Columbus Bishop Earl Fernandes at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops plenary meeting in Baltimore in November 2023. / Credit: Joe Bukuras/CNA
CNA Staff, Dec 8, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).
Following last month’s referendum in Ohio that enshrined a right to abortion in its constitution, Columbus Bishop Earl Fernandes announced several pro-life and spiritual initiatives that the prelate hopes will make abortion “unthinkable.”
The amendment to the constitution, for which a majority of Ohioans voted on Nov. 7, guarantees that “every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” including, but not limited to, abortion.
“Outside the realm of politics, the true victory will come by winning hearts through our unconditional and relentless love for women and their children,” Fernandes said in a Dec. 7 letter to the faithful published in the diocesan newspaper.
Fernandes encouraged Catholics to “a deeper life of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.”
In the letter, he encouraged clergy to “make a serious commitment” to offering an hour of Eucharistic adoration in parishes either on the first Friday of each month or the day before in reparation for “sins against human life and dignity.” The bishop urged adorers to pray “for the building of a civilization of love.”
Additionally, he encouraged the faithful to “resume the traditional practice” of abstinence from meat on Fridays, noting that there is already an obligation for Catholics to abstain from meat or replace it with some other penance every Friday of the year.
Fernandes said that abstinence from meat is a “form of Christian asceticism.”
“We can be intentional in our abstinence and penitential practices, mindful of unborn children, their mothers and fathers, and the men and women in the trenches working to support them,” he added.
Fernandes said that “what is demanded is not the external rule but a conversion of our mindset and our culture with the hope that we will be more mindful of the child in the womb.”
He noted that the bishops of England and Wales resumed the practice of abstinence from meat on Fridays in 2011 and it proved beneficial to both individuals’ health and the environment.
“If we abstained from meat on Fridays, we could also raise awareness of our need to care for our ‘common home,’” he said, a likely reference to Pope Francis’ letter on the environment, Laudato Si’, in which the Holy Father expressed a desire to “dialogue with all people about our common home.”
Fernandes added that almsgiving “could be tied” to abstinence from meat.
He said the need to support pro-life pregnancy centers “has never been greater” and that support for these institutions “demonstrates our commitment to the good of human life and the care of the least of our brothers and sisters.”
Another initiative Fernandes announced is the establishment of a new “Respect Life Office,” which will be dedicated to building a culture of life “in a sustainable and lasting way” and will include offering conferences for pro-life leaders and those working in health care.
The diocese already has a Respect Life program that sponsors pro-life spiritual initiatives and holds an annual Diocesan Respect Life Conference. However, that program falls under the diocese’s Office for Social Concerns.
Fernandes also announced a summit of “Respect Life leaders” next year who will come together in collaboration and to determine present needs for diocesan response.
“The Church must also listen to women, particularly those who have experienced the pain of abortion and who need healing,” he said. “Beginning an apostolate like Project Rachel for healing and reconciliation can help remind people of the pope’s call for us to be a Church of mercy.”
Project Rachel is a Catholic ministry that ministers to women after abortion. The ministry provides sacramental and pastoral support, referrals to mental health professionals, and support groups, among other resources.
He also said the diocese’s evangelization office “will seek out means to proclaim boldly the entirety of the Gospel message,” which includes “the Gospel of life.”
The Office of Catholic Schools, too, will continue its role in building a culture of life by promoting the integration of “the truths of our faith into all content areas,” he said.
“For example, in science classes, our students will come to a greater appreciation for the gift of human life at conception and the development of life as a gift in the image and likeness of God,” he said.
Finally, Fernandes said the diocese will organize a pilgrimage to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., in January that will engage young people with pro-life events and “form them as missionaries.”
He said students from “all” of the Catholic high schools in the diocese will participate.
“God has called us to be a people of life,” Fernandes said, adding that building a culture of life will take “time and patience.”
“It will encounter resistance; nevertheless, we cannot abandon unborn children and their mothers. Law may refuse to recognize the dignity and right to life of the child in the womb, but we cannot be indifferent to the reality,” he said.
“When Mary visited Elizabeth, the child in her womb recognized the presence of the Savior and leaped for joy,” he said. “The Church wishes to acknowledge and defend the rights of the unborn child while accompanying mothers in their time of need and during what should be a joyful time of their lives. May we rise to meet our responsibility, grateful for the gift of life we have received.”