By Mark Zimmermann
As Maryland’s General Assembly considers bills permitting physician assisted suicide and that would allow voters to decide on whether to enshrine abortion as a constitutional right in the state, Maryland’s Catholic bishops led a Prayer Vigil for Life and Lawmakers on March 9 at St. Mary’s Church in Annapolis.
In remarks during the prayer vigil, Baltimore Archbishop William Lori noted, “Just blocks from where we stand, the Maryland General Assembly is preparing to vote on laws that have the power to cast dark shadows of death over God’s precious gift of life. I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve never seen a legislative session as challenging as this one, as challenging to the values and social teachings of our Church.”
Cardinal Wilton Gregory, who leads the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington that includes five Maryland counties, offered an opening prayer, asking God to “renew among your people a readiness to nurture and sustain your precious gift of human life at all stages, and in all conditions.”
The cardinal thanked those in attendance, saying, “Your witness and dedication to life is needed now more than ever… Tonight, let us offer our prayers for those who make our laws, and for all who will be impacted by those decisions.”
Joining Cardinal Gregory from the Archdiocese of Washington was new Auxiliary Bishop Evelio Menjivar-Ayala, and joining Archbishop Lori were Auxiliary Bishops Adam Parker and Bruce Lewandowski from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Wilmington Bishop William Koenig, whose diocese includes Maryland’s Eastern Shore, offered a closing prayer.
The vigil was sponsored by the Maryland Catholic Conference, the public policy entity for that state’s dioceses, which include more than one million Catholics.
Gloria Purvis, a nationally-known Catholic pro-life activist who hosts a podcast from America Media, gave a stirring talk, encouraging people to draw strength from their faith and stay true to Catholic teaching as they stand up for the God-given dignity of every human life from conception to natural death.
She said believers in Christ are compelled by God’s love “to go and speak the truth, to go and ask our legislators to please do the right thing, and if they do not, we still persevere, all because of our faith. We know that God does not abandon us.”
Referring to how the risen Christ conquered sin and death, Purvis added, “We know the victory is already won, but we are called to persevere, we are called to walk in faith.”
Encouraging people to continue to stand for life, she said, “And so we should not give up, we should not be hopeless, because no matter who is in the White House or the governor’s house, Jesus Christ is on the throne, and we serve a mighty God.”
Purvis also encouraged pro-life supporters to hold onto hope, as the Maryland legislature considers challenging legislation that threatens human life.
“Remember the truth that the victory is already won. We just need to persevere in the faith. We need to live according to what we believe,” she said. “… We should continue to pray and fast for our legislators, and we should continue to live the truth of our faith, to give that witness in our day-to-day (life), how we treat every human person that we encounter.”
In his remarks, Archbishop Lori criticized legislative efforts that would pave the way for abortion to be enshrined in Maryland’s constitution.
“Instead of making it easier for an innocent and helpless life to be extinguished, we should work together on solutions for women facing difficult or unexpected pregnancies. What we need in actuality are services that leave no woman and no child behind,” he said. “We need to create a society where no woman has to choose between her livelihood and the life of her child. We need to love and respect both mother and child, and inserting an abortion amendment into the constitution of Maryland is not the way to do this.”
Addressing state legislators’ moves to legalize physician assisted suicide, Archbishop Lori said that would be “devastating to older men and women and Marylanders with disabilities.” Criticizing that proposed measure, Baltimore’s archbishop pointed out that “shockingly, it does not require any mental health evaluation to screen for depression. How could the solution for our vulnerable neighbors lead to expedite the end of their lives through suicide?”
Archbishop Lori noted that Maryland has palliative care programs to alleviate suffering, and public and private insurance pays for hospice care. “The solution should be pain management and quality care, not suicide drugs,” he said.
Vulnerable people at any spectrum of life, from the aged and those with failing health to women facing crisis pregnancies, deserve loving and supportive care, Archbishop Lori said, adding, “Together, we repay God for the gift of human life and for the gift of salvation by providing for the emotional, physical, material and spiritual care of one another. This is what it means to place the highest possible value on the gift of life, every life.”
Asking people to imagine what it would be like “if the state shifted to a singular focus to care for all life,” Baltimore’s archbishop encouraged Maryland’s Catholics to pray that the minds and hearts of their elected officials be opened, so they “might find the courage and strength to stand up for human life and choose life over death every time, for every person.”
In his closing comments, Bishop Koenig offered thanks to those “who have made your voices heard in the legislative process. Thousands of Catholics have already sent emails and made phone calls. If you would like to get involved, I would encourage you to sign up for the Maryland Catholic Conference’s Advocacy Network.” And he added, “Please keep our lawmakers in your prayers.”
After the prayer vigil, Mary O’Meara, the executive director of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Deaf and Disability Ministry, warned of the impact that the physician assisted suicide measure could have on the elderly and people with disabilities.
“This bill has no guard rails or safeguards. This sets up a very dangerous precedent and a slippery slope for persons who are medically fragile and (for people) living with a disability,” she said.
Devona Schiller, a member of St. Andrew by the Bay Parish in Annapolis, attended the prayer vigil with her sons Carroll, who is 14, and Ian, who is 10.
“It’s important to us all to respect life at all stages,” said Schiller, who has contacted her state representatives about the bills impacting vulnerable human life. Noting that both her sons are adopted, she said, “We talk about it (pro-life issues) a lot in our families.”
Asked about the importance of the prayer vigil as the Maryland legislature considers abortion and assisted suicide bills, Jenny Kraska, the executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, said, “We cannot ever underestimate the power of prayer … We have to continue to have hope, even when things seem dark.”
Kathryn Yanik, the director of Life Issues for the Archdiocese of Washington, said she appreciated what Gloria Purvis said about remembering the victory of Christ’s sacrificial love.
“It’s a reminder of our own humility in this process, and that our advocacy is centered in Christ,” she said.
The Maryland Catholic Conference’s website at www.mdcatholic.org has information on how to take a stand on legislation impacting life issues in the Maryland General Assembly.
Last year, after the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that had legalized abortion on demand across the United States, the Maryland Catholic Conference launched an initiative called Helping Hope Bloom to encourage support, practical resources and prayer for women who are pregnant and parenting. The Helping Hope Bloom web page at https://www.mdcatholic.org/hopeblooms offers ideas for parishes and individuals who want to do something, or do more, to help women in need, and it includes resources available for pregnant and parenting women across Maryland.