The diocesan Office of Pro-Life Activities presented the annual Pro-Vita Awards during a special Mass on Jan. 21 at St. Christopher Parish in Tonawanda. The Pro-Vita Awards were established in the Diocese of Buffalo in 1995 and are presented to people who best exemplify respect for all life.
Maria Suchyna, a youth recipient, became a part of the pro-life movement at the age of 9, after seeing an image of a late-term aborted baby. Ten years later, she interned at the diocesan Pro-Life Office, assisting its director, Cheryl Calire, with everything from paperwork and diaper drives, to lobbying in Albany.
"I got to see the world she lives in. I got to see the women that she works with. I interned at Project Rachel and I got to talk to some of the women who are really struggling with post-abortive depression," she said. "Basically, it was a lot of different odd jobs. Doing all the little things in the best way that you can, that's how saints are made."
Canisius High School's campus ministry accepted an award for organizations. A crew of nearly 50 students helped empty and clean the former St. Adalbert Rectory in Buffalo to transform the house into the St. Mother Teresa Home. The school regularly reaches out to aid the residents of Buffalo's East Side and was glad to accept Calire's request for help at the home, which provides a safe and stabile home for mothers who have been exposed to pressure, violence or neglect in regards to their pregnancy.
"This is one of the ways we could get our boys involved and see wonderful people like Mr. and Mrs. Calire who changed their lives to really give everything they had to change the city," said Ron Ahrens, Canisius' service director.
Dr. Gloria Roetzer, a pediatrician, accepted the award for professionals.
"I love children and I always wanted to take care of little kids," she said of her career choice.
She recently became involved in Catholic Medical Association, which upholds the principles of the Catholic faith in the practice of medicine. "So, it's making sure what you do is morally, ethically right," she explained.
Although recently retired after 23 years of practice, Roetzer plans to open a Catholic pediatric practice, where she would allow Catholic imagery and prayer in her office.
"It's trying to make people aware, and let their choices (be considered) versus working to what the dictates of mandates from insurance or from government or whatever. It's more about caring for the people," she explained.
Also accepting awards for their work were Cheryl Zielen-Ersing, Project Rachel ministry coordinator for the Pro-Life Office, and Father Jeffrey Nowak, parochial vicar of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Niagara Falls, who serves as priest liaison for Project Rachel Ministry.
Bishop Richard J. Malone, who served as main celebrant at the Mass, reflected on the day's readings from Isaiah by asking why Jesus chose simple fishermen to follow him rather than scholars.
"Perhaps they were just good men, good people, who are not easily discouraged, patient, persevering, determined, hard working," he said.
These men spent three years with Jesus in formation, working with him and watching Him heal the sick and forgive sins. Even after significant setbacks, they knew Jesus's mission could not be defeated. After Pentecost, the bishop pointed out, they would set out on their own mission to catch people for Jesus. "And so too, are we."
"We're also sent on mission as those fishermen were to bring the Good News and the hope and the joy of the Gospel of Life to the people of our communities, to our nation, to the world," he said.
Bishop Malone shared some good news with the packed church. 2015, the last year for statistics on abortion, had the lowest number of abortions in the country this century. The bishop chalks this up to conversion of hearts and minds.
"Our work continues to be daunting," he said. "Our mission is bigger than this, but this is a very, critically important part of our mission as Christians, as Catholics. Right now, as we celebrate this year's Pro-Vita Mass and we honor those who have really given themselves to this work in particular ways, we have some very serious work to do right away here in New York state."
Currently, two bills are in Albany. One, Assembly Bill 1748, would expand abortion up until the ninth month of pregnancy and allow any health care practitioner to perform abortions. The bill just passed the Assembly. Assembly Bill 10059 would allow physician-assisted suicide.
"People who say they want to kill themselves are often clinically depressed. Is that any kind of condition in which to decide that I want to end my life?" the bishop pointed out. If passed, the bill could open the door to elder abuse, turn doctors into killers and discriminate against people with disabilities.
"I beg you, as your bishop, take the time to learn the details of these bills. They're not difficult to read through," Bishop Malone said.