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Bridging the religious divide to safeguard life

Kris Dmytrenko

Monday, September 7, 2009

In response to Fr. Thomas Rosica's post “Senator Edward Kennedy’s funeral: On mercy and misery”, some readers have asked what S+L (and Fr. Rosica, specifically) have contributed to the pro-life cause. I regret that they missed our 2009 March for Life coverage and our acclaimed documentary on St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Love is a Choice. Our pro-life programming is too numerous to detail here (with more to come this season), but our unwavering position on life and family issues is well known to those who watch us—not to mention to those who know us personally. We received this comment from a Jewish viewer, who gives a first-hand account of a commitment that goes beyond the airwaves.
Newman Centre, University of TorontoYou may find it strange that a Jewish person would be writing to a Catholic blog. We first encountered Fr. Rosica when he became the pastor of the Newman Centre at the University of Toronto in 1994. He had just returned from studies in Jerusalem and was acquainted with our Jewish friends who run a bakery not far from the Newman Centre at the U of T. Fr. Rosica and his colleagues, especially some elderly nuns working with him, and several of his congregants, were the first Catholics we ever befriended.
We are all observant Jews. Catholics are not the only people who have a monopoly on pro-life issues. When we learned of Fr. Rosica’s strong efforts for the causes of life, we offered our assistance. What transpired was something unforgettable: a joint outreach, through the Newman Centre, to young women contemplating abortions and many of their young male friends.
Over the course of Fr. Rosica’s term at the centre, a quiet effort was launched to intervene with many young women who had visited the sex-ed centre on campus and were advised to have therapeutic abortions. Fr. Rosica and his nun friends and several of his congregants would contact us and we, a small group of Jewish friends, would provide clothing, furniture, and on several occasions temporary housing for the young women. All of this had to be done with discretion to protect the young women. Some of the outreach took place through a coffee shop that Fr. Rosica eventually installed in the lower floor of the Newman Centre. Upon his departure, the coffee shop was closed.
My wife and I believe that we assisted Fr. Rosica with at least six young women in preventing abortions. Our circle of friends assisted him with many more who procured abortions and dealt with the tragic aftermath. We found in this priest someone who was clearly on the side of life, and who fought for it. Having attended several of his masses in a small chapel on the campus, we were struck at how far reaching was the message of the safeguarding of life… from its first moments until death by natural causes.
We bid farewell to Fr. Rosica in 2000 when he was called to manage a large endeavor for his church that involved many young people coming to Canada along with the Pope. Having attended his farewell at the Newman Centre on a June day in 2000, we received from him a lovely gift and a bound document of the Pope with the title “Evangelium Vitae.”
You can imagine our surprise when we reconnected with Fr. Rosica this past spring after not having seen him for nearly nine years except for some appearances on television when the Pope died. My wife and I and our friends had heard that the new Pope would be visiting Eretz Israel in May 2009. We discovered through Rogers Cable that we could subscribe to a Catholic Television Network named “Salt + Light” to watch the Pope’s visit to Israel. We were delighted to learn that Fr. Rosica was behind this initiative. Initially we planned on subscribing to the network for one month only. Our initial delight with the coverage of the Holiness’ visit to Israel developed into a fascination with things Catholic. The presence of young people offering significant reflections, the welcome commentaries of Fr. Rosica, the intelligible presentations of the faith, led from curiosity to reflection to interest in the Catholic faith. We realized the deep love and respect Catholics have for Judaism. We viewed on numerous occasions a documentary on Euthanasia and were moved to tears in hearing the testimonies offered by many people caught in this debate. We found a new perspective about the myths surrounding Pope Pius XII. We heard consistently a call to safeguard life. While others ranted and raved in the public sphere about abortion, on Salt + Light we heard about the mitzvah given to each of us to uphold life. We regularly read the Salt + Light blog and discover many things about the Catholic Church and about our own Jewish traditions.
We followed with great interest a national march for life in Ottawa. What surprised us was that there was no mention whatsoever on any national news networks of such an event in Ottawa. Salt + Light provided excellent coverage in a driving rain in Ottawa. We mused that if pro-life organizers in this country spoke with a more intelligible and clear voice, they might be heard in public.
We found it striking that at the conclusion of the Holiness’ visit to Israel in May, Fr. Rosica offered an in-depth commentary on the Papal visit on the national news of CBC on the morning that coincided with the March for Life. Fortunately Fr. Rosica told the woman commentator why he was in the Ottawa CBC studio that day: “to cover the March for Life.” We would have otherwise not known about such an event in Canada.
All of this to say that as outsiders peering in to your Church and Catholic world, and as people who cherish the gift of life as you say you do, there is something wrong with the picture you are offering the rest of the world these days. It seems to us that our G-d wants us to speak with one clear voice about life, about mercy and hope.
Anyone who loves life knows that figures like Senator Kennedy are terribly weak and flawed, and that they let us all down in their efforts to protect and defend human life. But there are many Edward Kennedy’s, not only in the United States but here in Canada. What do we do to help such individuals to recognize their blindness and choose life? Condemning such people, in life and in death, is not the answer.
As we read the Salt + Light blog these past days, and other sites authored by those who are “pro-life” we are chagrined and shocked to see such meanness, anger and venom directed at your own Church leaders. There is something wrong with this picture. And we are deeply saddened that the priest who enabled us to work together to save some human lives, and the television network he helped to launch, would be maligned and judged falsely.
We can only work toward a so-called culture of life when we put down our arms, abandon self-righteousness, and build one another up. This is the tikkun ha’olam we need bring about together.
Thank you for Salt + Light Television that reunited us after all these years. On behalf of my family and those who helped Fr. Rosica years ago, we want him to know that we are still there when he needs us. When we return to Canada in a few months, we will be sure to visit with Fr. Rosica.
H Rothstein

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