A pro-life whole is greater than the sum of its pro-life parts. How can that be? In a word, it’s all about the power of the “network.”
And tapping that power for all its worth is exactly what Norwalk, Conn.-based Gospel of Life Society has in mind.
The group’s networking initiative sprang up in November 2006 from the root of the society that Father Greg Markey, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Norwalk, in the Bridgeport Diocese, had planted three years earlier when he began a monthly pro-life Mass. It was also a year ago this month that the priest appointed Eileen Bianchini to head the society, which calls itself the “pro-life heartbeat of Connecticut.”
The society is open to people from all parishes and pro-life groups in the state. Father Markey says it brings together Nutmeg State pro-lifers who share one thing in common: an understanding that the call to defend life has moved from “essential” to “urgent.”
“We’re not here necessarily to do a major project,” he says. “We’re here to network, to provide an outlet for those who have ideas.”
Yet enthusiastic responses and shared ideas blossoming at monthly meetings are proving that simple networking can indeed spur big things. Take billboards, for example.
When Henry Vosswinkel began attending Gospel of Life Society meetings, he shared what he was doing in pro-life work in his parish 14 miles away in Ridgefield, also named St. Mary’s. He was working to sponsor up to six pro-life billboards a year in his area.
Bianchini and others at the society saw the potential impact and wanted to duplicate it; Vosswinkel gave them the contacts and know-how.
Result? Last month, the combined folks of the Gospel of Life Society put up a pro-life billboard in Bridgeport, the state’s largest city, in a major traffic area blocks from an abortion business.
But that’s just the start of this networking success story. According to Bianchini, when the society told Connecticut Right to Life about this idea, the state organization offered to pay for it. And also sponsor the whole new second society website: CT4women.com.
And there’s more. After Vosswinkel heard the head of the diocesan Rachel’s Vineyard program speak at a Gospel of Life Society meeting, he not only invited her to make a presentation at his parish but also offered her a billboard to promote Rachel’s Vineyard in English and Spanish. Two went up miles from his parish in two of the state’s four largest cities.
Vosswinkel finds it important to be a regular at Gospel of Life Society meetings. “It’s good to try to interrelate with other pro-life committees and pick up on good things they’re doing,” he says. “We can spread what we’re doing rather than having it limited to our own parish.”
“The networking is getting people to work together on projects, not just to share information,” adds Bianchini. “All are rallying around and jelling as a family.”
Before heading the society, Eileen Bianchini was in charge of the RCIA program for eight years at another Diocese of Bridgeport parish. Already experienced in teaching people the faith, she added the pro-life element to it. Since the society is open to anyone who wants to attend, even if they’re not yet familiar with pro-life teachings, she explains the importance of educating everyone not only in all aspects of pro-life but also the basics of their faith, even if as only a refresher.
In fact, right after the pro-life Mass and Litany of St. Joseph that begin each monthly meeting, attendees unpack a section of John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Value and Inviolability of Human Life).
“Evangelium Vitae is the marching orders of the pro-life movement,” says Father Markey, reiterating that the society’s main purpose is support and education. “We comb through the encyclical and discuss the philosophical and theological insights, what John Paul II is talking about in real life situations. There are so many insights into the culture of life that need to be unpacked. He [even] talks about an international conspiracy among major institutions seeking to destroy the culture of life.”
Father Markey points out the society’s mission statement includes this constant reflection on John Paul II’s words because it “recognizes the urgency of defending life and defending marriage in today’s society.”
Next up, a pro-life speaker from any one of several specialties talks on some aspect of pro-life work. Then organizations, parishes, and individuals discuss and share ideas and information on legislation, events and relevant news from around the world.
Bianchini finds Catholics have been damaged by the culture of death in many ways. “They’ve become shy to speak up for themselves and their Church,” she says. “We give them the ammunition and the courage to speak up to defend their Catholic heritage and their Catholic behavior for themselves and their Church.”
She especially wants to get across that love, which “proceeds gently and slowly to educate and inform,” also includes discipline. “Our responsibility to evangelize and stop injustices in the world extends beyond our family to our community, state, nation and world,” she explains. “We should be reaching out using their talents to stop what is happening with abortion, contraception, forced sterilization — whether in our own backyard or not. If we do not do this, we would be as guilty as those who did nothing to stop Hitler.”
People are catching on and the society is growing. Already aboard are 56 parishes (with sponsors in charge of each) from all three of the state’s dioceses, 312 individuals, and organizations including Rachel’s Vineyard, the Sisters of Life and crisis-pregnancy centers. More than 30 of these are in touch regularly.
Bianchini is already reaching out to the Archdiocese of Hartford and is talking with life organizations in other states about using this Gospel of Life Society as a model for others to follow.
Seeing the society enthuse people and strengthen them in their pro-life and family values convictions, “knowing they can go back and do things in their own parishes,” is most rewarding for Father Markey. And for everyone tapping into — and strengthening — the power of the network.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.