By Jeff Grant
The Catholic Sun

In his homily to a packed cathedral on Sanctity of Life Sunday, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix focused on the compelling testimony of women impacted by their decision to end their pregnancies through abortion.

Quoting from St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical, “The Gospel of Life,” the bishop echoed the words of St. John Paul II who stated that post-abortive women may be the “most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life” (99). He also remarked on the importance of Catholics and Christians engaging the world on behalf of the unborn.

“St. John Paul II exhorted us to be architects of a culture of life, which would overcome the culture of death. He left us a game plan for how to do that.

“If Jesus chose Saul of Tarsus, the greatest persecutor of the first century, to be His apostle [Paul], then it’s not unlikely He would choose those who suffered an abortion to be His most eloquent servants and defenders of the Gospel of Life today,” the bishop said.

“Preserving life is part of the abiding love of Christ” and also part of following Him, Bishop Olmsted said. However, in the 44 years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion, more than 50 million pre-born children have lost their lives in America, he noted. The bishop added that it is up to disciples and friends of Jesus to be different in addressing the issue, promoting life and being “defenders of the weakest and the least protected in our society.”

A statute outside Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral commemorates all unborn children whose lives were cut short by abortion. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

The Mass for the Unborn marked Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, a day established by President Ronald Reagan on the Sunday closest Jan. 22, the date of the court’s decision.

Dcn. Doug Bogart, who serves at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral and directs the diocese’s formation program for the diaconate, said the cathedral was filled with many more worshippers than a regular Sunday. Among them were a number of pregnant women who were given a special blessing by the bishop.

Katrina Zeno, coordinator of the St. John Paul II Resource Center for Theology for the Body and Culture, spoke on behalf of the Office of Respect Life. Zeno said Bishop Olmsted’s stirring message was one of hope that emphasized how women who have been personally wounded by abortion “can be some of the most shining witnesses to God’s healing love and forgiveness.”

Others found the message encouraging in light of recent political developments.

“One of the things I noticed in the past week [leading up to the presidential inauguration] is that the opposition is getting a little more worried about us, I think, and reacting stronger, and I think that says that we’re doing something. It’s scary, but it brings me hope as well,” said Jennifer Groft, who attended Mass with her daughters, Tessa, 14, and Lily, 9, as her husband, Jay, sang in the choir.

Katrina Zeno, coordinator of the Diocese of Phoenix’s St. John Paul II Resource Center for Theology for the Body and Culture, presents Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted with a collection of blessings as a gift during the Diocese’s Mass for the Unborn at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix Sunday, Jan. 22. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

Zeno expressed hope that a new administration in Washington might signal change that favors the rights of the unborn.

“Perhaps [it is] a sign that there’s a sense of returning to the purpose of law being to protect those who are most vulnerable and defenseless, whether unborn, without a job, elderly, infirm or impoverished. Perhaps there could be a new arising of a sense of the purpose of law rather than a creation of new rights.”

With a shift in political control of the White House and the aging status of some justices, the high court could face change in the next few years. Dcn. Bogart noted that backdrop has brought the issue of life to the forefront, and that there is work to be done by Catholics and Christians in seeking to protect the rights of the unborn.

“More prayer is first — prayer, fasting, holy hours — that is first and foremost. The Mass is the most perfect prayer we can offer, and this Mass is offered for that purpose,” Dcn. Bogart said afterwards.