Parish respect life reps pray, study, are commissioned

By: By Jennifer Willems

God gifts each person to do what he asks, but there’s a catch.

“With every gift comes a responsibility to use what we have received for the glory of God and the service of our neighbor,” Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, told the parish respect life coordinators from around the Diocese of Peoria who gathered for Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria last Saturday.

That becomes urgent when those neighbors are “God’s little ones, the most defenseless and most especially the unborn,” he said. “We cannot ever grow tired. We cannot become discouraged. We can never become fearful.”

There is reason for hope, according to Bishop Jenky.

“The fact is the pro-life movement is winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the majority of Americans, who despite the media and the politicians, now largely oppose abortion on demand,” he said.

“I am also amazed and edified by the large crowds of young people from throughout our diocese who yearly gather in Washington, D.C., for the March for Life,” the bishop said. “They pray, they witness, they protest against the horrific crime of abortion.

“Their unwavering commitment is the result of all your hard work and determination,” he said.

Bishop Jenky encouraged them to be unflagging in their efforts to make certain all parishes, schools, Newman Centers, retreat programs and Catholic associations and programs in the diocese are inspired by the Gospel of Life.

Using the “Prayer of the Parish Pro-Life Representative,” the respect life coordinators asked God to “use us as your co-workers, making the smallest activity fruitful. Give success to our efforts to educate others about the dignity of the unborn and of all life, and to legislate to protect the unborn.”

They also prayed that God would bless their opponents with enlightenment, “to know the sanctity of each unborn human child. Change their minds and hearts with the truth.”

Before Mass ended, Father William Miller, IC, chairman of the diocesan Respect Life Board, thanked Bishop Jenky for his support and asked him to commission the parish representatives for another year.

Following the liturgy, the 85 respect life coordinators and their guests went to the nearby Spalding Pastoral Center for a keynote address by Steve Mattern, clinical ethicist at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center and instructor at the Saint Francis College of Nursing in Peoria.

His theme was “A Foundation for Faithful, Merciful Response: Ethics Resources within Catholic Health Care.”

While there have been changes in health care, he said, the mission of Catholic hospitals remains constant.

Some of the “enduring threads” of Catholic health care ministry include a commitment to promote and defend human dignity in a community of respect, offering loving, faithful care to the poor, contributing to the common good, and respecting and following the moral teachings of the church.

In central Illinois, people can be assured that there is a close relationship between the Catholic hospitals and the Diocese of Peoria, Mattern said. Not only is there a Diocesan Health Care Commission, but its members conduct audits of the health care facilities to make that a reality.

The commission also offers a Diocesan Health Care Conference each year to provide an opportunity for health care providers to talk about current issues, update their skills and network with one another.

Another instrument for ensuring that there is dignity and respect for life at all stages is the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.” The animating principal of this document, which was promulgated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is charity, Mattern said.

They are life-giving, they are biblical and they are beautiful, he told the respect life coordinators.

“It provides an ethical framework for us,” he explained. “They are guidelines, so they don’t give the answer for every question.”

The 72 directives contained in the document offer a necessary foundation for the ethics consultations that he is involved in at OSF Saint Francis.

“As clinical ethicists we spend our lives where the battle is most intense,” Mattern said, noting that he and Birgitta Sujdak Mackiewicz, director of ethics, are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “In many ways, we are the first responders.”

The nursing students he works with appreciate having this information, he said.

“I find the students want the truth,” Mattern explained. “I don’t think we need to hide the truth from them.”

The day concluded at the Family Resources Center in downtown Peoria, where the respect life coordinators reviewed the U.S. bishops’ respect life materials that will be used in October. This year’s theme is “The Measure of Love is to Love Without Measure.”

One of the presenters for the afternoon was Donna Nelson, the respect life coordinator from St. Joseph’s Parish in Pekin. A 14-minute DVD has been made of her presentation, “Babies in the Womb,” and 1,000 copies were delivered in time for the conference. It’s already on YouTube, said Jan Smith, director of the Family Resources Center.

“Maybe we will reach our goal of having this in every school in the world,” she told The Post.

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