Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Household of God:
Two thousand years ago, Mary and Joseph went to the temple to present their newborn son to God. Anna rejoiced, while Simeon foretold Mary's pain. All praised God for the gift of new life. So significant was that event that we celebrate it each year on the Feast of the Presentation of theLord, the second day of February.
On this year's feast, I, as Bishop of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, announce a new diocesan initiative called "A Household Caring for Life". That initiative invites us to be a supportive community to those experiencing the mysteries of joy and pain surrounding the gift of new life.
The "Household" initiative is not a program. But, rather, it is a chal-lenge to each Catholic in terms of attitude. Beginning with education and prayer, followed by conversion of heart, it is intended to lead to compassion-ate action on the part of an individual and parish. This initiative is but one part of the respect life spectrum.
Unlike Mary, Joseph, Anna, and Simeon, not all see life as God's gift. Sadly, within the confines of our own Diocese there exists an abortion clinic determined to destroy life
commend those who work so tirelessly in protesting this abortionclinic
and the laws that allow it to exist. We must continue to proclaim loudly
the Church's teaching regarding the evil of abortion.
We have sometimes overlooked the women, men, and family members who, along with the child, are victims. We are thus negligent because we do not understand the agony they experience following an abortion. It is our role as members of the Household to invite them into the open and healing arms of Holy Mother Church.
The "Household" initiative also challenges us to express our care for families who have an infant with a disability, as well as for those who are suffering the pain of infertility or the loss of a child through miscarriage, stillbirth, or early infant death. These families often grieve alone because we fail to recognize the magnitude of their loss. This initiative encourages us to learn what to say and how to help.
And lastly, we must not overlook the obvious: - the natural and adoptive parents of newborns. After rejoicing with them when they present their child for Baptism, our support as a faith community often wanes. The initiative that I am introducing to you provides an avenue to develop a sup-portive relationship in their regard.
Throughout 1999, you will have the opportunity to become more familiar with the "Household Caring for Life" initiative through a variety of avenues. Among these will be prayer experiences, parish bulletins, homilies, prayer services, The Catholic Register, general intercessions at Liturgy, and several work-shops.
I urge each of you to take advantage of these opportunities in order to effect a change of heart. As Simeon and Anna offered support and praise at the presentation of the Lord, we, "A Household Caring for Life", need to accept the challenge to support those experiencing the joys and pain of new life.
Our initiation of "A Household Caring for Life" will be Evening Prayer Services for the Feast of the Presentation. In this way, I want us to acknowl-edge the lives of those who have died through miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death, or abortion. Below is a schedule of those services. I will preside and be the homilist at each.
I trust that as many as can will join me at one of these prayer ser-vices. That can serve as a grateful response for the gift of life that we, ourselves, have received and been allowed to keep. Prayer can open up doors. And, prayer of those gathered together for that purpose has aspecial ef-ficacy, as promised by the Lord himself.