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Founding members honored at Women Affirming Life breakfast


Several of the founding members of Women Affirming Life Helen Jackson, Barbara Thorp, Sister Christine Setticase, Laura Garcia, Fran Hogan, Mary Ann Glendon and Marianne Luthin pose for a photo at the organization's annual Mass and Breakfast Dec. 8. Pilot photo/ Jacqueline Tetrault

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NORWOOD -- Four generations of women, some accompanied by their husbands and children, gathered at Four Points by Sheraton on Dec. 8 for the annual Women Affirming Life Mass and Breakfast.

The theme for this year's Mass was "Mary in Advent: Model for All Women Affirming Life." The celebrant was Father David Pignato, director of human formation at St. John's Seminary.

In his homily, Father Pignato spoke about how the feast of the Immaculate Conception relates to the season of Advent and what it reveals about divine providence, which he defined as God's plan for guarding his creation and guiding it toward perfection.

"The world is not perfect, but God does have a plan of perfection for what he created, so he is not afraid to intervene in the world, both directly and indirectly, to make things happen," Father Pignato said.

He said Advent is a good time to think and pray for God's providence because in this season the Church recalls how God intervened to prepare the world for its redemption and the incarnation of his son. These preparations included the words of prophets, such as Isaiah, and the miracle of Mary's Immaculate Conception. Father Pignato emphasized that though Mary was sinless, she was free to say "no" when God asked her to cooperate with his plan.

"The redemption of the whole world was determined by the free response of one young woman affirming life. At the critical moment of the Incarnation, Mary taught the world and all of us how to use our freedom to cooperate with God's plan and how to be coworkers with God in the mystery of divine providence," Father Pignato said.

"God has a plan for each of us, and he is asking us to cooperate with it generously, just as Mary did," he said.

The Mass was followed by a buffet breakfast. Attendees ate at tables with vases of lilies symbolizing the Annunciation as centerpieces.

Louisa Conwill and Grace Nathala, both from the Boston chapter of Pure In Heart, came for their first and second time, respectively. Conwill, 23, said she thought she would be one of the youngest people at the event, excluding babies. She was pleased to see that was not the case, as groups of high school students were also present.

"I think people who are middle-aged or older think it's a powerful witness to see someone my age here, but for me it's such a powerful witness to see high schoolers here. So, I think that had the biggest impact on me," Conwill told the Pilot after the meal.

Marianne Luthin, director of the archdiocese's Pro-Life Office, presented an award to Dr. Helen Jackson, an obstetrician-gynecologist and founding member of Women Affirming Life, who will retire soon. Two of Jackson's patients accompanied her to the breakfast.

Frances Hogan introduced the keynote speaker, Professor Mary Ann Glendon. Both Hogan and Glendon are founding members of Women Affirming Life.

Hogan recalled that she first met Glendon as a law student, when Glendon was the first female faculty member at Boston College Law School. Glendon was also the first woman to represent the Vatican and later served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. She is currently the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Last April, the University of Notre Dame's Center for Ethics and Culture awarded Glendon the Evangelium Vitae Medal for her work in affirming the dignity of human life.

The topic of Glendon's keynote was "The Pro-Life Movement: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow." She spoke of Women Affirming Life's inception in 1989 as a response to a "relentless" campaign to portray the pro-life movement as anti-women.

"A key part of that idea was to show the true face of the pro-life movement," Glendon said, noting that it "has always been predominantly composed of women."

She said the Women Affirming Life founders felt their beliefs and actions were confirmed when John Paul II published the encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" in 1995.

"Now, after almost 30 years, I think it's fair to say that Women Affirming Life is a very good example of what has given the prolife movement in this country its great staying power. It was built from the ground up by men and women from every walk of life offering what they could with what they had. And that's the secret, I believe, of the progress that the pro-life movement has made in the places where it counts most: in the hearts and minds of American men and women," Glendon said.

She said the pro-life movement has seen achievements, such as a decline in abortion over the last 30 years. On the other hand, new challenges have emerged, such as gene-editing technology and an increase in the practice of euthanasia.

Glendon spoke at length about recent and ongoing legal attacks on religious foster care and adoption agencies. There are over 400,000 children in the United States' foster care system, she said.

"You would think, under these circumstances, that the last thing cities and states would ever want to do is to close down longtime, successful foster care arrangements. Yet that is precisely what has happened," she said, pointing to states where religious adoption and foster care agencies have shut down rather than obey state laws that would force them to place children with unmarried or same-sex couples.

"Thousands of at-risk children have been needlessly deprived of the chance of a safe and loving home, solely because those governments would not tolerate diversity, which is otherwise their favorite word, among service providers," Glendon said.

This can happen, she said, because "when finding a home for children in need comes in conflict with identity politics, ideology has won out in all too many places. I hasten to add that this is not just a Catholic issue. This has had an enormous impact on all religious agencies nationwide."

She cited the United States' "tradition of granting reasonable accommodations for the sake of protecting religious freedom," going back to George Washington allowing Quakers not to enlist in the army.

"What is at stake here is not only the welfare of children, but religious freedom," Glendon said.

"All this is by way of saying that there will be no shortage of work in the future for a movement that is 'pro-woman, pro-child, pro-life, and pro-poor,'" Glendon said.

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