My Dear Friends,
Every year since my appointment as Bishop of Scranton in 2010, I have been privileged to join with many of you for the annual March for Life in our nation’s capital to give witness to our shared belief that all human life is sacred and must be protected – especially the lives of the unborn, who are unable to protect themselves.
This year, because of the coronavirus and, frankly, out of concern for the safety of all who might gather in our nation’s capital in light of the tragic events and the blatant disrespect for life that we’ve witnessed during the past week, the March for Life will take place in a different way. While some will still likely gather in Washington, faithful souls who treasure life from throughout our diocese and country have mobilized at local levels using all sorts of virtual platforms to advocate for the right to life of the unborn. As a result, the 2021 commemoration of the tragic Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion has the potential to make our message on behalf of human life and the unborn heard more loudly than ever before.
In an address to the Pontifical Academy for Life in June 2018, Pope Francis asserted, “Our defense of the innocent unborn needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of the human person, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her age or stage of development.” As such, for us as Catholics, respecting life, especially the unborn, is intrinsic to our identity as people of faith. It admits no denial, no exception and no compromise.
If we have learned nothing else during this very difficult year in which our world has been enveloped by the deadly coronavirus pandemic, most of us have come to appreciate the value of human life as never before. We’ve also come to understand that so much of life is beyond our ability to control and, on our own, we are helpless to address the challenges that confront us. Only by handing ourselves over to the power of God and working together to care for the lives that have been given to us, will we ever discover a way forward filled with peace and hope for all.
The theme selected for this year’s March for Life – Together Strong: Life Unites – is rather providential, given the divisions that exist within our land, as evidenced by the recent events in our nation’s capital. Ironically, within the past year that has been fraught by so much suffering and loss of life, the value of something as fundamental to our lives as Christians as the dignity of the human person – from the moment of conception to natural end – tragically seems to have evaporated in the face of political and ideological divisions that have enveloped our country and even our Church.
A year ago, the U.S. Bishops affirmed, “the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.” The Bishops did not, however, conclude their teaching on the value of human life with a focus solely on life in the womb. To the contrary, the Bishops went on to propose a more comprehensive perspective, “At the same time, we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.”
While our focus during these latter days of January has traditionally witnessed the value and dignity of the unborn life, we can never authentically embrace such a reality without including a plea to respect every life as having been made in the image and likeness of God. One wonders what will become of our land if we continue to advocate for laws that subjectively respect life in some forms while disregarding its value in its earliest stages of development. The words of Pope Saint John Paul II offer a sobering perspective, “When some lives, including the unborn, are subjected to the personal choices of others, no other value or right will long be guaranteed.”
Make no mistake about it; our work in defense of human life is far from over. Thank God for the efforts of so many who work, pray and witness on behalf of life! Locally, in the Diocese of Scranton, through the good efforts of those who work with agencies and programs such as Saint Joseph’s Center, Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton, Friends of the Poor, Rachel’s Vineyard and organizations like Pennsylvanians for Human Life, a difference for good has and continues to be made.
This year, I invite you to avail yourselves of the many opportunities that are being provided in the Diocese of Scranton to witness to life. On Friday, January 22, 2021, the 48th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, I will celebrate a Mass for Life at 12:10 p.m. in Saint Peter’s Cathedral in observance of the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children and have invited all of our parishes to celebrate the Mass for Giving Thanks to God for the Gift of Human Life on the same day. The Cathedral Mass will be broadcast live on Catholic Television of the Diocese of Scranton and on other diocesan social media outlets. Additionally, a Rosary for Life featuring faithful from across our Diocese and resources for the “9 Days for Life Novena” are available on our diocesan website, among many other prayer opportunities. Finally, countless numbers of faithful, particularly young people from our parishes and schools, are organizing local prayer gatherings and socially distant marches through their local communities to raise awareness of the sanctity of human life and the singular treasure of the unborn.
Brothers and sisters, may we come to understand that together, we are indeed strong and are united by God’s singular gift of life. May our recognition of the presence of God within the lives of all who have been created in his image and likeness give us the courage and resolve to love generously and to proclaim ever more boldly Jesus’ Gospel of Life.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Joseph C.Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton