Annual forum focuses on domestic violence as a pro-life issue

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PROVIDENCE — The diocesan Office of Life and Family’s annual Human Life Guild day was held on Saturday morning, Oct. 5, at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul. The day included Mass, an award ceremony and brunch with noteworthy speakers in the pro-life movement, including on the topic of domestic violence, a focal point of this year’s event. The Human Life Guild is an organization that was created by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin in 2005.
Bishop Tobin welcomed everyone to the Mass and offered gratitude to Carol Owens, the diocesan Life and Family Coordinator, all those involved in the day’s program, the priests who were concelebrating, and said, in part, “We come to our holy Mass today to share in our commitment to life, to encourage one another, and to pray for God’s assistance in our work.”
During his homily, Bishop Tobin shared that although our state has passed some extreme legislation regarding life issues, the faithful have offered a “beautiful witness of the pro-life community in Rhode Island,” and even though we live in “dark and stormy times, there are also times of joy, and victories and successes.”
The Bishop commented that in addition to the faithful having a commitment to protect the life of unborn children, concerns of assisted suicide and domestic violence are legitimate parts of the pro-life agenda.
At the end of Mass, five lay people were presented with the Human Life Guild award. The recipients were two teens, Mark Sapolsky, from St. Luke Parish in Barrington, and Cordelia Ruzzo from SS. John and Paul in Coventry; and three adults, Robert Fougere of St. Joseph Parish in Woonsocket, Debra Carey of St. Pius X in Westerly and Richard Forest from St. John Paul II (St. Cecilia) in Pawtucket. This award is bestowed upon those who are committed to defending and promoting life in their parishes, schools and communities.
After Mass, several of the award recipients shared that they felt humbled by the honor.
“I go out and I try and live my life the best I can,” Sapolsky, 17, said. “My mom is a huge influence on me — she’s a very faithful person. Also, the priests at St. Luke’s, Father Bob Hawkins and Father Brian Morris.”
Carey said the Human Life Guild Day means “hope” to her.
“It is encouraging to see so many people come and unify together who will hopefully bring a culture of death back to a culture of life,” Carey said.
Forest said of pro-life work, “we cannot do it alone but with God’s grace and strength we will continue.”
Father Charles Dahm, O.P., from the Archdiocese of Chicago, was the keynote speaker for the program that followed downstairs in cathedral hall.
His talk focused on domestic violence and the Church’s ability to create change and offer support to victims. He said that people must stop thinking that domestic violence “doesn’t happen in my parish,” because it does, noting that one out of every three women are hit or assaulted in some manner, or stalked by their spouse or partner, and a small percentage of men are victims.
“Verbal and emotional abuses are the most common forms of domestic violence” Father Dahm said, adding that the cause “is a decision to exercise power and control over someone.”
Violence is a learned behavior, not a mental illness, he noted.
Father Dahm believes one way the Church can help raise awareness and address victims’ needs is for priests to offer homilies about domestic violence. He encouraged people to read the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops letter, “When I call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence against Women,” which is available for viewing on the USCCB’s website: www.usccb.org.
He also reminded listeners that the Church doesn’t teach that anyone is expected to stay in an abusive marriage. The Church can help to raise awareness, connect victims to services and talk about how domestic violence can be prevented.
Father Dahm said that it is usually the parish pro-life committee that takes on this ministry because it is about protecting life.
Barth Bracy, executive director of R.I. Right to Life, spoke about the legal and political issues the faithful are currently dealing with in the state, including the role of domestic violence in abortion.
He stressed that “domestic violence contributes to life lost in abortion” because the number one reason for abortion “is the perception of the mother that the father does not want the child.”
Bracy warned that “legislation may be coming that goes after pregnancy centers,” and there may be a battle ahead regarding assisted suicide so “begin praying today.”
Carmen Recaldo-Russo, director of Community Engagement and Communication, spoke about spiritual support for victims, and wondered what Jesus say would to someone who has been a victim of violence.
“He would probably say, with his arms outstretched, ‘Come, and you’ll be safe,’” she said, noting that parish communities can help create a safe place for those in crisis.
Father James Sullivan, O.P., pastor of St. Pius V Parish, Providence, addressed the question, “What can we do to help?”
He discussed the importance of St. Pope Paul VI’s papal encyclical “Humanae Vitae” and how contraception has caused some of today’s problems, encouraging those gathered to read it for themselves, especially Section 17 on the dangers of artificial birth control.
Father Sullivan encouraged parishes to promote Natural Family Planning.
Towards the end of the program, Carol Owens, shared some of her personal experience and knowledge regarding domestic violence.
The event not only honored people who have worked in the pro-life ministry in various capacities, but also encouraged and equipped them to persevere and move forward in faith and confidence.

For more information on to get involved in the Human Life Guild visit https://dioceseofprovidence.org/human-life-guild.