Going to the peripheries
When we imagine answering Pope Francis’ call to "go to the peripheries," I’ll wager that most of us in the pro-life realm think of sidewalk counselors in front of abortion facilities, or the remarkable work done at pregnancy care centers. We may even think of a few who bravely wade into the waters of politics, either by participating in protests or by drafting pro-life policies.
I recently had the opportunity to meet and talk with a couple that everyone would recognize as on "the peripheries." They were a post-abortive, "pro-choice" couple, and they were angry. They were angry because they had come face to face with their "choice" by wandering into a pro-life event. As we spoke, they continually compared me with other pro-life people. "Well, you are okay. You are cool, but they are not."
Why was I suddenly "okay" while the rest of the pro-life movement was not? What was the difference between myself and other pro-lifers? The answer is astonishingly simple: I started a relationship with them. I gave this couple my name, I attempted a conversation, and I said that I understood them. Although they knew I disagreed with their stance on abortion, I listened to them. What I realized from this conversation was that the thing they desired most was an opportunity to be heard, to be known, and to feel loved. I gave that to them.
To be clear, they did not walk away from this conversation much changed, but I do hope that for at least one moment they experienced the love of Christ. For most of us, this encounter defines our understanding of what it means to "go to the peripheries." However, the peripheries also are among us, in our own church’s pews.
How then do we take the encounter back into the parish, so that once we have built a culture of life there and once we are equipped to "go forth," we can give what we have within our community to those without?
I propose that to meet the peripheries in our parish, we should look first to our parish community’s needs and talents. Are there single mothers or fathers who struggle to attend parish formation events for lack of a babysitter? Are there young families experiencing the tragedy of miscarriage? Are there elderly who would pray for an end to abortion but cannot stand the heat or cold outside of the abortion facilities?
Do you have parishioners who are mechanically inclined and could help a single mother change her oil? Parishioners who are young or without children who could provide child care? Parishioners with a talent for organizing who can meet the needs of those grieving or plan an adoration hour for the elderly? Look within the parish, pick one need and a talent that matches. Build a culture of life one step at a time.
We can also deepen this experience of the culture of life in a parish by learning to dialogue and pray together. There are wonderful programs such as the Abortion Dialogue Academy or the Hush Screening and Panel Discussion that can help start this process.
We already have programs that reach the peripheries in the secular community: Catholics at the Capitol, Walk for Life, 40 Days for Life, Life Chain, and numerous opportunities to pray and counsel on the sidewalk. I submit that if we bring the same fervor with which we approach these activities back into the parish, we will see an increase in those coming forth from the parish to participate in these programs.
Every parish is different, and so if you would like help evaluating your parish’s needs or talents, or if you just have an idea to share, I am very interested in continuing the conversation. Feel free to call 402-551-9003 ext. 1306, email me at email@example.com, or simply invite me out to your parish!
Whitney Bradley is Respect Life Coordinator in the Center for Family Life Formation for the Archdiocese of Omaha.