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Providing hope and help to women experiencing unexpected pregnancies in Pennsylvania, Real Alternatives, the state’s administrator of tax-payer funded Pregnancy and Parenting Support Program reports an 8 percent increase in new clients served in calendar year 2013.
A total of 19,956 women were served at the 96 funded pregnancy centers, Catholic Charities, social services agencies and maternity homes for the year. Of those, 15,973 women received services for the first time under the program in calendar year 2013.
Not surprisingly, abortions by Pennsylvania residents decreased to 30,749 – a record low for the state. Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported that the number of resident abortions performed in Pennsylvania in 2013 dropped by 7.39% to 30,749 from the previous year.
As we ring in the New Year, there is a reason for hope in Pennsylvania – the number of abortions in the state decreased seven percent. The year-end report shows nearly 2,500 fewer abortions occurred in 2013 than in 2012. The total of 32,108 is the lowest number on record to date.
There were also fewer live births in Pennsylvania in 2013, but the decrease was less than two percent. I wish statistics could prove that respect is growing for the dignity of human life in the womb; but numbers alone cannot explain the downward trend in abortions. We can see that more mothers are choosing life for their babies, but the statisticians did not ask them why. Even if they did, would the average person understand what human dignity means?
The dictionary defines dignity as a quality of being worthy of honor or respect. Being worthy means something is good and deserving respect, praise, or attention; having enough good qualities to be considered important or useful.
If you have ever watched proud grandparents meet their first grandchild, you have seen the kind of praise and attention, and indeed the dignity and respect that all human life deserves.
Respecting human dignity is an important precept of our Catholic faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says our dignity as human beings is rooted in our creation in the image and likeness of God. (CCC No. 1700)
“The Gospel of God’s love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of life are a single and indivisible Gospel,” wrote Saint John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae. “In the life of man, God’s image shines forth anew and is again revealed in all its fullness at the coming of the Son of God in human flesh. ‘Christ is the image of the invisible God’ (Col 1:15), he ‘reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature’ (Heb 1:3). He is the perfect image of the Father.”
The presence of human life makes visible the invisible reality of God’s Holy presence. Every child conceived reflects God’s infinite love, his perfect justice, and his boundless mercy. This is the foundation of our zeal for protecting human life from conception to natural death.
Catholic teaching affirms that every human being has inherent worth simply because they are human, regardless of their characteristics. The Church also affirms that human life begins at conception. The embryo is a new and unique life that must be recognized as a human being who possesses the rights and inherent dignity of a person. Most importantly, this developing human possesses the right to life. If God is worthy of our honor and respect and every human person is made in His image and likeness, then we all have His dignity, no exceptions.
Downward trends in abortion are a good sign. Maybe our culture is beginning to understand human dignity a bit more. Despite this encouraging decrease, the fact that the lives of over 32,000 babies were destroyed through abortion in 2013 reminds us that much prolife advocacy needs to be done. By the mercy of God and determination, perhaps one day we will ring in a New Year with a 100 percent decrease in abortions.
JANUARY 2015 column of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs agency of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania. Stay up-to-date with Catholic news and issues at pacatholic.org, www.facebook.com/pacatholic, and www.twitter.com/pacatholic.
For most people, singing Christmas carols is fun a way to celebrate and spread cheer with friends and family. For those at St. Anne Home in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, Christmas carols serve a much higher purpose: the carols are used as music therapy for residents and as a way to bring employees and residents closer together.
Sarah McMeekin, music therapist at St. Anne Home, leads the Christmas carols, using familiar songs to spread cheer, while at the same time helping residents improve their cognitive memory, speech, and socialization. The carols are part of the St. Anne Home’s year-round music therapy program which also sponsors a resident choir.
“During the holiday season, we like to provide musical activities for our residents that get them into the Christmas spirit, while also helping them improve their quality of life,” said McMeekin. “Through our music therapy program, not only does it reach a resident’s physical and social well-being, but also assists them in dealing with life changes, loss, depression, anxiety, and other emotional and spiritual needs.”
Music therapy is just one program offered at St. Anne Home. Founded in 1964, St. Anne Home is a Continuing Care Retirement Community and a ministry of the Felician Sisters of North America. The Home is dedicated to the healing mission of Jesus Christ by providing supportive services to adults, their families and caregivers.
St. Anne Home offers a variety of services for residents including skilled nursing care, short term rehabilitation services to help people regain independence and return to home, restorative nursing care to promote independence while living at the nursing facility, assisted living services in a licensed personal care home, private residential independent living, and much more. A comprehensive spiritual care program also comforts residents with its many spiritual benefits.
Since opening more than 50 years ago, St. Anne Home has become one of the longest established and respected not-for-profit nursing home providers in Westmoreland County. St. Anne Home offers superior nursing care and rehabilitative services, while Villa Angela at St. Anne Home offers personal care services in a caring, residential setting.
St. Anne Home, a member of the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association (PCHA), is just one of dozens of Catholic health care facilities in Pennsylvania. Together, Pennsylvania’s Catholic health care facilities serve about 3 million people of all faiths annually.
Mary of Nazareth has always had a special place in the heart of the Church. She is theotokos, the “God-bearer”; Scripture’s greatest human witness of courage, humility and grace. This is why Catholic life has honored her through the centuries in so many different ways: Our Lady of Consolation; Mother of Sorrows; Mother of Mercy; Our Lady of the New Advent; Queen of Heaven; Virgin Most Pure — and in a special way today, December 12, Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of America, one continent north and south.
All of these titles are true and richly deserved. But they can sometimes obscure the human reality of Mary’s life: a young woman of the rough Galilean hills, pregnant, with a seemingly implausible story before her marriage to Joseph, who gave birth to her child in the cold in a stable far from home and then, hunted by Herod, was forced to flee to Egypt. Mary – ourmother; the mother of the Church – had an intimate understanding of suffering, flight, homelessness and uncertainty. At Guadalupe, Mary appeared not to the rich or powerful, or even to the local bishop, but to the poor peasant Juan Diego. Her tenderness to the poor is something we need to remember this Advent, because our Christian faith is more than a set of ideas or beautiful words. It’s meant to be lived. It’s meant to transform our thinking and our actions.
Which brings us to the point: Over the past six years, the current White House has taken actions that a great many faithful Catholics regard as damaging – harmful not just for people of religious faith, but for the nation at large. In deferring the deportation of many undocumented immigrants and their families, however, President Obama has done the right thing. This action prevents the break-up of families with mixed immigration status. It also protects individuals who were brought to the United States as children, and have grown up knowing only American life and nothing of their parents’ native land.
For more than a decade the U.S. Catholic bishops have pressed repeatedly for just and sensible immigration policy reform. Each of our major political parties has faulted the other for inaction, and each – despite its posturing and alibis – bears a generous portion of the blame. Whatever the timing and motives of the current executive action might mean, deferring deportations serves the survival and human dignity of the families involved. And it may, finally, force the White House and Congress to cooperate fruitfully.
On this day that we honor Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of all of us who share this continent, we need to remember that the Holy Family too was once a family of immigrants and refugees. And we need to treat the undocumented among us with the mercy and justice we expect for ourselves.
+Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Archbishop of Philadelphia
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As Pope Francis and leaders of other churches and religions signed a declaration pledging to work together to help end modern slavery in the world by 2020, he urged governments, businesses and all people of good will to join forces against this “crime against humanity.”
Tens of millions of people are “in chains” because of human trafficking and forced labor, and it is leading to their “dehumanization and humiliation,” the pope said at the ceremony Dec. 2, the U.N. Day for the Abolition of Slavery.
Every human person is born with the same dignity and freedom, and any form of discrimination that does not respect this truth “is a crime and very often an abhorrent crime,” the pope said.
Inspired by their religious beliefs and a desire “to take practical action,” the pope and 11 leaders representing the Muslim, Jewish, Orthodox, Anglican, Buddhist and Hindu faiths made a united commitment to help eradicate slavery worldwide.
Sr. Clare Christi Schiefer, O.S.F., president of the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association (PCHA), was recently profiled in Good News Magazine, a publication of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia.
In the interview, Sr. Clare Christi said, “Simply put, I advocate for and speak out in defense of the sanctity of life and justice in healthcare—in particular for the needs of children, the elderly, the poor, and the underserved…I support Catholic healthcare in living out its unique mission and maintaining the Catholic identity.”
In explaining the work of the PCHA, the article continues, “During Sister Clare’s tenure, PCHA has been involved in numerous healthcare debates and legislative changes. Among those topics, Sister Clare considers legislation to address end-of-life-issues, conscience protections, the effort to retain tax exempt status for charitable institutions, and the channeling of tobacco settlement money to healthcare initiatives as some of the organization’s greatest successes. She also is proud of work on the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Pennsylvania was a forerunner in the adoption of the program that provides healthcare insurance coverage and access to services for children and the Pennsylvania program was used as a model for the federal system.”
Christmas is a time for celebration, but it also a time for helping those in need. Since 1955, the Archbishop’s Christmas Benefit for Children has supported programs at Catholic Social Services that directly benefit children in poverty, at-risk youth and children living with special needs in the Philadelphia region.
Today, the annual appeal raises thousands of dollars to fund dozens of programs helping more than 16,000 children from all faiths throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Ernie is one of those children. When he found himself in trouble with the law, Ernie and his family feared that he would face prison. Instead, he was placed at St. Gabriel’s Hall, a residential program for adolescents operated by Catholic Social Services. He is now working toward his diploma and learning social and vocational skills.
In addition to St. Gabriel’s Hall, the Archbishop’s Christmas Benefit for Children helps support after-school programs, programs to strengthen families, pre-school for low-income Hispanic and Latino children, prenatal outreach to expecting mothers, summer job training for high school students and residential housing for people with developmental disabilities.
Every December, the Archbishop’s Christmas Benefit for Children invites 400 children to a Christmas celebration. The children participate in a number of festive activities including a Christmas pageant, holiday treats and wrapped presents delivered by Santa and his elves. For many of the children, the experience of joy and love means more than the presents.
Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia is one of several diocesan Catholic charities in Pennsylvania. Collectively, Catholic charities in the Commonwealth serve over 500,000 Pennsylvanians every year in rural, urban and suburban areas, including youth services, health care, homeless shelters and soup kitchens, residential options, family counseling and adoption and foster care services. No matter one’s religion, race, gender or ability to pay, Catholic charities help those in need at more than 375 locations across the state.
For more information on the Archbishop’s Christmas Benefit for Children visit www.archbishopschristmasbenefit.org.
Christmas is coming; the race is on – shopping, baking, cleaning, decorating, socializing. Most of us run around a lot this time of year; but toward whom are we running – the Christ child or the cashier in the checkout line?
We meet Christ in our liturgy – his Real Presence is always there at Mass, but when we are not too distracted by our own worries we can also see Him in the least of our brothers and sisters.
Jesus tells us where to find him in Matthew 25: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me … Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
The Church teaches us to recognize and fulfill the obligations of justice and charity in society. We have a responsibility toward building, organizing and creating a functioning society through political, economic and administrative obligations. The Church (meaning all of us) has a secular mission to work toward the common good. Lay people are called to help build the kingdom of God in the world around us.
Common good is defined as the social conditions that allow for the authentic development of the whole person. It is a human right that grows out of the dignity that God assigns to every person.
When we slow down long enough to look for Jesus in the least of our brothers and sisters, we see how societal conditions may be contributing to poverty, illness, oppression, or ignorance.
Members of society contribute to the common good through their generous use of the spiritual, social, or material means they possess for the good of others and to create conditions that allow people to more easily live a humane existence.
Catholic charities agencies meet urgent temporal needs of many people. Charitable giving is necessary and important; but often the relief is only temporary and does not address the underlying conditions that caused the problem.
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference advocates for public policies that improve the conditions for people to thrive. Its mission is to formulate positions on issues, officially represent the Church before state government, and to foster a public understanding of the Church’s teaching and concern about morality, health, welfare, human rights, education, and yes, the common good.
The PCC is an authoritative resource for the Catholics and a vehicle for change. Our website, pacatholic.org, is a place for citizens to seek the truth about perplexing societal questions and find links to the Catholic Advocacy Network’s tools for urging our elected officials to vote in support of the common good.
The political challenges that face our nation, our state, and our cities and towns demand urgent moral choices on behalf of all citizens. Pray, inform your conscience, speak up for the common good, and be generous with your spiritual, social, or material means. As we run forth to meet our Christ, let’s look for Jesus around us and work toward improving our society for all of God’s children to achieve the happy and healthy existence they deserve.
DECEMBER 2014 Column from the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs agency of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania. Stay up-to-date with Catholic news and issues at pacatholic.org, www.facebook.com/pacatholic, and www.twitter.com/pacatholic.