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Deacons promote life through prayer, community engagement

  • Deacon John Barry of St. Mary Parish in Holliston removes the Blessed Sacrament from the monstrance at the conclusion of a Holy Hour for Life Jan. 18. Pilot photo/courtesy George Martell
  • Participants bow their heads during the Holy Hour for Life at St. Mary, Holliston. Pilot photo/courtesy George Martell

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BRAINTREE -- Every January, around the time of the annual March for Life and the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, parishes across the archdiocese hold Holy Hours for Life to pray for the unborn and mourn lives lost to abortion. These prayerful gatherings are largely the result of the efforts of deacons, who keep the pro-life cause alive in their communities throughout the year.

When a permanent deacon is ordained, he is assigned to serve both in a parish and in one of the ministries of the archdiocese. The Pro-Life Office, led by director Marianne Luthin, is one of those ministries.

"We are blessed to have nine deacons assigned on a part-time basis to the Pro-Life Office. Their leadership with the annual Holy Hours for Life is remarkable," Luthin said.

Speaking to The Pilot on Jan. 7, Luthin said the deacons have done "a tremendous job."

"I do quite a bit of work with other dioceses, but nobody does this like our deacons in Boston," she said.

The deacons who work for the Pro-Life Office may hold Holy Hours in their own parishes, but they also contact other deacons and pastors to encourage them to do so. Last year, Luthin said, approximately 170 parishes in the archdiocese held Holy Hours for Life.

Deacon Chuck Rossignol of Immaculate Conception Parish in Marlboro is one of the deacons assigned to the Pro-Life Office. Since his ordination in 2015, his parish has held a Holy Hour for Life every year on the evening before the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. This year, the parish is expanding the event to begin with a Holy Hour, include 24 hours of Eucharistic Adoration, and end with the celebration of the Mass.

"Everything that we can do around the sacraments, praying for grace, and offering sacrifice for the conversion of sinners and the conversion of hearts, will have, from my perspective, the greatest potential for effecting change downstream," Deacon Rossignol said.

Deacon John Barry's parish, St. Mary in Holliston, has held a Holy Hour for Life every year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, since that day is always close to the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. They hold it at the end of the long weekend so that people who travel over the holiday can attend it upon their return. This year, Father Michael Zimmerman came to the Holy Hour, held on Jan. 18, to speak about how the Eucharist is connected to the pro-life cause.

"The two things that are probably the nearest and dearest to my heart, both as a Catholic and as a deacon, are Christ's presence in the Eucharist and the cause for life," Deacon Barry said.

His parish will host the Vatican International Exhibit of Eucharistic Miracles from Feb. 26-28. He sees this as being connected to their pro-life work, since "every successful act of our pro-life movement begins with the Source of Life."

"For me, it comes down to this: what could be more important than to be with Jesus and to embrace Jesus in his Eucharist? He is life, greater than life itself. That's why I think it's so important to make ourselves available to him and to spend time with him, because he's from where we'll gain all of our source of life and fulfillment," Deacon Barry said.

While the coronavirus pandemic has reduced the number of parishes holding Holy Hours, the ones that can do so are utilizing technology to allow people to participate virtually. St. Mary's not only live-streamed their Holy Hour on their website, but also broadcast it on Holliston Cable Access Television. Deacon Barry said he sees this as "another way to try to reach beyond the walls" of the church.

"I think that's really what Christ is asking us to do, as he told his first disciples, go out to all the nations and spread the Gospel message," he said.

While the Holy Hour for Life may be the deacons' most well-known pro-life project, it is by no means the only one. Nor is abortion the only life issue their work addresses. This is evident in the work of Deacon Tim Maher of Immaculate Conception Parish in Weymouth.

Deacon Maher serves as dean of graduate studies at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. He draws on his background in biology and chemistry in his pro-life advocacy. Even before he was ordained a deacon and assigned to the Pro-Life Office, he was sometimes invited to various parishes to give talks or speak to religious education classes about pro-life issues.

In 2012, Deacon Maher and others from the Pro-Life Office were involved in fighting a proposal to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Massachusetts. They visited different parishes to speak about the importance of pro-life issues, particularly at the end of life. Their efforts helped to defeat the measure.

In a Jan. 11 interview, Deacon Maher explained his belief that being "pro-life" means defending life at all stages, not just in the womb. While the term is often used only in relation to abortion, he said, "there's a lot more to it, because it's from the moment of conception to natural death."

"When we talk about any issue that has implications for life, which would include caring for people who are sick, caring for the poor, those people on the margins, those are all life issues," Deacon Maher said.

He also stressed the need to support the unborn and their parents as well as the disabled and those approaching death.

"We as Catholics cannot just say that we're opposed to abortion or we're opposed to physician-assisted suicide without having the willingness to support the people, the infants that are to be born and also the elderly who are going to go through a dying process," Deacon Maher said.

Some parishes do this by holding "baby showers" or drives to benefit pro-life organizations. The Weymouth collaborative pro-life group organizes baby showers to collect gift certificates, diapers, and other supplies for mothers and newborns. St. Mary's in Holliston holds a baby shower each year to support the Pro-Life Office.

Luthin said the office relies on these showers for most of the material assistance it gives to clients of Pregnancy Help, the office's pregnancy resource center ministry.

Deacon Rossignol praised Luthin, as well as Pro-Life Office manager Claire DiGiovanni and Pregnancy Help nurse Mary Jo Kriz.

"They set the tone; they create the enthusiasm and energy around it. We kind of carry that out, and we use our vocations to do what we can do to help the initiative of the Pro-Life Office. And it's an absolute mission to which we're all committed. So it's been a pleasure serving on it, and I look forward to continuing that for as long as I can," he said.

Deacon Rossignol said he considers it the responsibility of the clergy to talk about being pro-life whenever they have the opportunity.

"It's critical that clergy keep this message fresh for their parishioners," he said.

He added that parishioners must stay "in tune and in step with what's happening" regarding abortion in society.

"We can't lose sight of this most important issue because I think how we deal with this colors everything else about how our society operates," Deacon Rossignol said.

More information about the Pro-Life Office can be found at bostoncatholic.org/pro-life-office.

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