Calling the Next Witness

by Susan E. Wills

January 2, 2004

"Saints and witnesses - models worthy of being imitated."

That's what Pope John Paul II recently identified as the "first" and greatest need of the European continent as it struggles to forge a consensus among cultures with radically opposed views on abortion, embryo research, human cloning, euthanasia, and assisted suicide.

Across the globe, the times call for courageous individuals who will speak the truth about the value and dignity of every human life. It is not enough that millions quietly go about their lives performing daily acts of sacrifice and love for others. The world needs bold public witnesses to the Gospel of Life who can inspire many others to become engaged in the great moral issues of the 21st century.

Recent examples come to mind of ordinary individuals who stepped beyond the quiet spheres of their lives and into public view to give witness to the value of every human life. Prompted by a personal tragedy or by a sense of outrage at the casual destruction of innocent human life, these men and women have stunned the abortion industry and are making an incalculable impact.

One year ago many Americans prayed that Laci Peterson and her unborn child, Conner, would return home safely. Months later, in the midst of their grief and their son-in-law's double murder trial, Laci's parents - Sharon and Dennis Rocha - were shocked to learn that prominent abortion supporters and about half of state laws, do not recognize the loss of an unborn child's life. To honor Conner's life, the Rochas have campaigned for federal and state laws that would make it a separate offense to kill or injure a child before birth (outside the abortion context). The federal bill is now called "Laci's and Conner's Law," and Sharon Rocha's testimony helped pass the Texas "Prenatal Protection Act" in June.

Holly Patterson was barely 18 when she died of septic shock following an RU-486 abortion in September. Most abortion-related deaths are never reported in the press, but Holly's father, Monty, wants to ensure that no other young woman loses her life to RU-486. He publicly supports "Holly's Law," a federal bill that will suspend distribution of RU-486 while its safety is reviewed, and he's working to have "parental notification" placed on the November 2004 California ballot. His witness has done more to publicize the dangers of RU-486 than years of warnings by pro-life doctors and organizations.

In September Planned Parenthood broke ground on an abortion clinic in Austin, Texas. Chris Danze, president of a local concrete supply company contacted, and encouraged others to call, subcontractors and suppliers throughout central Texas with two messages: it's wrong to build an abortion clinic, and he and members of local churches that joined his effort would give no future business to those who helped build the clinic. Hundreds of subcontractors and suppliers have refused to work on the clinic, forcing the general contractor to withdraw. Construction has been halted. Planned Parenthood may yet succeed in getting the clinic built, but Danze's efforts have shown what one man with courage can accomplish.

In 2004, God will present each of us with opportunities to witness to the sanctity of life and fight the culture of death. Let's be alert to them and bravely undertake all He wishes to accomplish through us.

Susan E. Wills is associate director for education, Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.