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Pro-Life Events Mark Roe v. Wade Anniversary

In what was the first large-scale Roe v. Wade anniversary demonstration in San Francisco, 7,000 pro-lifers marched down San Francisco’s Embarcadero, along the city’s waterfront, in the Walk for Life West Coast on Jan. 22, the 32nd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. They said it couldn’t be done, but you are all here to show that it can be done, Dolores Meehan, one of the organizers of the walk, told cheering pro-lifers who filled Justin Herman Plaza before the walk began.

We are here to celebrate life, to speak out against abortion.... However, there are a lot of people in San Francisco who have come here who feel threatened by our message, Meehan told the crowd. We are not here to force or impose our beliefs on other people. We are here to stand witness to our beliefs, that belief being the culture of life.

Other pro-life activities held across the country to mark the Roe anniversary included a Walk for Life in Miami on Jan. 22; a weeklong series of events in Chicago, including Masses and vigils for life; a memorial Mass in Cincinnati on Jan. 24 for all victims of abortion; and a Respect Life Mass and Requiem for the Unborn on Jan. 22 in Los Angeles.

Sally Winn, a rally speaker in San Francisco, told the crowd, We walk in the shoes of our feminist foremothers, women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who refused to choose between women and their children. Anthony and Stanton were U.S. leaders for women’s suffrage.

Abortion is a betrayal of feminism, Winn, national vice president of Feminists for Life, said. Abortion discriminates. Abortion underestimates women. Abortion is violence against women.... As Elizabeth Cady Stanton said, Abortion is the ultimate degradation of women.’

As the pro-life walk began down the Embarcadero, the pro-lifers encountered as many as 3,000 supporters of keeping abortion legal. Some protesters lining the sidewalk shouted: Go home.... This is a pro-choice town.... Right-wing bigots, go away. Some carried Stand Up for Choice signs. Sidewalk hecklers jeered about fundamentalists as people carrying a banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe passed by.

Few marchers responded. Instead they followed Meehan’s advice at the rally: So, as we meet the protesters...it is imperative that we return any agitation with a smile or by just looking forward, she told them. We are a peaceful group, because you cannot stand for life if you do not also stand for the life of the person who is not being all that nice to you.

Jesuit Refugee Service Among First to Help

The Jesuit Refugee Service was one of the first humanitarian aid organizations to respond to the tsunami disaster that may have killed as many as 230,000 people in 12 countries on the Indian Ocean. Thirty minutes after the disaster, J.R.S. workers on motorbikes were combing Banda Aceh’s streets, looking to transport the injured to a medical clinic across the street from the agency’s office. J.R.S. had three staff members in Banda Aceh at the time. The house from which they worked was lightly damaged by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake; the waters caused by the tsunamis never reached the part of the city where the house is located.

Nangtok, a J.R.S. staffer, who, like many Indonesians, uses only one name, said that he first ran outside to see what damage was caused by the earthquake. He saw wet, terrified people fleeing from the seaside. He quickly gathered his co-workers and friends. Although most of the city was flooded, they went where they could gathering the injured and seeking medicine to treat them.

A month after the disaster, Nangtok declined to discuss in detail what he witnessed in the disaster on Dec. 26. It is hard for him because he saw so many bad things, explained Philip Yusenda, project director for J.R.S. in Aceh Province. All of J.R.S.’s staff survived the tsunami, but many of its local partners and clients were killed.

In Calang, a small village on Aceh’s west coast, J.R.S. worked with a group of refugees who had fled the province’s ongoing guerrilla conflict. J.R.S. said that of the 5,000 people who lived in the village, fewer than 100 survived. The agency is still serving Calang and its isolated survivors. The only way to reach the group is by an eight-hour boat ride. The agency sent a ship filled with food, clothing and medical supplies on Jan. 23.

On Jan. 24 an advanced assessment team traveled by small wooden boat to Aceh island, about an hour away from Banda Aceh. The island suffered heavy casualties in the tsunamis, and the team was to determine whether conditions were stable enough to return refugees displaced by the disaster. These refugees, from two villages on Aceh Island, have been collected into a camp managed by J.R.S. in Lamrado, about 40 minutes outside Banda Aceh, on the island of Sumatra.

J.R.S. works in four refugee camps, but has sole management responsibility in Lamrado. The agency assumed camp management in mid-January. Many of those in the Lamrado camp were stranded on Aceh island for two days without food, spending their time burying the dead before being evacuated by boat. Because many of the survivors were badly wounded or sick, J.R.S. assembled a medical clinic inside the camp to process and treat the injured more efficiently.

While Marc Rogers, a nurse volunteering for J.R.S., changed the dressing on the left leg of a 16-year-old girl, he explained that the girl had a tree branch stuck through her thigh for nearly three weeks after the disaster. When we pulled it out, there were two leaves on the branch that were stuck inside her body. Incredibly, there was no infection, he said.

Rogers said many refugees were suffering from respiratory ailments caused by swallowing seawater and that many had wounds and illnesses that were potentially life-threatening if left untreated.

On Jan. 24, Rogers determined that eight people required more urgent medical care. The sick, who included a young girl with symptoms of tuberculosis, were packed into two four-wheel-drive vehicles and transported to Banda Aceh. One woman, who was bleeding internally and could not walk, was turned away by two hospitals before a clinic staffed by U.S. doctors with Global Peace Initiative treated her.

The morning visits to the campJ.R.S. operates at least six days a weekoften turn into daylong affairs, when refugees have to be rushed to a hospital or medical clinic. Often, the refugee is turned away because the clinic does not have the capacity to treat the refugee’s illness.

The Indonesian government and some nongovernmental organizations have said the health care system for Banda Aceh is working well, preventing the further spread of disease, and that the region has an abundance of doctors. J.R.S. workers said those statements were misleading and irresponsible, citing their own experience of seeking medical help for their beneficiaries. It can be very frustrating to bring someone in with a serious illness, and the wait can be endless, said Yenny Kristanti, a J.R.S. field worker.

Catholic Agencies Provide $500 Million in Aid

The Vatican nuncio to the United Nations reported on Jan. 19 that Catholic agencies were devoting nearly $500 million to victims of the tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean. Addressing a special session of the General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, Archbishop Celestino Migliore said these efforts were being carried out in cooperation with the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, and were devoted to both emergency relief and longer-term projects.

Pope John Paul II has committed Catholic agencies to act in a genuine gesture of solidarity to all people without exception in each nation touched by this enormous tragedy, he told the U.N. diplomats. The archbishop spoke at a session designed to focus attention on both the immediate problems created by the earthquake and tsunamis and the broader issue of strengthening the ability of the international community to provide effective, coordinated responses to future disasters.

In addition to reporting on Catholic efforts, Archbishop Migliore commended the response to the disaster by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and U.N. agencies. It now falls to the United Nations to become once again a great driving force, dedicated, courageous and humanitarian, as in the best moments of its history, he said.

Archbishop Migliore said young children were the most affected of the tsunami victims, and tens of thousands were left orphans, in addition to 50,000 or more who were swept away. Overall more than 212,000 people have died, and thousands more are still missing. Catholic agencies are placing special emphasis on ways to bring help to surviving children in the zones worst affected, he said.

Catholics Brace for State Legislative Battles

With 43 state legislatures in session in January, Catholics around the country were bracing for battles on a wide range of issues, including same-sex marriage, textbook funding for Catholic schools, assisted suicide, cloning and budget matters. In Minnesota the Catholic bishops vowed to promote an increase in the state income tax as a way to address the budget deficit. We believe that we will be judged according to the way in which we respond to the least’ of our brothers and sisters, the bishops of Minnesota’s six dioceses said in a pastoral statement on Jan. 10. Because human needs require it and other resources are not available to meet these needs, we believe that it is right and proper to raise income taxes justly and equitably.

Facing a projected $1 billion gap between expected revenue and what state program heads want to continue services, Oregon’s Gov. Ted Kulongoski has proposed cuts to social services and an increase in the state lottery to fund education and public safety. Projected state budget shortfalls are being responded to with less than adequate, if not immoral, proposals: cut education funding, reduce funding to critical human service programs and increase state-sponsored gambling, said David Leslie, executive director of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon. Bob Castagna, executive director of the Oregon Catholic Conference, said that because of the state’s fiscal climate and tax policies, vulnerable people will fall through the cracks.

In Maryland, Catholic leaders pledged to seek a $1 increase in the minimum hourly wage over two years, bringing it up to $6.15. The Maryland Catholic Conference also urged lawmakers to provide comprehensive state-subsidized health insurance to all below-poverty state residents and provide a cost-of-living increase in grants for state-subsidized child care for low-income families.

The conference is strongly urging Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to restore funding for the state textbook/technology loan program for nonpublic school students to $6 million. The funding was approved at only $3 million last year, down 50 percent from when the program was first introduced in 2001.

Among other issues likely to be addressed by the Maryland Catholic Conference during the 90-day session of the state’s General Assembly, which opened on Jan. 12, were human cloning, prescription morning-after birth control pills, the death penalty, parental notification for minors seeking an abortion, slot machines and legislation changing the traditional definition of marriage.

Our agenda, as always, is heavy with controversial issues, said Richard J. Dowling, executive director of the conference. In our opposition to abortion and capital punishment, we are still, sadly, countercultural. In our support for programs that address the basic needs of the poor, the stranger and the most vulnerable in our communities, we are a minority voice.

In Illinois legislation adding sexual orientation to the list of areas in which discrimination is illegal in housing and employment passed both the House and Senate and was signed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Bob Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, said the church strongly opposes discrimination in any form, including that against gays and lesbians. But, he said, this bill creates a separate civil rights category based on sexual behavior. We don’t think that’s necessary.

The California Catholic Conference is opposing death with dignity legislation before the state legislature. It helped to defeat a similar proposal last year. Other bills of interest featured on the conference’s Web site deal with gender-neutral marriage, the right of pharmacists to decline to dispense contraceptives, stem cell research, the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision on abortion and the minimum wage.

News Briefs

During 2004 the Vatican and the Rockville Centre Diocese on Long Island, N.Y., dealt with 23 priests accused of sexually abusing minors, removing 18 from active ministry. Of the remaining five, church trials were ordered for three priests and two can be returned to ministry because of findings of insufficient evidence, announced Rockville Centre’s Bishop William F. Murphy. Of the 18 removed from ministry, 8 were laicized and 10 were permanently suspended.

The Tennessee Supreme Court allowed a $68 million lawsuit against the Diocese of Nashville to proceed even though the case concerns events involving a priest years after he left the active ministry. The unanimous ruling on Jan. 18 overturned two lower court decisions.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review a lower court decision overturning the Florida law that allowed Gov. Jeb Bush to order reinsertion of a feeding tube for Terri Schindler Schiavo, who is brain-damaged. The decision, issued without comment on Jan. 24, moved forward the efforts of Schiavo’s husband, Michael, to remove her feeding tube again, although other court actions initiated by the woman’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, continue.

Marcial Maciel Degollado, L.C., the 84-year-old founder of the Legionaries of Christ, declined re-election as superior general of the congregation, citing his age. The Legionaries’ general director, as the superior is called, is elected for a 12-year term. If he had accepted the decision of the first ballot, Father Maciel would have continued in office until he was 96.

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