When Barbara McGuigan talks, teens listen. When she tells them about chastity and God's love for them, they hang on her every word.
“She has the greatest gift,” says Stephanie Heneghan, an eighth-grade teacher in Mission San Juan Capistrano, Calif., where McGuigan, a wife and mother of three adult children, leads the annual retreat for students preparing to graduate from the parish school. “She can reach those kids and keep them in the palm of her hand for six hours.”
McGuigan's words are about sexuality as a gift of God, the importance of modesty and prudence in living chastity, the truth of the abortion evil and the powerful spiritual trio — the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph — to help young people live the virtues.
Pro-life educator and EWTN series host McGuigan, for 15 years a speaker with Human Life International, has recently launched the nonprofit Voice of Virtue International, an apostolate through which she educates young people and families about the spectrum of life issues from a Catholic perspective.
Having spoken in schools and parishes, on television and radio across the United States and in seven foreign countries, McGuigan is now appealing to find yet another audience: the United Nations. She hopes to be the latest in a handful of pro-life nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that have access to delegates, conferences and other NGOs to spread the life message.
The day after covering this year's March for Life in Washington for EWTN, McGuigan flew to New York to meet with Josef Klee, adviser to the Holy See Mission to the United Nations and a consultant to the U.N. Global Compact, which promotes human rights and environmental responsibility in the global economy.
Klee told her that of the more than 2,000 NGOs with status in the U.N. Economic and Social Council, only 50 are Catholic — and, of those, only half support the Holy Father and the teaching magisterium, says McGuigan.
“He said, 'The Holy See really needs you,’” she adds.
The next day McGuigan became one of the first to meet with the new apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations.
“He's very warm, and very gracious. He remarked right away, ‘Gee, I like your name [Voice of Virtue],’” she says. “He was so grateful. And I said, ‘Your Excellency, will you please pray that we will obtain NGO status?’ He looked at me eyeball to eyeball and said, ‘You will.’”
Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, a clearinghouse for pro-family lobbying at the United Nations, says that, although they are vastly outnumbered by their opposition, several natural family planning groups and pro-life organizations have been approved for NGO status.
“This coalition has essentially stopped what the United Nations wanted to do,” Ruse says. “They wanted abortion as a universal right, and we stopped them; they wanted to redefine the family ... we've stopped them; They want to redefine gender as a social construct not based in nature, and we've stopped them.
“The U.N. still does a lot of very bad things. But in terms of the documents themselves, the other side is losing,” Ruse adds.
A positive development is that the U.S. delegation under President Bush is strongly pro-life, in sharp contrast to the delegation under President Bill Clinton, says Sue Fryer, Canadian lobbyist for the World Organization for Ovulation Method Billings since 1994.
And despite recent attacks on its U.N. status, the Holy See is still highly respected, she says.
“The Holy See is a voice that rings true in the halls of the U.N. and is a beacon for all — the Muslims, the people of no faith, the Protestants, whoever they are,” says Fryer.
But the opposition to pro-family policies is also strong. “There's no room for naÔvetÈ at the U.N.,” says Fryer. “Just to see how Planned Parenthood works is to know what real evil there is. These people know there is a good and natural [family planning] method that works in the developing countries, and yet they're still pushing all the abortion on demand and contraception in these countries. They seem to stop at nothing to do this.”
Other NGOs would also resist the chastity message of Voice of Virtue. Kathy Hall-Martinez, director of the international legal program for the Center for Reproductive Rights, says her organization considers an abstinence-only approach to be unrealistic and unsafe.
“All women and men should have access to comprehensive reproductive and sexual health, including information that is comprehensive. We certainly also would include adolescents with that,” she says. “We feel very strongly that simply approaching the issue of reproductive and sexual health with sort of an abstinence-only agenda and bias is harmful to women and girls.”
McGuigan counters that view. “The misconception in this whole line of flawed logic is that contraception and abortion are goods that actually free women, when, in fact, they actually violate the nature and dignity of all women, thus keeping them in bondage,” she says. “An informed person knows that abortion and contraception violate women physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.”
Fryer says Voice of Virtue would be welcomed in the pro-life caucus: “It's a good time to come. We need some new faces and fresh efforts.”
“Is God opening a door? I would like to think so,” says McGuigan. “We'll do our very best, by the grace of God. ”
Ellen Rossini writes from Richardson, Texas.