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Annual Respect Life Week addresses building ‘pro-life community’

| Friday, October 8, 2021

Notre Dame’s Right to Life club is hosting its annual “Respect Life Week,” featuring a variety of anti-abortion events and activities including an all-night adoration, art exploration at the Snite and even a birthday party for a saint.

The week’s theme this year is “Encounter Life: Building A Pro-life Community.” Right to Life president senior Francie Shaft said that coming out of the pandemic, the club chose this theme to represent their focus on resuming ministry and volunteer work in the South Bend community after off-campus travel restrictions prevented them from doing so last year.

“It was really hard to engage in the community when we couldn’t go visit them,” said senior Mary Biese, who has served as Right to Life’s co-director of education for the past two years. “We are excited to kickstart a lot of service again this year and wanted to highlight that.”     

The week kicked off Sunday afternoon with Life Chain, an event organized by Right to Life Michiana. Participants prayed and peacefully held signs outside of Whole Women’s Health of South Bend, a healthcare facility that provides abortion services. The Michiana Life Chain event — one of many concurrent Life Chain events held across the nation Sunday — was followed by all-night eucharistic adoration in the Coleman-Morse Chapel.

“It’s the best way to build community — praying to the one who unites us all and supports us,” Biese said. “This is such a spiritual battle, and so, so many prayers are needed, so being able to do all-night adoration is a really beautiful thing. So many people signed up, which is just really inspiring.”

The week’s events continued Monday in the LaFortune Student Center’s second-floor ballroom with a party celebrating what would have been Saint Gianna Molla’s 99th birthday. Attendees celebrated Right to Life’s Saint of the Year with cake and Chick-fil-A. 

“St. Gianna’s life is a testament to the sacrificial love our club members believe in and strive for,” Shaft said. “She gave her life for her little baby, Gianna Emanuela, who is still alive today.” 

Directly following the festivities, a group of Right to Life members processed with candles to the Cedar Grove Cemetery for an end-of-life prayer service in remembrance of those laid to rest in the campus cemetery. Shaft said this event is her favorite as it reminds her of the importance of praying for the souls of the departed. 

Tuesday night featured a “Pro-Llife Community Panel” discussion focused on anti-abortion service in South Bend. According to Biese — who attended the discussion — a local family doctor, a representative from Right to Life Michiana and a Notre Dame professor spoke on the intersection between their careers and their anti-abortion advocacy work.

“One thing they really emphasized that I thought was beautiful was building relationships of trust as the first step to building a community that … supports life at all stages,” Biese recalled.  

Biese added that Wednesday’s “Growing a Pro-Life Community” resource fair and giveaway event was easily her favorite of the week. In keeping with the week’s theme, Right to Life members gave out succulents and seeds to passersby on Fieldhouse Mall, along with pregnancy and parenting resource sheets.

“Succulents worked great with the theme … Plants, they grow. It’s fun!” she said. “One of our initiatives this year, though, is really growing awareness of pregnancy and parenting resources on and off campus. We want to show support for women who find themselves in that situation. Being against abortion, ‘loving them both’ is a really big part of how I see everything.” 

This theme of loving both mother and child is what inspired Right to Life’s second tabling event the following afternoon in Duncan Student Center, which the club held in partnership with Students for Life. The event, titled “See Me Now,” strived to present information on a variety of abortion procedures without using graphic imagery. Instead, club members used statistics, infographics and plastic fetal models to illustrate different abortion methods, developmental stages and possible side effects of abortion procedures.   

“The goal is always to plant seeds and have respectful conversations,” Biese said. “We want to listen and be compassionate in what we’re saying and what we do.”

Thursday afternoon’s lineup also included a tour of the Snite Museum of Art, where attendees were challenged to look at works of art through an anti-abortion lens. 

“We are so thankful to be engaging with the art community in this way,” Shaft said of the event, which is a new addition to the Respect Life Week lineup this year. I hope that the experience allowed students, faculty, staff and community members to contemplate the dignity of life in a new way.”

Respect Life Week will continue Friday with an all-club Right to Life Mass at 5:15 p.m. at the Basilica. Rise’n Roll donuts will be served following Mass.

Finally, the week will conclude on Saturday with a sidewalk counselor training session led by Biese from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the library’s Carey Auditorium. 

“Our goal is to prep students to peacefully and prayerfully give women resources [outside of the abortion clinic],” Biese explained. “[The training teaches] you to see what these women are struggling with and how to treat them with compassion in a way that is prayerful, peaceful and supportive. Those are the three pillars of sidewalk counseling.”

She added that she believes the training is useful for anyone passionate about the anti-abortion movement — not just those interested in volunteering as sidewalk counselors — because it encourages participants to be more compassionate and alter their perspectives on women who are considering an abortion and the many complex reasons why they may be doing so.  

“Everyone on both sides cares very deeply about this issue,” Biese said. “It’s not simply an academic thing; it’s a matter of life and death. It’s really hard to get past misconceptions on both sides, so we just want to continue to be a joyful, prayerful presence, because no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

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