Respect life coordinators commissioned, hear issues

Photo Caption: Zachary Wichmann addresses parish respect life coordinators at the diocese’s annual Respect Life Workshop in Peoria last Saturday.

By: By Jared Olar

As the November general elections approach, parish respect life representatives need to remind Catholics to look to the church’s social teachings when deciding how to cast their ballots — and respect for every human life is at the center of those teachings.

Zachary Wichmann, associate director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, public policy arm of the Catholic bishops of Illinois, delivered that message in his keynote address to about 70 respect life coordinators during last Saturday’s diocesan Respect Life Workshop at St. Joseph’s Parish in Peoria.

The annual gathering serves to plan a new year of respect for life work in parishes and Catholic institutions throughout the diocese.

“We all seek to advance the common good, by defending the inviolable sanctity of human life,” Wichmann told the parish representatives.

Catholics today find not just the common good but their very faith under relentless attack, according to Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC.

In his homily during the workshop’s opening Mass, the bishop predicted the “culture wars are going to heat up, especially in our state” in this election year. “I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but there is a real hatred for our faith.”

No matter what setbacks come along, however, the culture of death ultimately will be vanquished in the U.S., the bishop proclaimed.

The victory is certain, Bishop Jenky said, because it has already been won by Jesus. In every Mass, Catholics share in Christ’s victorious sacrifice, when he, “wielding the Cross like a sword,” conquered sin and death.

“The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land,” the bishop predicted. “So let us continue to work, and let us continue to pray, that it will always be the Lord’s work, uniting ourselves to him as we pray.”

At the end of Mass, Bishop Jenky formally commissioned each of the parish respect life coordinators.

Concelebrating the Mass with the bishop were Father Bill Miller, IC, chairman of the diocesan Respect Life Board, Father John Dietzen, former chairman, and Father John Verrier, pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish, Brimfield, and St. James Mission, Williamsfield.

Just one day after the Feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the liturgy was a Mass of the Blessed Virgin.

“For the past few years we have invoked her intercession as the Mother of Life and the Mother of Truth,” said Father Miller after the Mass. “We know that life and truth go together just as death and lies go together. We pray for the victory of life over death and of truth over lies.”

Telling the truth about candidates and about political issues that affect Catholics in Illinois is the mission of the CCI, Wichmann said in his keynote address, titled, “Political Issues and the Sanctity of Life.”

Wichmann opened his talk with a series of quotes from “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” an official statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that offers guidance and instruction for U.S. Catholics in the exercise of their political rights and responsibilities.

The quotes strongly uphold the primacy of the right to life among political issues, reminding Catholics that they may not treat it as “just one issue among many,” Wichmann said.

“A properly formed conscience cannot be pro-choice,” he said, stressing each word.

Yet many Catholics “malign” the USCCB statement, said Wichmann, alleging that it gives “too much wiggle room” to Catholics who vote for pro-abortion candidates or who want abortion to remain legal.

Wichmann invited those who think the bishops’ statement isn’t strong enough to give it a careful reading. (The document is available online at

Wichmann also reviewed recent activities of the CCI, tallying up legislative wins and losses for the Catholic Church in Illinois in the areas of abortion and embryonic stem cell research. He also discussed the outlook on how the general election will affect the Illinois statehouse.

At this time the greatest danger the church in Illinois could face is House Bill 5615, the Reproductive Justice and Access Act, said Wichmann.

The bill has never come up for a vote, but if passed, it would overturn all conscience protections for doctors, nurses and pharmacists in matters of abortion and contraception.

“If this bill passes, no Catholic in good conscience could become a nurse or a doctor,” commented Father Verrier.

Wichmann encouraged the parish representatives to remain steadfast in their efforts to show Catholics the importance of voting for pro-life candidates regardless of party.

“Eventually we’re going to get them there,” he said. “We’re going in the right direction, but it’s going to take a lot of work. I don’t have a magic bullet for you, and a lot of Catholics do not have properly formed consciences.”

Following Wichmann’s talk, Kathy Larson, a member of Corpus Christi Parish, Galesburg, told how she and her family were blessed by her late son Jimmy, who had severe handicaps that left him with the intellectual and physical capabilities of an 8-month-old baby.

“There are many families who can look back on their lives in the same way we can. There are many families with the same story,” Larson said. “But today’s young families who share this story are few and far between.”

They are told to “save everyone the trouble” by aborting the handicapped child, she said.

“We, along with our children, are being robbed of the great gift from God to experience his unconditional love through his special children,” said Larson. “Allowing children who are thought to be ‘less than the ideal’ to be destroyed, murdered, in their mother’s womb is to deny ourselves the joy of knowing God’s love.”

In the afternoon, the coordinators went to the Family Resources Center for small group work sessions. They also received packets of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2008 Respect Life Program, titled, “Hope and Trust in Life!” as well as the CCI’s “Guidelines on Political Activities for Parishes and Catholic Church Organizations.”

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