Faith calls Catholics to action - Catholic Courier

Faith calls Catholics to action

This month, Rick Paoletti and Mary Anne Tissot each plan to spend a few hours in prayer outside abortion clinics.

Even though Paoletti will pray outside of the Planned Parenthood facility on University Avenue in Rochester and Tissot will take her place outside another Planned Parenthood facility on State Street in Ithaca, the two will be united with each other and thousands of like-minded people through the international 40 Days for Life campaign.

Volunteers around the world have signed up to take shifts at similar 40-day prayer vigils in 236 locations in the United States and five other countries. These volunteers pray for an end to an abortion, and hope their presence outside the clinics will deter pregnant women considering abortion.

"It’s designed for the everyday person who just wants to make a difference and help the unborn, that person who isn’t a powerful politician but just wants to make a difference in some way. This is an ideal way to do it," said Paoletti, director of Rochester’s 40 Days for Life campaign and a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Greece.

Paoletti had quietly held pro-life views for years before becoming involved in the campaign in 2008 at the urging of a fellow Knight of Columbus. He was a bit anxious and unsure of what to expect, but knew he couldn’t say no, he recalled. Similarly, Tissot had been an outspoken pro-lifer since 1973, but had never participated in vigils or protests outside abortion facilities until she became director of Ithaca’s 40 Days for Life campaign in 2009.

"I was nervous about actually putting myself out there," noted Tissot, a parishioner of Good Shepherd Catholic Community in southern Cayuga County.

Like Paoletti, however, Tissot felt compelled to take action in defense of the unborn.

Called to act

Each day Catholics throughout the Diocese of Rochester respond in their own ways to God’s call to protect the vulnerable, work for peace and feed the hungry. Debbie Patrick, another member of Good Shepherd Catholic Community, has been taking care of migrant farmworkers at a labor camp in King Ferry since 1994. She frequently goes into the camp to welcome the workers and find out what they need, and she spearheads the annual Migrant Farm Worker Project, through which local churches collect food, clothing and goods for the visiting workers.

Many but not all of these workers are immigrants from such poor countries as Haiti, and they’re working to build better lives for themselves and their families, Patrick said. A typical year for these workers, she added, is like "a string of beads — a few months of work here, another there, tied together with travel in search of more work."

"I’m motivated to work so closely with this population because I think they exactly answer the Scripture’s question of, ‘When did we see you hungry, thirsty, a stranger?’ Sometimes after we’ve done something for the entire camp, such as distribute food to everyone, I pause to wonder which of the 150 people in line was Jesus," Patrick mused.

Harry Murray, chair of the sociology and anthropology department at Nazareth College, said he first began to hear God calling to him in the 1970s, when he became involved with the Catholic Worker movement.

After reading the writings of the movement’s founder, Dorothy Day, Murray felt compelled to take action against the United States’ involvement in a nuclear-arms race and in Latin American violence. In his first act of civil disobedience, he poured blood on one of the columns of the Pentagon on Good Friday in 1981, and since then he has been arrested several times for his participation in numerous peaceful anti-war protests.

"Christians have a responsibility to say no when their government is killing innocent people, or when their government is killing guilty people," Murray explained. "It all comes from the Gospel. Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. If we believe that Jesus is God, then we better listen to what he says and take it seriously."

Mary Jost, a member of Rochester’s Our Lady of Victory Parish, has been praying and handing out pro-life materials outside abortion facilities since 1985 because she feels as a Catholic it’s her duty to try to encourage pregnant women to let their children live. Abortion is murder and it’s amazing that there is not more public outcry against it, said Jost, president and codirector of Focus Pregnancy Help Center, which is located just a few doors down from Planned Parenthood on University Avenue in Rochester.

And Father Tony Mugavero, pastor of Rochester’s Holy Apostles Parish, has been active in protests and demonstrations in the areas of war, abortion, immigration and poverty. Father Mugavero said his prayer life is his greatest tool when it comes to discerning his course of action. If he prays about a particular issue and "gets the green light," the pastor said he’s willing to take peaceful action, even if it means he might be arrested.

"It doesn’t mean you’re not anxious and afraid," Father Mugavero said, recalling one of his favorite quotes: "Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is just fear that said its prayers."

Fear and rewards

Father Mugavero said some people seem to believe they’re not called to take action because they’re afraid. On the contrary, most of the people he’s known who do stand up for what they believe in battle fear every time they take a stand. They persevere, however, because their calling is so strong that it’s easier to face their fears than to ignore their callings, he said.

Jost said if she can find the courage to defend the unborn, anyone can. She regularly faces fear, she admitted, yet she feels the Lord picked her and is guiding her.

"He takes the weak and makes them strong. It’s not about us," Jost said. "It’s about what God does through us. If you don’t know what to say, the Holy Spirit will speak through you."

Murray said it took him several years to screw up the courage to engage in civil disobedience and to overcome his inclination to be the law-abiding "good Catholic boy" his parents had raised him to be.

"I realized that good Catholic boys have to stand for justice and peace, and sometimes that means breaking the law, when you have a government that is unjust and is killing people," Murray said. "It’s always scary to step outside the law. … When the law is legitimizing mass murder, being outside the law may be the only moral place to be."

Once you decide to take action, maintaining a strong prayer life is as important as was is in the discernment process, Father Mugavero said. Without maintaining that connection to God through prayer, it’s easy to falter the way the apostle Peter did when he walked on water, he said.

"Pray for the courage to do it, because anybody that’s involved in this knows that at any point you can fold and betray the very things you stand for, because for a brief moment you let go of God in front of you and look at the storm, and you sink," Father Mugavero said.

Even activists who manage to stay afloat face obstacles. Father Mugavero, Murray and Jost all have been arrested in connection with their actions, and Tissot and Paoletti said they receive the thumbs-up sign from passersby as often as they receive other hand gestures. Nonetheless, they persevere.

"I just feel like I have to be like the saints before us," Tissot said. "They had a lot of resistance too, and they had to keep pushing."

It’s easy to wonder whether the countless hours spent on cold sidewalks and facing hurled insults are worth it, Paoletti said. Such questioning gives way to a different type of wonder, he added, when a woman stops by several months later to say she went to Planned Parenthood for an abortion but changed her mind when she saw people praying outside the clinic.

"You have no idea what kind of impact you’re having, even if you don’t think anyone’s listening," he said. "We can have an impact on single life. One person at a time (multiplied by) many people can have significant results."

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