When Bishops Lead

Our Catholic Church is blessed with some great bishops.  In recent days, it sometimes seems that there are those who would seek to appropriate for themselves authority to define (or obfuscate) Catholic doctrine — particularly on life issues.  But the bishops, standing in direct apostolic succession to Christ, continue to lead His flock in word and deed.  If we have ears to hear and eyes to see, our bishops have much to teach us.  A great example is St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John C. Nienstedt.

Archbishop Nienstedt marked Good Friday by praying with hundreds of pro-life supporters outside a Planned Parenthood abortion center located at 1965 Ford Parkway in St. Paul, Minnesota.  With a police presence keeping watch over competing demonstrations, pro-lifers marched in defense of life, praying and singing hymns.

Barriers separated the pro-life prayer vigil from a much smaller contingent of a few dozen pro-abortion activists staging a counter protest.  On the other side, Planned Parenthood supporters carried signs with slogans such as:  “Save Money, Invest in Women’s Health”, “I Love My Birth Control”, and “Planned Parenthood Equals Women’s Health”.

Beginning at 8:30 in the morning, a choir of Franciscan Friars led the pro-life marchers in song and an opening prayer asking God to have mercy on our nation.  Archbishop Nienstedt then came to the microphone.  Standing beside a life size wooden cross, the Archbishop began with a prayer, and then said that “on this Good Friday, Christians everywhere recall how the Lamb of God was nailed to the wood of the Cross, then rose three days later, gloriously triumphant from the grave.  He was the innocent one, but He was put to death by sinful men.  We come this morning to remember other innocent persons who have been put to death in their mothers’ womb.  We come to pray, to honor them, to demonstrate peacefully so that the scourge of abortion will be put to an end in this great land of the free and the brave.”

The Archbishop read Jesus’ words from the Gospel of Matthew that “‘whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me’” and “‘See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that the angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father’”  (Mt 18, 5, 10).  After this Archbishop Nienstedt led the pro-life supporters in reciting the responsorial Litany of Life written by the late Cardinal John O’Connor.

Many religious were in attendance, marching in habit and collar along side the laity.  One was Sister Mary Grace of the Sisters of Charity.  “It was so inspiring to see our Archbishop attend,” Sister Mary Grace said, “especially on Good Friday.  On the biggest day of the year when we remember Jesus’ saving death for us, [Archbishop Nienstedt] took the time to pray for the babies and an end to abortion.  Jesus died for us all, but He must have a special closeness to the babies who are innocent lambs like He was.  This is why it is so appropriate to pray to end abortion especially on Good Friday.”

The laity echoed these sentiments.  Molly Green of Minneapolis said that the prayer vigil “was a powerful pro-life demonstration and I was deeply moved.  There was an overwhelming sense of peace and reverence for life which spoke much louder than any of the opposition’s words or signs.”

“Appropriately so,” Ms. Green said, “Archbishop Nienstedt began the vigil with a prayer and commended the crowd for their courage to defend life.”

It was an all-day, ecumenical event organized by Pro-Life Action Ministries of Minnesota.  Minnesota religious leaders from various churches and denominations gave prayers and reflections throughout the day, with a strong Catholic presence lead by the Archbishop.  Several thousand pro-life demonstrators were expected over the course of the entire vigil since several thousand also attended this event on Good Friday last year.

With competing voices sowing potential seeds of confusion regarding Catholic doctrine and what it means to be pro-life, we should thank our bishops when they provide the strong public leadership and clear teaching so needed today.  As George Wiegel noted recently on The World Over Live with Raymond Arroyo, the Catholic Church is the last man still standing in the fight against cultural relativism and the culture of death.  As Archibshop Nienstedt said on Good Friday, it’s a battle that requires courage.  Our bishops should be commended when they show the fortitude required in the defense of life.

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