By Greg Schleppenbach
June 24, 2016
I was privileged to attend the 2016 National Catholic
Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. The
keynote speaker was His Eminence Robert Cardinal Sarah who currently heads the
Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. The Cardinal's talk and life story can inspire
all who work to spread the Gospel of Life.
In 1979, at the age of thirty-four, Fr. Sarah was
appointed by Pope John Paul II as Archbishop of Conakry, in the West
African nation of Guinea. Eighty-five percent of the people were Muslim and the
Church was oppressed by a Marxist dictator, Sekou Toure, who had imprisoned the
Feeling troubled and unprepared to carry out this
important role, Father Sarah expressed his desire to decline the
appointment. But that was not an option
for Pope John Paul II.
Putting his faith in God, Father Sarah accepted the
appointment and chose as his episcopal motto, "Sufficit tibi gratia mea" ("My grace is sufficient for you"). These words, from St. Paul's Second Letter to
the Corinthians (2 Cor 12:9), are our Lord's response to St. Paul's pleas to be
freed from the "thorn" of persistent trial and temptation.
After assuring Paul of his sufficient
grace, our Lord offered this seemingly paradoxical reason: "for power is made perfect
in weakness." Then St. Paul embraced the path of weakness
with bold faith: "I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order
that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore I am content with
weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of
Christ, for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor 12:10).
Following his episcopal motto,
Cardinal Sarah courageously took every opportunity to speak truth to power, challenging
Sekou Toure's oppression and injustices.
Archbishop Sarah's actions put him at the top of the dictator's
While his courage in the face of
life-threatening persecution is inspiring enough, it is even more impressive
given his persistent feelings of inadequacy as Archbishop. He even considered resigning his post.
In his book, God
or Nothing, Cardinal Sarah explains how "hundreds of hours
of prayer" led him to conclude that "the worst that could happen to me was
death; my life was nothing compared to the blatant injustices, the horrible
poverty, and the unspeakable horrors that I saw each day. I had to speak, even if my life was at
the close of his speech, Cardinal Sarah provided "three humble suggestions" to
guide us. First, be
prophetic. "Where there
is no vision, discernment, the people perish" (Proverbs 29, 18). Second, be
faithful. "Proclaim the truth and do
not be silent through fear" (St. Catherine of Siena). And third, pray.
and example of Cardinal Sarah provide needed inspiration and encouragement to
all who battle
the culture of death and who may sometimes feel inadequate for the work and
inclined to give up. Let us keep God's
words to St. Paul always before us as we work to proclaim the Gospel of Life: "My grace is sufficient for you!"
Schleppenbach is Associate Director at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities,
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more information about the bishops'
pro-life activities, visit: www.usccb.org/prolife.