October is Respect Life Month, during which Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and around the nation highlight their witness to the dignity of every human life.
Parishes will kick off the month by marking Respect Life Sunday at Masses the weekend of Oct 2 and 3. While the month of October is typically filled with events that promote the sacredness of human life, including the archdiocese’s annual Respect Life Convention, it’s also a reminder of the importance of promoting a culture of life throughout the year.
The U.S. bishops’ theme for this year’s Respect Life Month is inspired by St. Joseph as a defender of life. During the Year of St. Joseph (concluding Dec. 8, 2021), the Holy Father has invited others to reflect more deeply on how St. Joseph loved Jesus with a father’s heart. Through his unhesitating adherence to God’s will as he protected the Christ child and Blessed Mother, St. Joseph serves as a witness to the call of Christians to safeguard God’s gift of human life.
The archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate promotes four pillars in promoting a culture of life: spiritual, pastoral care, education and public policy. “We’re here to minister to the people in our community,” said director Cynthia Haehnel. “We feel this is our mission now.”
The apostolate has been working to build upon its parish coordinator program, said program coordinator Madeleine Appelbaum. “We’re looking to equip them to be on the front line of building a culture of life,” said Appelbaum. “People come forward with a passion” for life issues, and “we want to take that passion and excitement to further empower them” in their roles.
Resources include foundational documents on Church teaching, including papal encyclicals such as “Evangelium Vitae,” local pro-life resources and more on the mission of the Respect Life Apostolate to live a culture of life through the areas of pastoral and spiritual care, education and public policy. “We’re meeting people where they are and with their needs,” Appelbaum said. “We’re empowering them to respond in mercy and compassion and joy” to these serious and heavy issues.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Convent
The Our Lady of Guadalupe convent recently received a boost with the hiring of Amy Kosta as program coordinator. The convent was established in 2017 by Archbishop Emeritus Robert J. Carlson as a place of hospitality and prayer for people peacefully witnessing outside of Missouri’s last abortion facility, located across the street from the convent in St. Louis.
Kosta, whose position is supported by funding from the Annual Catholic Appeal, is working toward expanding opportunities for parishes, schools and youth groups to visit the convent for Mass, eucharistic adoration and visits with the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, who staff the convent.
The Respect Life Apostolate also is building upon its abortion healing ministry, which has expanded to include Rachel’s Vineyard. Founded in the mid-1990s by Catholic psychologist Theresa Burke, the retreat model features a trained team, including a priest and professional therapist, and leads participants “through the critical steps of healing after abortion and helping them encounter the merciful love of Jesus Christ, the Divine Physician,” said Haehnel.
Two retreats are being planned in February and September of 2022 and are open to women, men and couples. The program expands upon the existing Project Rachel and Project Joseph programs, both of which provide healing to women and men affected by an abortion. Rachel’s Vineyard also offers up to six weeks of follow-up care after the retreat. A separate Bible study is offered to anyone who has participated in Rachel’s Vineyard, Project Rachel or Project Joseph. The Respect Life Apostolate also has been involved with training local facilitators for Rachel’s Vineyard retreats.
In a continued response to the U.S. bishops’ Walking with Moms initiative, the Respect Life Apostolate also is expanding its inventory of resources to include areas focused on pre-conception, pre-birth and after the birth of a child. A series of brochures, business cards and website are being planned for 2022.