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Salem parishes come together to defend life

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SALEM -- Three parishes in Salem have pooled their resources in recent years by creating a ministry to defend human life from conception until natural death.

The Salem Pro Life Committee brings together parishioners interested in pro-life ministries from St. James Parish, Immaculate Conception Parish and St. Anne Parish in Salem at monthly meetings to set an agenda for promoting pro-life ministries.

The pastor of Immaculate Conception, Father Timothy Murphy, said the group coordinates efforts based on upcoming local, state and national events supporting life.

"We look to see basically if we can use what is already happening and kind of take advantage of that, promote that, and let people know about it," Father Murphy said.

Recently the Salem Pro Life Committee organized rose drives on Mother's Day to raise money to support Mass Citizens for Life (MCFL). The event raised more than $1,500 at Masses at all three parishes throughout the weekend of May 12 and May 13.

"We also do some events explaining issues, or why the Church takes a stand," Father Murphy said.

The group discussed plans for their next event at their most recent meeting in June.

At the meeting they made plans for their upcoming town meeting panel discussion about opposing the November ballot initiative seeking to legalize physician assisted suicide.

The committee will host the event at the Old Town Hall in Salem from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Sept. 16.

"There needs to be, we felt, some kind of organized response if things are taking place, so that we are able to, for example, do this panel on doctor prescribed suicide for our city, and then spread it out to others," Father Murphy said.

Founding member Philip D. Moran, an attorney known for active defense of pro-life platforms locally and nationally, said the panel will include MCFL chairman of the board David Franks, Worcester general practice physician Dr. John Howland, president of the Guild of St. Luke and a physician at St. Elizabeth's Medical Center Dr. Helen Jackson, and himself -- all opposed to the ballot initiative.

"We are trying to educate people that life is sacred from the moment of conception until the moment that God chooses to take you home, not some doctor," Moran said.

Moran helped start the Salem Pro Life Committee in 2010 when he approached Father Murphy, his pastor at Immaculate Conception, with the idea.

Father Murphy liked the idea of collaborating between parishes on pro-life ministry and in the fall of 2010 called together the first meeting of the group, which now meets on the second Thursday of each month.

Moran said he had worked with parishioners from the other two parishes before that.

"We had a nucleus and we sent out the word," Moran said.

Since Moran had been working on the pro-life front since 1973 as a founding member of MCFL, he had many people from other parishes that he knew would be interested. This created a natural fit for bringing multiple parishes together for one ministry.

The first monthly meeting impressed Moran.

"The turnout was bigger than we expected. I think everybody was pleasantly surprised. Everybody was enthused and anxious to get the pro-life message out," he said.

The group organized events and coordinated efforts promoting Church teachings regarding life from then on and attended their first March for Life in Washington, D.C. in January 2011.

Caroline Ouellette who represents pro-life ministries at St. Anne's knew Moran and became involved with the committee as soon as it started.

"I was surprised that it was as nice as it was, because parishes tend to be islands in and of themselves," she said.

She said her late husband Roger would have supported her in standing up for life, because they worked together on the ministry in their parish over the years.

"We were very different, but we shared our faith, and our strong feelings about life -- the beginning of life and the end of life," Ouellette said.

The mother of two adult children said she remembered feeling appalled when abortion became legal in 1973.

"It blew us away when we both became aware of it. That is why shortly after we got as involved as we could get," she said.

Later in her life one of her adult children asked why she would stand up for life in the face of such support for "the law of the land."

"It really is better to just light one candle than to curse the darkness," she recalled saying.

Ouellette said the awareness regarding pro-life issues increased in her parish since becoming part of the committee.

"The issue of pro-life has become a little bit more visible in my parish, with little excerpts put in the bulletin about pro-life, and that was not the case before," she said.

Father John Sheridan, the pastor of St. James, said the committee came together to combat a shift toward cultural values that place choice as a priority over life.

"Our culture is just walking away from those essentials that life is sacred, that life is holy, and I cannot help but notice with such sadness life getting so cheapened," he said.

Father Sheridan said the value of life is an essential that should be respected by society.

"The Church has always stood strongly, and often we are the only voice left proclaiming that life is sacred, life is holy, and that each of us has a responsibility to proclaim the truth. We live in a society that says, oh, that's your opinion. It is not a question of opinion. It is a question of the truth," he said.

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