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 sitting Archbishop.
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 assassination list.
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 stake."
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.
The words 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!"
Greg 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.