Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Getting past ‘pro-life vs. peace and justice’: Upcoming conference aims to unite Catholic advocates around ‘building a culture of life’

(From the Aug. 21, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)

When: Friday, Oct. 24, at 7 p.m., and all day Saturday, Oct. 25.

Where: Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center, 1500 Broadway.

Cost: $75, or $65 for young adults age 18-28 (includes lunch). Some financial scholarships are available; email

For more information, or to register, visit:

by Kevin Birnbaum

Just a couple of decades after Jesus’ death and Resurrection, St. Paul felt compelled to write to the Christian community at Corinth to address reports of rivalries within the church: “I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose” (1 Cor. 1:10). Nearly 2,000 years later, factionalism remains a temptation.

In 21st-century America, one of the most obvious divisions in the church is between “pro-life Catholics,” who are devoted to opposing abortion, and “peace and justice Catholics,” who focus on advocating for the poor and marginalized. Too often, the two camps – which seem to divide largely along political party lines – view each other with suspicion or even disdain, each side convinced that the other is missing the point.

“In parishes we know that sometimes there are real divisions – the respect life committee may never speak to the social justice committee,” said Dominican Sister Sharon Park, executive director of the Washington State Catholic Conference, which represents the Catholic bishops of the state on matters of public policy.

“Oftentimes the supporters of those two groups are very divergent, and sometimes hardly in union,” Sister Sharon said. “And yet our [Catholic] teaching is that all of life – all of life – is important and sacred and created by God. So how do we get that message out?”

‘A moment of catechesis’

In response to that challenge, Washington’s four Catholic bishops – Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane and Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima – are sponsoring the Cornerstone Catholic Conference Oct. 24-25 in Tacoma to inspire Catholics to work together to protect all human life, including the unborn, those who live in poverty or on the margins of society, and people at the end of life.

In addition to presentations by the bishops, the conference will feature keynote addresses by Rwandan genocide survivor and best-selling author Immaculée Ilibagiza, Feminists for Life president Serrin Foster, and former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson. There will be workshops on a variety of topics, including human trafficking, serving the poor and making difficult end-of-life decisions.

The bishops hope the conference will draw about 1,200 Catholics from around the state for “a moment of catechesis,” Sister Sharon said. “We need to catechize our own people in terms of the value of life.”

Transcending politics

The theme of the Cornerstone conference can be boiled down to one phrase: the dignity of the human person.

“The dignity of the human person is the foundation for all of our Catholic social and moral teaching,” said Father Gary Zender, pastor of St. Louise de Marillac Parish in Bellevue, Wash., who will lead a workshop on poverty at the conference.

Father Gary Lazzeroni, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Vancouver, will be leading a conference workshop about building a “cooperative culture of life in parishes.”

Said Father Lazzeroni: “From the very moment that a child is conceived – from the very first moment of their life – until they take their last breath, they have an innate dignity that needs to be protected and preserved.”

But that consistent and comprehensive principle often falls by the wayside, because many Catholics are more influenced by political ideologies than by church teaching, said Father Lazzeroni, who will lead a workshop at the conference about building a “cooperative culture of life” in parishes.

“If we were all formed and shaped more by Catholic social teaching than we are by the political environment, we would have a much more balanced approach across the board, and language around ‘conservative’ Catholics, ‘liberal’ Catholics – that language wouldn’t make any sense, because the truth is, our teaching cuts across those political spectrums,” he said.

“When we get in trouble is when we say one wing of that teaching is more important than another,” he said.

Respecting different passions

The breadth of church teaching on the dignity of human life doesn’t mean individual Catholics shouldn’t focus on particular issues close to their hearts. Anti-abortion activists don’t need to leave their crisis pregnancy center and sign up for a protest against human trafficking – but they should recognize the protest’s legitimacy and importance, and honor their fellow Catholics engaged in anti-trafficking work.

“The challenge for us is how to respect the fact that all of us have different passions, and that we don’t need to force everyone to feel as passionately about a particular issue as somebody else does,” Father Lazzeroni said. “That’s the beauty of the body of Christ.”

Conference keynote speaker Abby Johnson became a prominent pro-life activist after becoming disillusioned and resigning as the director of a Texas abortion clinic in 2009. Her work is focused on opposing abortion, but she still sees the beauty of the church’s expansive vision.

“One of those things that I love about the Catholic Church is that we’re not just saying, ‘Well, we’re pro-life because we’re against abortion,’” she said. “We’re pro-life because we care about the dignity of human life at all stages.”

A new approach to helping families in need

Those who attend the Cornerstone Catholic Conference will learn about a new initiative of the state’s Catholic bishops dedicated to serving families in need. The Pregnancy and Parenting Support Program, or PrePareS, will provide material and emotional support for families from the beginning of pregnancy through a child’s fifth birthday.

Program coordinator Lisa Green of Spokane said she hopes the program will be ready to start helping families by July 2015. In addition to providing practical necessities like diapers, clothing and food, PrePareS will also connect families with professional services and parish-based volunteer mentors.

“We’re walking a journey with the family,” Green said. “As a Catholic community we can’t just say, ‘We want you to choose life’ – we have to support them in that choice as well.”

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