Each October, the Diocese of Rochester celebrates a special Mass to kick off Respect Life Month and draw attention to new and ongoing initiatives for building a culture of life.
However, due to the coronavirus pandemic and concerns about church capacity restrictions, plans to gather as a diocese for the start of Respect Life Month in October have been cancelled, according to Shannon Kilbridge, associate director of the diocesan Office of Pastoral Services.
Instead, she said the diocese’s life-issues office is encouraging each parish to celebrate Respect Life Sunday, Oct. 4, for its own community.
“In respect and concern for the health and safety for all our members, it makes the most sense for people to stay with their home communities, to be a witness in their own community, their home parish, to raise up the concern for life by also honoring and respecting the safety and health of all our community members,” Kilbridge explained. “So it was a difficult decision (to not have a diocesan Mass), but an important one to be made this year.”
Parishes can mark Respect Life Sunday in a multitude of ways, she said. They can designate one of their Sunday Masses on the weekend of Oct. 3-4 as the Respect Life Sunday Mass, or choose to devote that weekend’s homilies or bulletin articles to life issues.
Respect Life Sunday starts the observance of Respect Life Month for the U.S. Catholic Church and begins a new annual program of efforts to help Catholics understand and cultivate a culture in which every human life is cherished. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops chose as the 2020 Respect Life theme “Live the Gospel of Life,” which Kilbridge noted celebrates the 25th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), reaffirming the value of every human life at every moment.
“Pope John Paul II calls us to respect human dignity of life at all stages,” Kilbridge added. “So dignity of the human person is not just about the beginning and the end (of life); it is critical for us to be creating a culture of life in which we recognize the value and dignity of people at every stage.”
She said parishes and individuals can find a full year of resources, such as study and action guides, articles and reflections, on the U.S. bishops’ website and on the Diocese of Rochester’s liferoc.org website.
“There are materials every month for how parishes can raise up various life issues and live the Gospel of life through the whole year,” Kilbridge said.
In addition to the informational materials, she noted that liferoc.org offers many support resources for people facing all types of life issues, whether it be crisis intervention, end-of-life decisions or help for children with special needs.
“There are all sorts of resources that we have to help people with all sorts of issues in their everyday lives that we can connect them to so that they can say yes to life,” she remarked.
Officials ideally would prefer to gather the diocesan community to start Respect Life Month and to bring awareness to these initiatives, Kilbridge said, and the life-issues office is hoping to celebrate a diocesan Respect Life Mass next year.
“Gathering together across the whole diocese is a wonderful and uplifting experience,” she said, noting that 800 people attended the 2019 Respect Life Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral. “It is just energizing and exciting to be around that many people all at once. So the minute we can, we are going to go right back to that same experience, because it is such a great way to honor and recognize the importance of life and our role in protecting life.”