CRANSTON — The annual diocesan Respect Life Mass drew a large crowd on Saturday morning as pro-life advocates from around the state gathered at St. Paul’s Church to pray for greater protection of human life in all its stages.
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Bishop Thomas J. Tobin served as principal celebrant, with Father Adam Young, Father Christopher Mahar, Father Jaime Garcia, Father Stephen Dandeneau and Father Brian Sistare concelebrating. Msgr. Albert Kenney, Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, offered the homily.
“My pro-life friends, we gather here today in this beautiful church of St. Paul to renew our promise to be people of life, people of prayer and people who stand against the tragic reality of abortion,” said Msgr. Kenney during the homily. “Every child is a child of God and every child bears the face of Jesus.”
Msgr. Kenney recalled the events of the winter and spring of 2015, when Bishop Tobin asked him to attend to an important matter with regard to respect for life and the defense of human dignity. In January of that year, a male fetus, about 19–20 weeks gestation, was found amid the sewage at the Bucklin Point Wastewater Treatment Facility in East Providence. A worker at the facility reported the find to the police, who investigated the matter in conjunction with the State Medical Examiner’s Office.
At the end of a five-month investigation, and at the request of Bishop Tobin, the body was released to the custody of the diocese for burial in Gate of Heaven Cemetery. Bishop Tobin presided at the funeral of the child – whom he named “Francis” in honor of Pope Francis – on June 10 in a section of the cemetery reserved for the burial of babies. Among those present were a small group of pro-life advocates and Msgr. Kenney, who had remained in contact with the authorities throughout the investigation.
“That morning, we prayed the prayers of commendation as we commended the soul of this baby to God’s unbounded mercy,” said Msgr. Kenney. “I must tell you that for me, the whole experience personalized and embodied the mission of the pro-life movement.”
Like many of those present, Msgr. Kenney said he had frequently attended pro-life rallies and prayed for greater respect for human life. The encounter with Baby Francis, however, and the role of advocating to ensure the child received a proper burial, had placed a human face on the pro-life movement and reminded him of the very personal nature of every abortion, which always leaves a victim though the victim is not usually seen.
“This was different. Life had not only been taken, but life discarded and thrown away. The starkness of the loss confronted all who gathered at the cemetery that day to bury that tiny casket of Baby Francis.”
Msgr. Kenney concluded by calling upon all those present to continue to support the pro-life movement with strength and wisdom and to offer a prayer of gratitude for the unity of discipleship as they answer God’s call to speak up for the most vulnerable.
“There’s so many of you here today in this church, both young and old. Your prayers, your commitment, your love are true signs of our common mission on behalf of the innocent lives of the unborn, the infirm, the disabled and the elderly.”
During the Mass, a group of children from St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Providence, honored an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe with a presentation of roses while Father Garcia, pastor at St. Charles Borromeo, recited a prayer of intercession for unborn children and for families affected by abortion. The Missionary Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe visited St. Paul Church as it traveled between the parishes of the diocese during the month of January, offering opportunities for veneration and for prayers for the unborn.
Following the Mass, pro-life advocates gathered for a reception next door in St. Paul School. According to Bishop Tobin and event organizer Carol Owens, coordinator of the Office of Life and Family Ministry, attendance at the Mass was among the highest it has been in recent years.
“I think it is the largest turnout we’ve had for this Mass. We’re grateful to God for that,” said Bishop Tobin.
Jim Gilcreast, a parishioner of Mary, Mother of Mankind Church, North Providence, served in Bishop Tobin’s honor guard at the Mass alongside his fellow Knights of Columbus. A past state deputy, Gilcreast said he has been attending the Respect Life Mass for as long as it has been held in the diocese.
“We’ve been on board since Roe v. Wade and I know I personally did my first pro-life rally back on Boston Common in 1974,” he said.
Gilcreast said that as a Catholic men’s group, the Knights of Columbus have an obligation to lobby for greater protections for the unborn.
“The Knights are the strong right arm of the Church, and who else needs more protection than the unborn?” he said.
Also in attendance was Lorrain Beaudoin, a parishioner at St. Joseph Church. In addition to serving as respect life coordinator at her parish, Beaudoin prays the rosary in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Providence on Wednesdays and some Saturday mornings. She said that for her, respect for human life is the most basic of all Catholic issues.
“If you’re for the unborn, you’re for everyone,” she said. “Our priority really should be life and everything else will follow.”
The Respect Life Mass is held annually in the Diocese of Providence on the Saturday preceding the national March for Life in Washington, D.C. This year, more than 100 Rhode Islanders are expected to travel to the march on a bus pilgrimage organized by the Office of Life and Family Ministry.