Those laboring to cultivate a culture of life in New York received some good news at the Respect Life in-service sponsored by the Diocese of Buffalo. Bishop Richard J. Malone announced that the New York State Appeals Court affirmed that the current state laws against physician-assisted suicide are constitutional.
"This, many feel, is the one of the most significant victories for life in a long time," Bishop Malone told the 80 gathered for a special Mass at St. Louis Parish in downtown Buffalo on the morning of Sept. 9.
The Mass, which welcomed and commissioned 10 new Respect Life coordinators, preceded the annual in-service held across Main Street at the Catholic Center, where parish Respect Life coordinators are brought up to date on issues such as abortion, euthanasia, and now, drug addiction.
Susan O'Neill, the northern program coordinator of Sidewalk Advocates for Life, offered a brief introduction to her work. Sidewalk advocates offer loving, life-affirming alternatives to all present at abortion facilities.
"We are not a people without hope. We have great hope. We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song," O'Neill said. "We know, based on reports from former abortion clinic workers, from people who work in the abortion industry, we've been told that sidewalk advocacy, when it's done in a peaceful prayerful manner, is the one activity that most devastates the abortion business."
O'Neill has heard from Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood director turned pro-life activist, that the average no-show rate at an abortion clinic is 25 percent, but on the days where there is a peaceful, prayerful presence, it can go as high as 75 percent.
"One of the things with this ministry is so often, you are not going to see the fruits of what you are doing, but they are there," O'Neill said. "There are women who keep driving because you are standing there. So, never underestimate that you are making a difference. You are changing hearts and minds simply by being that peaceful prayerful witness."
The Sidewalk Advocate for Life trains, educates and equips local communities all across the United States in Sidewalk Advocacy. Its core values include being Christ-centered, loving and peaceful in its work. Clients will receive tools and education, as well as ongoing support. The organization has a goal of 100 percent coverage, at least two advocates at every abortion clinic every hour it is open by 2020.
As the coordinator of the Northeast, O'Neill followed her presentation with a daylong training at the Catholic Center the following Monday.
Cheryl Calire, director of the diocesan Office of Pro-Life Activities, admits that 15 years ago, she thought she would never be protesting on the street in front of an abortion clinic.
"It does take some time and discernment ... to change your heart and mind about how you feel about that," she said. "I now know how critical and how important it is that we have that public witness. I cannot tell you how many people have been referred to me this year who said they got the card from the sidewalk or somebody said to them, 'Call this Cheryl lady,' or somebody said, 'Think about it one more day.' Sometimes you don't always know what you're doing when you're witnessing to them."
More information about the program can be found at http://sidewalkadvocates.org/.
Sue Boyle, community mobilizer for WNY United Against Drug & Alcohol Abuse Inc., addressed the opiate epidemic in Western New York, by noting there has been nearly one death per day from opiate overdoses in Erie County alone this year. The average death comes in the form of a 38-39 year-old white male from the suburbs. Most became addicted to opiate painkillers after an injury.
"How many kids is he responsible for? He has a wife. He has kids. He has a mother and father. He has an employer," she asked. "When you say your rosary for life, please add a decade for all those who are affected."
Boyle will partner with Nancy Scherr, director of Family Life Ministries for the diocese, to provide resources to parishes. Together they asked for parish volunteers to help coordinate their efforts.
Other speakers for the daylong in-service included Office of Pro-Life Activities staff, Cheryl Zielen-Ersing, coordinator of the St. Gianna Molla Pregnancy Outreach Center, which provides material, emotional and spiritual support to mothers, fathers and young families in need, and Sarah Molitor, assistant coordinator for the Mother Teresa Home in Buffalo. Gene Mendrysa updated the crowd on the latest from Vine & Branches, a pro-life group that seeks to implement effective and cohesive ways to transform and communicate the tenets of the USCCB Pastoral Plan into action by parish communities.
The day ended with a question and answer period from the crowd of parish Respect Life coordinators.
At age 23, Victoria Erdman was one of the youngest Respect Life coordinators present. She got involved in the cause while attending Canisius College in Buffalo.
"I was the president of our pro-life group there. It was just something that I felt strongly about and felt an urge to get involved in the movement," she said.
She enjoyed the presentation.
"It was really great. I loved hearing about the Sidewalk Advocates for Life. I've prayed in front of the abortion clinics before, so I would love to be trained as a sidewalk advocate. It was great to hear the stories he told."
Paul Prysbylski, from the pastoral care team leader with Vine & Branches, liked hearing the new focuses on opiate addiction and physician-assisted suicide, and liked hearing about sidewalk advocacy. He has been praying the rosary in front of clinics for over 30 years. "It's good to see that there is some organization around that to help people get more involved."