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41st annual Respect Life Convention is a day to re-energize, celebrate life

The message at this year's Respect Life Convention was clear — we will never give up.

With more than 700 in attendance at the 41st annual convention Oct. 22 at the St. Charles Convention Center, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson set the tone for the afternoon with a clarion call: "We will not falter, we will not give up, we will not quit. We're in it for the long haul."

In 2017, the pro-life movement has experienced numerous successes, including the passage of SB 5, a landmark pro-life legislation set to go into effect Oct. 24. Also of note is the Our Lady of Guadalupe Convent, which was established last month next door to Planned Parenthood as a center for prayer and hospitality. The convent is staffed by two Franciscan Sisters of Charity from Manitowoc, Wis.

With those successes have come adversities, including a recent legal challenge of SB 5 by several Planned Parenthood branches and the ACLU of Missouri; and the announcement that Planned Parenthood would resume abortions in Kansas City and Columbia, Mo.

Keynote speaker John Foppe urged conventiongoers to persist in those moments of adversity, and to rely on faith in God, rather than simply taking matters into our own hands.

The executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of St. Louis shared his story of being born without arms. While the limitations of what he can do might be considered a cross, those limitations must be considered a normal part of life. The question is: what do we do in the midst of those limitations?

There are times when we feel like giving up, and Foppe has seen that first-hand with the people served through the St Vincent de Paul Society. Foppe urged conventiongoers to persist in those moments. When we recognize our powerlessness, then we can give it over to faith, he said.

God uses our personal suffering to do great things, he noted. Secular culture teaches us to follow our passions, but that pursuit is often self-centered. "God may not be calling you to pursue your passion," he said. "Perhaps He's asking you to take up His mission."

Afternoon workshops at the convention included having a dialogue about abortion (see related), fetal development, diagnosis and therapy, taking a pro-life stance on campus, end of life health care decisions and adoption.

Reflecting on this year's convention theme, "Celebrate Life," Respect Life Apostolate executive director Karen Nolkemper noted that the day was to "unite and galvanize the troops. We're here to celebrate life and to be energized by the courage of so many. John Foppe's example was a reminder than when we pick up the cross and follow God's will, we can encourage others to build a culture of life."

Nolkemper also highlighted the importance of bringing together pro-life and social justice issues in recognition that the Church is pro-life in a whole-life way. "People are starting to think with broader brushes and to unite, supporting and sustaining the dignity of life at all stages." 

>> 2017 awardees

Steve Rupp, president of Missouri Right to Life, was the recipient of the Cardinal John J. Carberry Award. The award is presented annually at the Respect Life Convention to an individual or group who has made a significant contribution to the pro-life cause.

Rupp is manager of member support with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of St. Louis. He also volunteers as a teacher with the Respect Life Apostolate's Right START program, and dresses up as Santa Claus to visit babies in the NICU at Mercy Hospital.

Students at St. Joseph's Academy received the annual Bishop Joseph A. McNicholas Award. The award is presented to a Catholic high school or parish youth group that exemplifies a consistent ethic of respect for all life. The school was cited for its numerous pro-life efforts, including the Cup of Joe coffee house, campus ministry, overseas mission work, homelessness awareness and Diversity Club.

Additionally, students at St. Ignatius in Marthasville were recognized as winner of the Respect Life Apostolate's Pro-Life Video Challenge. Students ages 8-15 were involved in the making of the video, which highlighted the convention's theme of "Celebrate Life." 

Abortion: From Debate to Dialogue

How do we change hearts and minds on the topic of abortion? It's a question that has taken much thought and work for decades. Justice for All, a nonprofit organization based in Wichita, Kan., is working to make abortion unthinkable through its "Abortion: From Debate to Dialogue" training program, presented as a two-part workshop at the Respect Life Convention.

Every person has the ability to make a difference with dialogue, said presenter Rebecca Haschke. But that dialogue is only good as long as its put into practice. Participants walked through several scripted conversations, as they were urged to keep three things in mind:

• Ask questions with an open heart: Questions should generally start with a "What?" or "Why?" and seek to gather information, receive clarification and learn reasons or evidence from the other person.

• Listen to understand: We aren't here to refute the other person, Haschke said. We must internalize it with a desire to understand.

• Find common ground when possible: Don't compromise the pro-life position, she said, but find statements in the conversation where both people can find common ground. For someone who says abortion should be legal because of women who find themselves in poverty, we can find common ground in addressing the underlying issue — helping women in poverty.

Sometimes, there are situations in which there isn't much time for discussion. In situations where the person says they're not certain where life begins or that "science doesn't tell us," Justice for All has a quick 10-second response, which is much more approachable than a 10-minute lecture, Haschke said.

"If the unborn is growing, isn't it alive?

And if it has human parents, isn't it human?

And living humans, or human beings like you and me, are valuable, aren't they?"

We must remember, "I can't change anyone's mind, and neither can you," Haschke said. "Only that person can. We have to present it in a way to help them. You can have all the knowledge, but if you don't have humility, you're not going to change many hearts and minds."

To learn more about Justice for All, including its training program, speakers and presentations, visit www.jfaweb.org. 

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