ORANGE, Calif. (CNS) — Pro-lifers must be joyful in the work they do, said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
“This is a beautiful time for us to gather and get energized for a difficult year ahead,” he said as he began his homily at Mass Aug. 6 during the Diocesan Pro-Life Directors’ Meeting held in the Diocese of Orange.
Sixty directors attended the meeting organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.
Throughout the conference — which was not open to reporters — presentation topics dealt with the challenges facing pro-life ministers and activists in the United States today. Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who chairs the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, gave the opening keynote.
But on the evening of Aug. 6, the focus was less on the challenges facing pro-life workers than on the joy of pro-life work.
“We in the pro-life movement — because the days can be long — there are moments … that we may think the work is just a burden on us,” Cardinal DiNardo, of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, said in his homily.
“But Jesus carried the burden first,” he continued, reminding Massgoers that Jesus did so with “joyful obedience.”
“We have to be joyful,” he said. “No one likes a sour pro-lifer!”
Cardinal DiNardo was the principal celebrant at the Mass at La Purisima Church in Orange. Orange Bishop Tod D. Brown and more than half a dozen priests attending the conference concelebrated the Eucharist with the cardinal.
The Mass preceded the celebratory high point of the meeting, the People of Life Dinner Banquet — an event that gave meeting attendees an opportunity to relax with one another and with Diocese of Orange staff and to celebrate the work of the award recipients: Dr. Vincent Rue and Sister Paula Vandegaer, a Sister of Social Service.
Rue, a psychotherapist who provided the first clinical evidence of post-abortion trauma, “set out to be the most ridiculed … and vilified man among psychotherapists,” said Mary McClusky, the secretariat’s special projects coordinator, in her introduction.
“Normally someone who made such a discovery would be greeted with acclaim, awards,” she said. “The official reaction to Vince’s research was basically to ridicule and ostracize him.”
In his acceptance speech, Rue noted that he had seen his father, the vice president of a marriage and family therapists’ association, suffer similarly when he spoke out against pornography long before mainstream America realized how big a problem it was.
“The only thing that matters at the end of the day is we made a difference and stood for the truth,” Rue said.
Based in the greater Los Angeles area, Sister Vandegaer worked as the editor of Heartbeat magazine, founded International Life Services and worked with agencies including Southern California’s Right to Life League, Holy Family Services and the Welfare Bureau of Los Angeles.
She came to pro-life work not so much because of the unborn, she said, “but because of my concern about what was happening to the women.”
“The vision the Catholic Church has about the dignity of women is very, very important,” she added.
Addressing herself to Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Brown, she noted that the work of church leaders in the pro-life movement is vital.
“You’ve taken a beating and have kept the vision going,” she told them. “That’s very, very important for those of us who are on the grass-roots.”
Concluding the awards ceremony, Tom Grenchik, executive director of the bishops’ pro-life secretariat, presented Susan Wills, the secretariat’s assistant director of education and outreach, with a special award recognizing her pro-life work.
Wills, who is planning to retire within the next year, was self-deprecating in accepting the award. “I’m a bureaucrat in the church,” she said. “I put in long hours because I’m not that organized.”
Working with pro-life directors across the country gives her both a feeling of admiration and wretchedness, she said. “I can sit in my office in Washington, D.C., read a little, write a little — and you thank me for it!”