Pro-life messages get more visible

Angelina Esteban, a parishioner at the National Shrine of the Little Flower Church in Royal Oaks, Mich., holds a sign during the March for Life rally on the National Mall Jan. 22 in Washington. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Angelina Esteban, a parishioner at the National Shrine of the Little Flower Church in Royal Oaks, Mich., holds a sign during the March for Life rally on the National Mall Jan. 22 in Washington. (CNS/Bob Roller)

People across the country marked the 36th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion with speeches, prayers, rallies and marches. Others took their message to the all-popular medium of advertisement. Newspapers in Washington ran an advertisement urging people to support programs to help pregnant women and new mothers. Project Rachel, a program which provides post-abortion counseling, ran an advertisement on Washington’s Metro subway trains.

And in Chicago, a 30-second television ad ran not on the Jan. 22 anniversary but on Inauguration Day, tying a not so subtle pro-life message to the new president. The ad, sponsored by the group Catholicvote.org, displays an ultrasound of a baby and text which refers to a child who will be abandoned by his father and raised by a single mother but will become the first African-American president. Then it shows an image of President Obama along with the words: “Life: Imagine the Potential.”

FDA OKs human trials for therapies with embryonic stem cells

This morning the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first human clinical trials using embryonic stem cells. The trials will be conducted by the Geron Corp. on humans suffering from paraplegia. The stem cells are those approved for use by President George W. Bush in 2001.

CNS will have a report on this next week. In the meantime, CNN has a story on the FDA announcement and an interview with company executives about the trials.

Catholic church leaders have spoken extensively about the ethics of using embryonic stem cells. Most recently Cardinal Francis E. George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote Jan. 19 to President Barack Obama discussing this and other health-related issues. Read the letter here.

In December, the Vatican issued a 32-page document, “Dignitatis Personae” (“The Dignity of a Person”) in which it warned of of the ethical dilemmas posed by new developments in stem cell research. Read the CNS story here.

Origins subscribers can see the entire Vatican document and related texts by logging into their subscriptions.

Vatican-US relations in the age of Obama

Though only days into President Barack Obama’s administration, Italian columnist and author Massimo Franco speculated about what relations might look like between the Vatican and Obama as well as the U.S. Catholic Church and Obama.

CNS Rome Bureau Chief John Thavis offered his analysis in this week’s Vatican Letter, writing that the Vatican will highlight the similarities between the church and the Obama agenda, such as diplomacy and social justice, while “downplaying difference on moral questions like abortion.”

Franco agreed, saying “we are going to see a honeymoon period” which will become more clear as time goes on.

In honor of the 25th anniversary of U.S.-Vatican relations, he spoke last night in Washington about his book, “Parallel Empires: The Vatican and the United States – Two Centuries of Alliance and Conflict.”

Franco said the Vatican, in its diplomatic role, must highlight similarities because, well, that’s what diplomats do.

And the U.S. bishops, he said, probably for the time being will be silent on such controversial issues as abortion and embryonic stem-cell research for fear of ostracizing Catholics who voted for Obama. It’s important to keep the flock together.

But as time goes on, the U.S. bishops might take a more vocal role, leaving the diplomatic niceties to the Vatican.

What about Joe Biden, the first Catholic vice president?  Well, said Franco, the U.S. bishops and the Vatican actually prefer a non-Catholic with an agenda more in line with the church than a pro-choice Catholic in such a public role.

Reversal of Mexico City policy off the table for anniversary of Roe v. Wade

UPDATE: Obama signature reversing Mexico City policy brings quick condemnation.

SECOND UPDATE: Cardinal Rigali calls decision “very disappointing.

Despite some expectations that President Barack Obama would issue an executive order reversing the Mexico City policy on Jan. 22, it apparently isn’t going to happen, at least not today, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

The policy prohibits recipients of U.S. foreign aid from promoting or providing abortions. It was established by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, reversed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and reestablished under President George W. Bush in 2001. Clinton and Bush each took their actions on Jan. 22.

A reversal of the policy is almost certainly going to be ordered, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. But in contacts with some Catholic leaders, representatives of the administration signaled that Obama is trying to be at least sensitive to timing, by declining to announce such a change while abortion protesters were marching in Washington and elsewhere.

Some Catholic leaders who have been in touch with Obama’s staff this week encouraged the administration to pair any such orders — which they see as a rollback of progress against abortion — with an announcement about new efforts to aid pregnant women, or otherwise help reduce demand for abortion.

Late in the day Obama issued a statement reaffirming his commitment to “protecting a woman’s right to choose.” He added that “while this is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion and support women and families in the choices they make. To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information and preventative services.”

The statement concluded by saying “we must also recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights and opportunities as our sons” including access to education, fulfilling careers, to be treated fairly and paid equally “and to have no limits on their dreams.”

A look back at the first March for Life

Today marks 36 years that pro-life groups have assembled in Washington to mark the 1973 Supreme Court’s landmark decision, Roe v. Wade.  At CNS we thought it would be interesting to see what we said about that first march on Jan. 22, 1974.

Fredrick A. Green covered the first march for CNS (then NC News). He reported that 15,000 people showed up, many on buses from around the country.

“The right-to-life advocates spent the morning lobbying the offices of senators and members of the House of Representatives and then gathered in the afternoon at the west steps of the Capitol to hear speeches by congressional sponsors of human life amendments and leaders of the right-to-life movement.

“Later, they marched in a ‘circle of life’ around the Capitol,” he wrote.

Among the speakers were Sen. James Buckley, R-N.Y., and Rep. Lawrence Hogan, R-Md. Both men had introduced human life amendments in Congress. Hogan told Green that the demonstration “will be a boost” to his efforts.

“Some congressmen, apparently moved by the demonstrators, had called earlier in the day to offer their signatures, Hogan said, and he expects to get more support after the rally,” Green wrote.

Another speaker was Msgr. James McHugh, director of the U.S. Catholic Conference family life division. (A number of years later Msgr. McHugh became Bishop McHugh, and the USCC became the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Bishop McHugh has since died. The USCCB is still going strong.)

Green noted other events around the country to mark the first anniversary. Among them:

– In Oregon, leaflets were distributed to 100,000 homes.

– In Philadelphia, 15,000 persons gathered at Independence Hall.

– On Capitol Hill, 22,000 red roses were delivered to Members of Congress, a rose was delivered to all 140 members of the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates, and in Minnesota 1,600 roses were sent to legislators.

– In Peoria, Ill., 300 people gathered in the county courthouse plaza and heard the Rev. John Hoffman say, “I’m a liberal Protestant, and liberal Protestants aren’t supposed to be opposing abortion.” But a fetus, he said is a human from the moment of conception. “The only thing it seems to lack is a voice to speak up and proclaim life, and it’s up to us to give it that voice.”

– In New York, Cardinal Terence Cooke announced plans to build a  parent-child development center at the Foundling Hospital.

– North Dakota went all out with a week of events. The highlight was a Saturday-night statewide television program featuring Bishop Justin A. Driscoll of Fargo, Sen. Buckley of New York, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and Lutheran pastor Rev. Gary Clark. Just before noon on Jan. 22, church bells in every Catholic church and many Protestant ones rang out.

The event in Washington wasn’t without it moments of conflict. Students from the University of Maryland circulated a questionnaire that had event “marshals” scrambling.

Green wrote: “The students insisted that they were conducting a sociological study designed to determine if the participants in the demonstration fit the ‘stereotypes’ commonly associated with the anti-abortion movement. The questionnaire asked about sex, race, education, political affiliation and religion. The long list of questions included one on how the participants felt about making birth control information available to unmarried teenagers.”

An official of the National Right to Life Organization, as it was then called, said that they had “reviewed” but not “endorsed” the questionaire. How did they respond? In a pretty American way. Green reported that that the NRLO “did not feel it could interfere with the students’ right to ask questions at the rally.”

Catholic schools get nod from Congress

One day after the inaugural hoopla in Washington a quiet measure honoring the contributions of Catholic schools was approved by voice vote in the House. The measure praised Catholic schools for their academic accomplishments, education of minority students, and emphasis on values. It also supported the celebration of  Catholic Schools Week Jan. 25-31 .

In advance of the March for Life …

Riley Huelbig, 15, of the Academy of Our Lady of the Holy Cross in Kensington, Md., participates in a pro-life youth rally at the Verizon Center in Washington Jan. 22. Young people from across the nation packed the arena for the rally and Mass in advance of the annual March for Life. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Riley Huelbig, 15, of the Academy of Our Lady of the Holy Cross in Kensington, Md., participates in a pro-life youth rally at the Verizon Center in Washington Jan. 22. Young people from across the nation packed the arena for the rally and Mass in advance of the annual March for Life. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The 36th March for Life begins in a few minutes (some of us are stuck at our desks), but here are some stories and photos from last night and this morning.

Photos from last night’s vigil Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception are available on our Facebook page (but you don’t need to be a Facebook member to view them). And here are some stories:

Cardinal: Work with officials when ‘we can,’ ‘protest when we must’

State of the Union: March for Life Vigil Mass (from the Arlington Catholic Herald)

Thousands pack national shrine to pray, launch March for Life 2009

‘We are a people of hope,’ Bishop Loverde tells pro-life Mass

UPDATE: Here are more photos from today.

Making a buck off the inauguration

Inauguration-goers on the National Mall watch as Barack Obama becomes the 44th president of the United States Jan. 20 in Washington. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Inauguration-goers on the National Mall watch as Barack Obama becomes the 44th president of the United States Jan. 20 in Washington. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Name it and it was probably for sale somewhere in Washington yesterday as the nation celebrated the inauguration of Barack Obama as the country’s 44th president.

Vendors hawked the usual T-shirts and sweatshirts, political buttons, commemorative programs and photo images on street corners, curbside and even in the middle of normally traffic-filled streets. It was interesting to see how low prices dropped as the day progressed.

Plenty of people also sported knit hats of all different colors displaying “Obama 44th president.”

Hand warmers were, um, a hot-selling item, too. After all, the high for the day was only 32 degrees — in the sun — a very cold day in Washington, even for January.

Then there were the unusual things: Obama water, Obama umbrellas, Obama towels, oversized Obama prints (try carrying them all day in shoulder-to-shoulder throngs without getting them crushed), Obama earrings and Obama hot sauce (which could have been a relabeled product). As they say, anything for a buck.

The other thing I noticed was the tremendous amount of trash on virtually every street. Newspapers, cups, bottles, plastic bags, paper bags, fast-food bags, used hand warmers and even fruit piled up across the pedestrian-only zone around the National Mall.

The perfectly good fruit evidently was pitched when word filtered down the blocks-long security lines on the parade route that it would not be allowed past the checkpoints. Presumably it was possible that someone could have lofted an apple or an orange at the new president if he decided to walk down famed Pennsylvania Avenue or at his brand new limousine. Imagine the Secret Service trying to get a smashed, drippy orange out of the grille of that new multimillion-dollar upgraded Cadillac.

God help the cleanup crews which started last night to clean the stuff an estimated 2 million visitors left behind.

Their fleece was white as snow … presumably

VATICAN CITY — Reporters in the Vatican press office felt baaaad this morning; they thought they were going to get to see closed-circuit footage of Pope Benedict XVI blessing two live lambs.

Instead we got a sound feed of the ceremony that took place in a small room adjacent to the Vatican audience hall.

POPE BLESSES LAMB AT BASILICA OF ST. AGNES IN ROME

Last year Pope Benedict blessed the lambs in Rome's Basilica of St. Agnes. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Today is the feast of St. Agnes, a Roman martyr, and it’s the day the pope traditionally blesses two lambs raised by Trappist monks near Rome.

The lambs are sheared and the wool is given to the cloistered Benedictine nuns at Rome’s Basilica of St. Cecilia. The nuns use the wool to make palliums, which are bands that the heads of archdioceses wear around their shoulders during liturgical functions.

Every year on the June 29 feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the pope places the bands around the necks of archbishops who have taken office in the past year.

Today, after blessing the animals, the pope also asked God to “bless the pastors who will receive the palliums made from the wool of these lambs.”

Hawaii sends blessings for the new president

Barack Obama takes the oath of office as the 44th president of the United States Jan. 20 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (CNS/pool via Reuters)

Barack Obama takes the oath of office at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (CNS/pool via Reuters)

The Hawaii Catholic Herald in Honolulu has posted “An Island blessing for our new president” based partly on the fact that President Obama is the first native son of the state to become president. Editor Patrick Downes explained to us that the prayer is meant for a Hawaiian audience, so some readers won’t understand all the references or words. Still, you may enjoy reading the litany of hopes and prayers from Hawaii for our new president.

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