fire with his bold proclamation of the Gospel “behind enemy lines.” The Pope’s visit set in motion the most remarkable peaceful revolution of the century, eventually bringing down Communism in the Soviet Union and all of Eastern Europe.

Russia again finds herself facing enormous difficulties today—difficulties of her own making. In 1920, Russia was the first country to legalize abortion for any reason. Josef Stalin again outlawed abortion in 1936, not because he respected human life, but he saw that it was weakening his nation and decimating the population of Russia along with war, the various purges and the starvation of millions. Abortion was legalized again after his death in 1954. The number of babies lost again skyrocketed, peaking in 1964 with 5.6 million abortions performed. Abortion remains the primary means of birth control in Russia, although the rate is falling (still at a very high rate of just under 40% of all pregnancies ending in abortion in 2010).

But now, Russia knows she has a problem. Her population continues to decline at an alarming rate. The total fertility rate of Russian women hit a historic low in 1999 of 1.16. By 2010, it had risen slightly to 1.59. Even President Vladmir Putin has encouraged Russian families to have more children by offering economic incentives, but these policies are having little effect.

Against this backdrop of demographic collapse, a faithful few are turning their eyes to the Mother of God. This is fitting since Blessed Pope John Paul’s monumental encyclical Evangelium Vitae, which he called “central to the whole Magisterium of my Pontificate,” and which closes with a prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary for victory over the culture of death.

Our Lady under her title of Our Lady of Czestochowa is venerated both in the East and the West. The icon arrived in Vladivostok on June 11 and was venerated in several churches, including the main Cathedral of St. Nicholas. Enthusiastic crowds have accompanied the Blessed Virgin asking for her prayers, and have also attended the pro-life conferences that are taking place as part of the pilgrimage.

A prayer before the icon was offered by Archpriest Aleksandr Talko, the head of the Department of Church Charities and Social Services. He said, “For all of the days of the stay of the Czestochowa icon in Vladivostok, there will be prayers before the miraculous icon requesting the Mother of God to strengthen family ties.”

The fact that Russian Orthodox leaders are working together with Roman Catholics to coordinate the historic pilgrimage through Europe and Asia is no small feat. We pray that our shared devotion to the Blessed Mother may be an occasion for the building of mutual respect, and for collaboration in other such efforts for the promotion of faith, life and the family in the future.

Please pray with us that God will bless the efforts of this tiny band of missionaries and that Our Blessed Mother will awaken the people in every place she visits, to be open to life and a respect marriage and family life.

Visit the website of the From Ocean to Ocean International Campaign for the Defense of Life for more information on the progress of this historic pilgrimage.

Father Peter West is vice president for missions for Human Life International, the world’s largest pro-life organization, which is coordinating the From Ocean to Ocean pilgrimage of the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa. This article was originally posted on Zenit.org and is reprinted with permission.

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Vatican’s doctrine chief: ‘Absolutely anti-Catholic’ to let bishops conferences decide doctrine or discipline

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By John-Henry Westen

VATICAN, March 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has rejected outright the idea floated by Germany’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx that various bishops’ conferences around the world would decide for themselves on points of discipline or doctrine. 

“This is an absolutely anti-Catholic idea that does not respect the catholicity of the Church,” Cardinal Müller told France’s Famille Chrétienne in an interview published today

The question was raised because Cardinal Marx, the head of the German Catholic bishops’ conference and a member of Pope Francis’ advisory Council of Nine, told reporters that the German bishops would chart their own course on the question of allowing Communion for those in “irregular” sexual unions.

“We are not a subsidiary of Rome,” he said in February. “The Synod cannot prescribe in detail what we should do in Germany.”

Vatican Cardinal Müller remarked that while episcopal conferences may have authority over certain issues they are not a parallel magisterium apart from the pope or outside communion with the bishops united to him.

Asked specifically about Cardinal Marx saying that the Church in Germany is “not a subsidiary of Rome,” the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said pointedly “the president of an Episcopal Conference is nothing more than a technical moderator, and as such has no special teaching authority.”  He added moreover, that the dioceses in a particular country “are not subsidiaries of the secretariat of an Episcopal conference or diocese whose Bishop presides over the Episcopal Conference.”

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The CDF head warned that “this attitude makes the risk of waking some polarization between the local churches and the universal Church.” He did not however believe that there was the will for Episcopal conferences to separate from Rome.

The important interview also saw Cardinal Müller contest the notion that the pastoral practice or discipline could change while retaining the same doctrine. “We can not affirm the doctrine and initiate a practice that is contrary to the doctrine,” he said.

He added that not even the papal Magisterium is free to change doctrine. “Every word of God is entrusted to the Church, but it is not superior to the Word,” he said. “The Magisterium is not superior to the word of God. The reverse is true.”

Cardinal Müller rejected the notion that we would have to modify Christ’s unflinching words totally forbidding divorce and remarriage.  We cannot “say that our ministry should be more cautious than Jesus Christ Himself!”  Nor could we, he added, say that Christ’s teaching is out of date or that “we need to correct or refine Jesus Christ because He lived in an idealistic world.” 

Rather, the cardinal said, bishops must be ready for martyrdom.  Quoting Jesus he said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and if we speak all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

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‘Groundbreaking’: Kansas may become first state to ban dismemberment abortions

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By Ben Johnson

TOPEKA, KS, March 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Kansas will become the first state in the country to ban a procedure in which unborn children are dismembered in the womb, if Gov. Sam Brownback signs a bill that recently passed the state legislature.

The state House passed a ban on dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortions, called dismemberment abortions in common parlance, by 98-26 on Wednesday.

The Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act, which had already passed the state Senate in February 31-9, now heads to Gov. Brownback's desk.

Brownback, a staunch defender of life, is expected to sign the act into law.

"Because of the Kansas legislature's strong pro-life convictions, unborn children in the state will be protected from brutal dismemberment abortions," said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, which has made banning dismemberment abortions a national legislative focus.

The procedure, in which an abortionist separates the unborn child's limbs from his body one at a time, accounts for 600 abortions statewide every year.

Nationally, it is “the most prevalent method of second-trimester pregnancy termination in the USA, accounting for 96 percent of all second trimester abortions,” according to the National Abortion Federation Abortion Training Textbook.

“It’s just unconscionable that something happens to children that we wouldn’t tolerate being done to pets,” Katie Ostrowski, the legislative director of Kansans for Life, told The Wichita Eagle.

Leading pro-life advocacy groups have made shifting the debate to dismemberment a national priority, with similar legislation being considered in Missouri and Oklahoma. Mary Spaulding Balch, J.D., who is NRLC's director of state legislation, called the bill's passage in Topeka “groundbreaking.”

"When the national debate focuses only on the mother, it is forgetting someone," she said.

The abortion lobby has made clear that it is uncomfortable engaging in a public relations tussle on this ground.

Elizabeth Nash, the senior state issues associate of the Guttmacher Institute, said that dismemberment is “not medical language, so it’s a little bit difficult to figure out what the language would do.”

On the state Senate floor, Democrats tried to alter the bill's language on the floor by replacing the term “unborn child” with fetus. “I know some of you don’t believe in science. But it’s not an unborn child, it’s called a fetus,” said state Senator David Haley, D-Kansas City.

If the bill becomes law, the abortion industry has vowed to fight on.

Julie Burkhart, a former associate of late-term abortionist George Tiller, said the motion's only intention is “to intimidate, threaten and criminalize doctors.”

“Policymakers should be ashamed,” she said, adding, “if passed, we will challenge it in court.”

Gov. Brownback has previously signed conscience rights protections and sweeping pro-life protections into law.

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How NOT to move beyond the abortion wars

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By Anne Hendershott

March 26, 2015 (CrisisMagazine.com) -- A few years ago, when an undergraduate student research assistant of mine—a recent convert to Catholicism—told me that he was planning to meet with a well-known dissenting Catholic theology professor who was then ensconced in an endowed chair at a major metropolitan Catholic university, I told him: “Be careful, you might end up liking him too much.” I jokingly told my student not to make eye contact with the theologian because he might begin to find himself agreeing with him that Catholic teachings “really allow” for women’s ordination and full reproductive rights—including access to abortion.

I was reminded of that conversation this week when I began reading a new book by yet another engaging Catholic theology professor at a major metropolitan university who also claims (pg 6) that the argument he puts forward in his book, Beyond the Abortion Wars, is “consistent with defined Catholic doctrine.” Written by Charles Camosy, associate professor of theology at Fordham University, the new book purports to be in line with Catholic teachings and promises “a way forward for a new generation.” But, Camosy delivers yet another argument for a woman’s right to choose abortion when confronted with an unborn child that he has described—in the past—as an “innocent aggressor.”

Indeed, Camosy has spent much of his career trying to convince us that he knows Catholic teachings better than the bishops. Criticizing Bishop Olmsted for his intervention and excommunication of a hospital administrator for her role in the direct abortion at a Phoenix Catholic hospital, Camosy suggested in 2013 that “the infamous Phoenix abortion case set us back in this regard.” Implying that Bishop Olmsted was not smart enough to understand the moral theology involved in the case, Camosy claimed that “The moral theology in the case was complex—which makes the decision to declare publicly that Sr. McBride had excommunicated herself even more inexplicable. The Church can do better.” For Camosy, “Catholics must be ready to help shape our new discussion on abortion. And we must do so in a way that draws people into the conversation—not only with respectful listening, but speaking in a way that is both coherent and sensitive.”

This new book is likely Camosy’s attempt to “draw people into the conversation.” But, there is little in his book that is either coherent or sensitive. Claiming to want to move “beyond” the abortion wars, Camosy creates an argument that seems designed to offend the pro-life side, while giving great respect to those who want to make sure abortion remains legal.

Especially offensive for pro-life readers will be Camosy’s description of the abortifacient, RU-486 as a form of “indirect abortion.” The reality is that RU-486, commonly known as the “abortion pill,” effectively ends an early pregnancy (up to 8 weeks) by turning off the pregnancy hormone (progesterone). Progesterone is necessary to maintain the pregnancy and when it is made inoperative, the fetus is aborted. For Camosy, who claims that his book is “consistent with settled Catholic doctrine,” this is not a “direct” abortion. To illustrate this, Camosy enlists philosopher Judith Jarvis Thompson’s 1971 “Defense of Abortion”—the hypothetical story of the young woman who is kidnapped and wakes up in a hospital bed to find that her healthy circulatory system has been hooked up to a famous unconscious violinist who has a fatal kidney ailment. The woman’s body is being used to keep the violinist alive until a “cure” for the violinist can be found. Camosy makes the case—as hundreds of thousands of pro-choice proponents have made in the past four decades—that one cannot be guilty of directly killing the violinist if one simply disconnects oneself from him. Likewise, for Camosy, simply taking the drug RU 486 is not “directly” killing the fetus. He writes:

The drugs present in RU 486 do not by their very nature appear to attack the fetus. Instead, the drug cuts off the pregnancy hormone and the fetus is detached from the woman’s body…. Using RU 486 is like removing yourself from [Judith Jarvis Thompson’s] violinist once you are attached. You don’t aim at his death, but instead remove yourself because you don’t think you have the duty to support his life with your body…. Some abortions are indirect and better understood as refusals to aid (pp 82-83).

Perhaps there are some readers who will find Camosy’s argument convincing, but I am not sure that many faithful Catholic readers will agree that it is consistent with settled Catholic doctrine.

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As one who is hardly a bystander in the abortion wars, I wanted to like this book. As an incrementalist who celebrates every small step in creating policy to protect the unborn, I had high hopes that this book would at last begin to bridge the divide. A decade ago, in my own book, The Politics of Abortion, I joined the argument begun by writers like Marvin Olasky in his Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America, that it is more effective to attempt to change the hearts and minds of people than to create divisive public policy at the federal level. I share Charles Camosy’s desire to end the abortion wars—but this war cannot end until the real war on the unborn ends. This does not mean that the two sides cannot work together—battling it out at the state level—where there is the opportunity for the greatest success. But, complex philosophical arguments on whether RU 486 is a direct or indirect form of abortion are not helpful to these conversations.

Camosy must know that we can never really “end” the abortion wars as long as unborn children are still viewed as “aggressors” or “invaders” and can still be legally aborted. Faithful Catholics know that there is no middle ground on this—the pro-life side has to prevail in any war on the unborn. It can be done incrementally but ground has to be gained—not ceded—for the pro-life side. Besides, Camosy seems a bit late to the battlefield to begin with. In many ways, he seems to have missed the fact that the pro-life side is already winning many of the battles through waiting periods, ultrasound and parental notification requirements, and restrictions on late term abortion at the state level. More than 300 policies to protect the unborn have been passed at the state level just in the past few years. The number of abortions each year has fallen to pre-Roe era levels—the lowest in more than four decade.   Much of these gains are due to the selfless efforts of the pro-life community and their religious leaders. Yet, just as victory appears possible in many more states, Camosy seems to want to surrender by resurrecting the tired rhetoric—and the unconscious violinists—of forty years ago.

While it is disappointing, it is not unexpected considering Camosy’s last book lauded the contributions of Princeton’s most notorious professor, Peter Singer—the proponent of abortion, euthanasia and infanticide. Claiming that Singer is “motivated by an admirable desire to respond to the suffering of human and non-human animals,” Camosy’s 2012 book, Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization, argues that, “Though Singer is pro-choice for infanticide, on all the numerous and complicated issues related to abortion but one, Singer sounds an awful lot like Pope John Paul II.”  In a post at New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, a progressive organization led by Rev. Richard Cizik (a former lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals who was removed from his position because of his public support for same sex unions, and his softening stance on abortion) Camosy wrote that he found Singer to be “friendly and compassionate.”  Camosy currently serves on the Advisory Board of Cizik’s New Evangelical Partnership—where he has posted Peter Singer-like articles including: “Why Christians Should Support Rationing Health Care.”

One cannot know the motivations of another—we can never know what is in another’s heart so it is difficult to know why Charles Camosy wrote this book. It must be difficult to be a pro-life professor at Fordham University—a school known for dissenting theologians like Elizabeth Johnson. But, if one truly wants to advance a culture of life in which all children are welcomed into the world, it would seem that inviting Peter Singer to be an honored speaker to students at Fordham in 2012 is not the way to do it, nor would claiming that RU-486 “may not aim at death by intention.” Perhaps it is unwise to continue to critically review Camosy’s work from a Catholic perspective because it gives such statements credibility—and notoriety. But, as long as Camosy continues to claim that his writings and policy suggestions—including his newly proposed “Mother and Prenatal Child Protection Act”—are “consistent with defined Catholic doctrine,” faithful Catholics will have to continue to denounce them.

Reprinted with permission from Crisis Magazine. 

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