||Bishop Robert C. Morlino, surrounded by pro-life advocates, stands outside the Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin building in Portage to pray a Rosary. The Peace and Justice Committee at Immaculate Conception Parish in Portage has included pro-life efforts in its agenda for years. (Catholic Herald photo/Kat Wagner) For more pictures click here.
PORTAGE -- Several dozen people, many from the Portage area and others who had come more of a distance to be present, gathered on the sidewalk in front of the local Planned Parenthood clinic on a main street here recently.
The April 26 prayer gathering, which featured a Rosary led by Bishop Robert C. Morlino, was one of the many pro-life efforts engaged in by members of the local parish. In fact, the St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish’s Peace and Justice Committee invites people of all faiths and denominations to gather outside the Planned Parenthood every second Tuesday of the month from 5 to 6 p.m. for prayer to end abortion.
This focus on the protection of the unborn is only a part of the parish’s broader acknowledgement of the importance of social justice in Catholic teaching.
“Social justice begins in the womb, and we start from there,” said Eileen Knecht, a member of the Peace and Justice Committee.
Conquering earthly pride
The belief human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society is the foundation of all the principles of Catholic social teaching, the U.S. bishops have said.
“It’s earthly pride that causes hatred and earthly pride that makes people feel that they are in charge of human life from conception to natural death — and we know by reason alone that God is in charge,” Bishop Morlino said during the prayer gathering.
But we pray that the power of the Holy Eucharist banishes hatred, brings peace, and humbles earthly pride, he said.
“We’re here as witnesses,” Bishop Morlino said of their presence outside the Planned Parenthood clinic. “It’s a blessing to be peaceful and right witnesses, so that the world will believe us.”
A broad concept of social justice
This witness is only one of the many in which the Peace and Justice Committee at the Portage parish engages in. There are many projects ongoing throughout the year, said Fr. James Murphy, pastor of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Portage, linked with St. Mary Parish in Briggsville. Father Murphy was at the prayer gathering and was thanked by the bishop for his strong efforts in the area of social justice.
Parishioners visit their sister parish in Haiti to provide support and relief; parishioners participate in Bread for the World, a nonprofit organization to alleviate hunger; every year the parish erects a peace pole; and during Lent this year, the Peace and Justice Committee did a reflection on Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). The committee’s regular meeting agenda includes four topics: education, direct service, advocacy, and respect for life.
Not everyone will become involved with anti-abortion efforts, Father Murphy said. They get involved with the topic that most appeals to them, whether that is prison ministry, helping at the shelter in town, or fighting the denigration of the elderly through euthanasia.
Knecht agreed with that idea: “They get involved because they care — because it’s the Christian thing to do.”
Sometimes social justice gets a bad name because of misunderstandings about its purpose, she said. “But when you break it down, it’s just about being Christian to others.”
“Hopefully there’s a middle ground,” Father Murphy said. “We can’t do everything, but how are we affirming a greater aspect than just our personal interests? We’re affirming them, praying for them, even if we aren’t there with them.”