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Committed to life, rooted in Christ

Illustration: Ellen Bollard Illustration: Ellen Bollard

Church teachings on life and justice are ‘part of an organic whole,’ archbishop says

Don’t let your faith be hijacked by partisan politics. Embrace the fullness of the church’s teaching on the dignity of all human life. Follow your own passion, but respect those who focus on different facets of Catholic social teaching. And always keep your efforts rooted in Jesus Christ.

These are some of the ideas that organizers of the second statewide Cornerstone Catholic Conference, to be held next month in Tacoma, want Catholics to keep in mind as they confront the many threats in our society to human life and dignity.

In too many parishes, the pro-life and social justice groups barely speak to each other, said Dominican Sister Sharon Park, executive director of the Washington State Catholic Conference, and the polarization of our politics in recent years has thrown that division into sharper relief.

The bishops of Washington state conceived Cornerstone, first held in 2014, as an attempt to heal the divide, said Archbishop J. Peter Sartain.

“We thought it would be helpful to provide an opportunity to the Catholics of Washington who are active in the pro-life movement to come together with Catholics who are active in various social justice activities, in order to explore the fullness of church teaching,” the archbishop wrote in an email.

“In other words, since all of these movements are part of the church’s commitment to the sacredness of human life, how do we help our parishioners see how they are part of an organic whole? Also, how can we fully live Catholic teaching about the sacredness of human life, from conception to natural death? And finally, how can we ensure that our work on behalf of life is fully rooted in our discipleship of the Lord Jesus?”

Understanding the whole

To help answer those questions, the conference will feature talks — including keynotes by Bishop Robert Barron, Helen Alvaré and Ralph McCloud — on topics including abortion, immigration, poverty, end-of-life issues and the Eucharist (see sidebar).

These are all connected, Archbishop Sartain said.

“Catholic teaching forms us to hold firmly to the belief that life is sacred and must be protected from the moment of conception, and that protecting life also means that we serve the poor, the immigrant, the family, the vulnerable, the homeless — all those whom the Lord Jesus sent us to serve,” he said.

“One may be active in a particular area of the church’s outreach, but it is important that we understand the whole. In other words, those active in the pro-life movement should at the same time support our clear concern for the poor; and those drawn to the social justice movements should understand that protecting life from the moment of conception is absolutely foundational for Catholic social teaching.”

The number of pressing issues means no one can tackle them all, said Jim Thomas, the WSCC’s associate director for life and justice — and “we don’t have the luxury of putting one on hold” until another is solved. So put your energy into what you’re most passionate about, and be grateful that other Catholics are working on something else.

“If I’m working against abortion or if I’m working against poverty, I am part of the same effort, the same mission in upholding the life and dignity of the human person,” he said.

‘People are being treated like things’

“The church has to push on all fronts,” said workshop leader Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, “because … we are witnessing the wholesale commodification of human beings — that is to say, people are being treated liked things.”

Issues that tend to divide people politically, when viewed through the lens of Catholic teaching, are seen to be profoundly connected, said Richard Doerflinger, who retired last year after 36 years with the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities and is now a member of Sacred Heart Parish in La Conner.

“Look at abortion and immigration — these are two issues that are the same issue at their heart,” he said. “They’re about welcoming the unexpected stranger who is dependent on you for his or her survival and wellbeing.”

We need to keep politics in perspective and focus on “being Catholic first,” Doerflinger added, “meaning that we should be using our rich tradition of social justice to evangelize the [political] parties, rather than taking the biases that come from the parties to evangelize each other.”

Ultimately, the conference is a reminder that all our efforts must be built upon the true Cornerstone, Archbishop Sartain said.

“As Catholics, our work in the various movements must always be rooted in Christ — otherwise, we risk reducing our involvement to partisan politics or personal opinion.”

Cornerstone Catholic Conference

When: Oct. 20–21

Where: Greater Tacoma Convention Center

Mission statement: The purpose of the Cornerstone Conference is to inspire and educate Catholics and others to continue working together to protect human life: the unborn, individuals who live in poverty or on the margins of society, and people at the end of life.

Sponsored by: Washington State Catholic Conference, the public policy office for the state’s bishops

Website: cornerstonecatholic.org

Keynote presentations

Helen Alvaré: “Transforming the World:
New Ways of Seeing the Other”
Professor of law, George Mason University
Consultant, Pontifical Council for the Laity

Ralph McCloud: “Liberating Our Neighbors from Poverty”
Director, Catholic Campaign for Human Development

Bishop Robert Barron: “The Eucharist:
Spiritual Food to Sustain Our Witness”
Auxiliary bishop, Archdiocese of Los Angeles
Founder, Word on Fire

Bishops of Washington: “Who Is My Neighbor:
The Face of Poverty in Washington State”
Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle
Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane
Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima


Bishop Daniel Flores:
“Seeing Immigrants as Our Neighbors”
Bishop, Diocese of Brownsville, Texas

Richard Doerflinger: “Standing Up for Life”
Retired associate director, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities

Lisa Green: “PREPARES: Journeying with Young Families”
Statewide coordinator, PREPARES

Tricia Hoyt:
“Knitting Together Life and Justice in Parishes”
Director of evangelization, family ministry and adult formation, St. Patrick Parish, Scottsdale, Arizona

Katie Lodjic: “Effective Dialogue on Abortion”
Northwest Regional Coordinator, Students for Life of America

Dr. Mimi Pattison: “Hard Choices at the End of Life”
Medical director, Franciscan Hospice and Palliative Care


Northwest Catholic - September 2017

Kevin Birnbaum

Kevin Birnbaum is the editor/associate publisher of Northwest Catholic and a member of Seattle’s Blessed Sacrament Parish. Contact him at Kevin.Birnbaum@seattlearch.org.

Kevin Birnbaum es el editor de la revista Noroeste Católico/Northwest Catholic y miembro de la Parroquia del Sagrado Sacramento en Seattle. Pueden contactarle en: Kevin.Birnbaum@seattlearch.org.

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