A donation table for baby items sits in the vestibule of St. Theresa In North Reading in the Oct. 7 Respect Life Mass. Pilot photo/Jacqueline Tetrault
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NORTH READING -- The Church in the United States has observed October as Respect Life Month, and the first Sunday of October as Respect Life Sunday, since 1972. The Boston Archdiocese sponsors a Respect Life Mass each year.
The Church of St. Theresa in North Reading hosted this year's Respect Life Sunday Mass on Oct. 7. The main celebrant was Bishop Mark O'Connell, who is also the pastor of St. Theresa's.
The theme for Respect Life Month this year is that every child is "cherished, chosen, and sent."
In his homily, Bishop O'Connell noted that the liturgy's readings about marriage from Genesis 2 and Mark 10 were a good starting point for thinking about families and children.
He spoke of "the goal and the ideal of marriage," which God orders toward unity, the good of the spouses, and the procreation and education of children. This ideal, he acknowledged, is often not the reality people experience.
"The important thing we need to do as a Church is to provide resources for every situation. What kind of loving and merciful Church would we be if we only supported perfect marriages, perfect families with perfect timing, if they even exist?" Bishop O'Connell said.
He spoke of the many forms of material and spiritual help provided by the archdiocese's Pro-Life Office, whose efforts, he said, are much "wider," "more detailed," and "more hands-on" than it gets credit for.
Bishop O'Connell argued that being pro-life is not merely a matter of religious belief.
"More and more young people are pro-life in this world, and some of them for purely human rights reasons and scientific reasons. Sometimes we think of it as a Catholic or a Christian thing, but that can turn some people off. The pro-life movement is bigger than the Catholic Church, but the Catholic Church is fully embedded in it," he said.
Bishop O'Connell said being pro-life means more than opposing abortion, but also includes supporting basic human rights with regard to a wide range of issues, including capital punishment, immigration, human trafficking, child abuse, and workers' rights.
However, he said, on that day the Church focused on praying for the rights of the unborn, for legislation to protect their rights, for women considering abortion, and for those who help women find the means to raise their children.
The bishop recalled one time when a young woman sought his counsel after hearing him speak at a wedding. She was pregnant, unmarried, and uncertain whether her parents would support her if she gave birth. Bishop O'Connell talked with her and prayed with her.
"The nice thing about it was I could say so much more than 'Don't do it.' I could say, 'We'll help you. We'll find the means for it. We'll support you,'" Bishop O'Connell said.
Before the final blessing, Bishop O'Connell said he never saw the woman again, just as people involved in pro-life work do not always get to see the results of their efforts.
Marianne Luthin, the director of the Archdiocese of Boston Pro-Life Office, attended the Mass with her staff. She spoke with The Pilot after the Mass.
"This year's program I thought was especially beautiful. It had the theme of 'cherished, chosen, sent,' and it really explains to us, as Catholics, our fundamental identity as beloved daughters and sons of God," Luthin said.
She added, "You know, we're very contentious politically right now, but it helps remind us why we are all here in this church and what our purpose in life is."