Bishop Richard J. Malone and the diocesan Office of Pro-Life Activities honored those who have stood up in the fight for human life during a special Mass at St. Bernadette Parish in Orchard Park. At the Jan. 13 Mass, Pro-Vita Awards handed out in five categories to people and groups dedicated to the pro-life cause.
It's no coincidence that the awards presentation and Mass take place each year near the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
"We don't celebrate that, but we observe that. It causes us to come together and thank God for the precious gift of human life," Bishop Malone said in welcoming the packed church. "And I thank God for all of you who stand strong for human life, and then ask God's guidance and God's grace as we continue God's efforts in this culture that in so many ways has lost its sense of reverence for human life right across the spectrum."
Pro-Vita Award recipients included Siobhan O'Connor, who currently works as executive assistant in the diocesan chancery. Born a decade after the 1973 decision, O'Conner has been involved in the cause since she was a child, when her parents took her in a wagon to pray in front of an abortion clinic.
"I think growing up knowing that more than a million of my peers in my birth year alone were aborted, that really meant something to me personally," she said. "When I was growing up, my parents were always very active in pro-life, and it was something that I felt personally convicted about. The more involved I became and the more I learned about the political fight we were facing, but also the fight to inform people, the more I wanted to do that on a personal level. Every step along the way I was more and more convinced that this was the most important work I could do, within the Church especially."
She credits watching her mother's pregnancy with her younger brother as showing her the miracle of human life.
"I think witnessing and really knowing all about the new life that was in our family and going through that experience of my mom being pregnant and giving birth and the joy that he brought to us," she said. "That was when I starting thinking about what was going on in other women's lives where they might not be supported and might not be able to let that life come into the world. That was the first time I can remember wanting to be pro-life, so that others could have the joy we had with my little brother."
The Catholic Women of Buffalo Inc., took the award in the organization category. The group supports crisis pregnancy centers financially and spiritually, participate in the Prayer Chain along Niagara Falls Boulevard and the March for Life in Washington, D.C. Members also sign petitions and write to legislators.
"We support living out our Catholic faith to the fullest, and that's all aspects and facets of the faith," said Valerie Zafuto. "I'm a science teacher, so knowing the science behind it, also very close to my faith, I just have that desire to convey that to others and have them live out their Catholic faith to the fullest as well."
Sarah Molitor, who received the youth award, has been committed to life issues since high school when she joined Beggars for Life, a group of high school-aged youth who traveled the eight-county diocese with a mission of collecting 1 million pennies for the pro-life cause. She now works as assistant coordinator at the Mother Teresa Home in Buffalo.
Deacon Steve and Mary Schumer volunteer at the Mother Teresa Home. Deacon Schumer also plans First Friday Mass and other liturgies for the Pro-Life Office. They received the award for religious members.
Aimee Gomlak, vice president in Woman Services at Catholic Health, was recognized for her work on several projects, most recently on getting handheld ultrasound machines in the area so mothers can get a "window into the womb." James Grubka, grand knight of the Knights of Columbus, also worked on the handheld ultrasound project by raising money through the K of C. They received the Pro-Vita Award in the professional category.
Bishop Malone explained that the pro-life cause is not just for Catholics or religious zealots, as he shared a story in his homily about meeting with a student at Harvard University, where the bishop served as chaplain in the 1990s. The campus pro-life group held a strategy meeting, when one young man spoke up, saying, 'Sir, I know most, if not all of the students' gathered here are Catholic, because this is the Catholic students center at the university, and they're here because they are very devoted to the cause of human life. But, you need to know that there are people like me who are not Catholic, and are as committed to the pro-life cause as anyone else.' He said, 'As a matter of fact, I don't even believe in God. But, I'm a post-doctorate fellow here at Harvard in medical microbiology. And I know, simply from the science of it, that when the male and female elements come together at the moment of conception, there's a new being there, and that being cannot be anything other than human.' It was a remarkable thing. And he said, 'With so much violence around the world and so much destruction of human life, I know, as a young scientist, that I need to speak up for human life.'"
Cheryl Calire, diocesan director of Pro-Life Activities, will next lead a contingent of Catholics to Washington, D.C., to participate in the 45th annual March for Life in protest of the Roe v. Wade decision. Buses will depart Thursday, Jan. 18 for the Washington Plaza Hotel.