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January/February 2014 FAITH GR column

My dear friends,

Congratulations! Those of you who took the time to participate in the petition drive to ban abortion coverage in standard health care plans in the state of Michigan accomplished something very concrete in support of life. You were among 300,000+ signatories needed to initiate such a law. It has become a reality. I thank all of you who supported this effort and note the important leadership and dedicated work of the Michigan Catholic Conference and Michigan Right to Life.

2013 was an encouraging year for those who believe that the life and dignity of every person must be protected at every stage of life, but especially among the most vulnerable. The New York Times earlier this month ran a story entitled “Access to Abortion Falling as States Pass Restrictions.” The article reported that in 2013 alone, 22 states adopted 70 different restrictions such as late-term abortion bans, doctor and clinic regulations, limits on medication abortions, and bans on insurance coverage. As we begin a new year, it appears to be more difficult to get an abortion in this country. This growing trend affirms life and also protects women from the harm inherent in abortion.

We must not relax our efforts in supporting life from its first moment to its natural conclusion. The 41st annual March for Life on Jan. 22 in Washington, D.C. is a symbol of this ongoing effort. Along with a group led by our diocese, parishes across our diocese will organize groups who will participate in The March. May our prayers be with them as they witness to our nation that the fght for “a culture of life” continues unabated!

I now turn to another topic of great importance for our church and our country and the culture of life — our Catholic schools. Our culture is becoming more secular, morally confused, and indifferent to religious values with every passing day. Catholic schools shine forth as beacons of light illuminating the beauty and truth of the Gospel for our young students, Catholic and otherwise. In his recent apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis declares that “Catholic schools, which always strive to join their work of education with the explicit proclamation of the Gospel, are a most valuable resource for the evangelization of culture.” Catholic schools not only present families and the Church a powerful opportunity for evangelization, they also are effective in their mission of educating the whole person. Christ the Teacher is present in the Catholic school where students learn to be disciples and Jesus’ friends. They learn to be evangelists by the way they live their lives. Our students succeed in higher academic achievement, have a greater likelihood of praying daily, attending church more often, retaining a Catholic identity as an adult and giving generously to the Church and other worthwhile causes.
Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 26 to Feb. 1, is an opportunity to acknowledge, appreciate and support the remarkable ministry of our Catholic schools, whose mission is at the heart of the Church. We have 25 Catholic elementary schools in the diocese and four high schools. What a treasure they are and how impoverished our Catholic future would be without them. Please join me in promoting and supporting one of our greatest gifts!

Finally, as we carry on our daily routines and live our lives of faith, it is sometimes hard to remember that there are countless Catholic men and women serving in the armed forces. These individuals work both at home and abroad in service of our nation while striving to live out their Catholic faith in whatever situations they fnd themselves. “Serving those who serve” are the bishops and military priest-chaplains of the Archdiocese for the Military Services. The Diocese of Grand Rapids serves 190,000 Catholics over 7,000 square miles in 11 Michigan counties. The Archdiocese of Military Services serves 1.8 million Catholics and their families throughout the entire world wherever our servicemen and women are stationed, as well as in Veteran’s Medical Centers. 500 priest-chaplains bless our troops and veterans with the healing power of the sacraments and wise pastoral counsel, and offer catechesis and faith formation opportunities as well.

Instead of a peaceful church setting or a parish office, these services sometimes happen under camouflage nets, in desert command shelters or makeshift chapels. The Archdiocese receives no funding from the Department of Defense and has no parishes to provide weekly sources of funding. That is why the U.S. Bishops have established the Collection for the Archdiocese for the Military Services to be taken up in parishes every three years. The first collection occurred this November and I am happy to report that Catholics of the Diocese of Grand Rapids contributed $83,000 for this worthy cause. I sincerely thank you for your generosity during November’s special collection. You have made a difference in helping to insure that our Catholic servicemen and women and their families can follow Christ and live the Gospel under the most challenging of circumstances.

Sincerely yours in the Lord,
Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak

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