The most effective weapon against the threat of abortion in Milwaukee and the world is not legislation, demonstration or even outreach to pregnant women, according to Anne Haines, the new Respect Life director for the archdiocese’s Urban Ministry.
No, as important as all those elements are to the pro-life cause, for Haines, it is prayer before the Eucharist that is, in her words, “Our most powerful weapon – our most nonviolent weapon.”
And so for her first large-scale event in the job she began just over two months ago, that’s exactly what she planned.
On the morning of March 4, more than 160 people gathered at St. Rita Catholic Church on Milwaukee’s east side for a Benediction service and “Jericho March,” praying before the exposed Eucharist for the rights of the unborn and the plight of vulnerable expectant mothers.
Haines described the event as a way to begin Lent by “launching our prayer efforts in a direction that is badly needed,” she said.
“We’re coming together in solidarity on behalf of women and children, in a very powerful, visible, meaningful way.”
The gathering was very much linked in spirit with the demonstrators outside Affiliated Medical Services, an abortion clinic located several blocks east on North Farwell Avenue. These participants in the annual Milwaukee 40 Days for Life vigil gathered on the public right-of-way outside the clinic.
“God is strong enough to build a bridge,” said presider Fr. Tim Kitzke, Vicar General for Urban Ministry, as he addressed the congregation at St. Rita. “Let’s all send the power of the Spirit, especially a few blocks east of here.”
Joining in the “March” along with Fr. Kitzke, were six other priests, including Haines’ brother Bishop-elect Jeff Haines, Fr. Patrick Burns, Fr. Peter Patrick Kimani, Fr. Arul Ponnaiyan, Fr. Andrew Linn and Fr. Enrique Hernandez. Joined by members of the Knights of Columbus, the priests processed around the church bearing the monstrance that contained the Blessed Sacrament as the congregation knelt and prayed the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet.
Fr. Kitzke, who is also pastor at Three Holy Women, Old St. Mary, Our Lady of Divine Providence and Sts. Peter and Paul parishes, began the service by proclaiming the Gospel of Matthew reading wherein Christ implores his disciples to “offer no resistance to one who is evil.”
Describing prayer for those who procure abortions and those who work in the abortion industry as “the most gracious thing we can do as followers of Jesus Christ,” Fr. Kitzke reminded attendees that as Catholics, “we have the greatest weapon: love. And especially love of people we disagree with and think are in a state of sin or disgrace.”
But he was unflinching in describing abortion as “the ultimate crime.”
“Let’s remember, when we disrespect in the womb, we set forward the motion of disrespect in so many different ways,” he said.
It’s a sentiment that Haines said she plans to embrace in her new role, where she hopes to help the archdiocese address the underlying societal issues that have lead to the prevalence of abortion in urban areas.
“There’s just an inextricable link between what’s happening in our urban centers and what’s happening with respect life issues and abortion,” she said. “Women of color are disproportionately seeking abortion, and the reason for that is … the systemic evil of poverty and mass incarceration, deportation, joblessness – all of these things impact life issues.
“The right to life in the womb is our most basic right, and it obviously is the foundation of every other right that we have. We saw a need for someone to concentrate on that issue in particular, with a strong eye on the other issues that impact that.”
Haines has worked previously as the director of faith formation at Pius XI High School in Milwaukee, where she also taught theology; prior to that, she taught at Messmer High School, St. Francis Borgia School in Cedarburg and Malcolm X Academy in the Milwaukee Public School system.
Since starting the job at the beginning of the year, Haines has focused much of her time on taking the temperature of the urban Milwaukee community, assessing existing resources and identifying gaps in services. She’s been meeting with parishioners of All Saints, St. Martin de Porres, St. Michael and St. Rose Catholic Churches, “trying to listen to the voices of the people … to see where their concerns lie … and any way that our office could be of assistance to them.”
And what she’s discovered is that there’s not so much a lack of services as a lack of awareness about them.
“What I’m finding is there’s a tremendous amount of services out there, but I think really where we fall short is people’s ability to access them – or even the awareness that they exist,” she said. “Our archdiocese is really doing a lot of amazing work and I really would like to somehow come up with a better way of getting the word out what’s available to people and making them accessible.”
She named resources that include the Women’s Care Center, Women’s Support Center and Life’s Connection – all organizations that focus on ministering to women in crisis pregnancies, providing clients with pregnancy testing, ultrasound services, family planning support and even diapers and baby supplies.
This work of supporting at-risk mothers throughout their pregnancies and after the births of their children is among the most crucial elements of the pro-life movement, said Haines, and one that pro-abortion supporters tend to overlook.
“There’s always the accusation that you want the child to be born, but then what happens after that? And I think the Catholic Church, more than any institution in the entire world, can stand very, very tall on that matter and feel comfortable with the fact that we’re doing a lot of work for women after the child is born,” she said. Therein lies the purpose of her work in the Urban Ministry: “We need to listen to the voices of the people who are experiencing the fallout of that systemic evil and walk with them and hear where their concerns are coming from, so that ultimately they won’t feel the need to end their pregnancy and abort their child.”
Bishop-elect Haines said that he recognized his sister’s concern for pro-life issues early on in their youth.
“When I was taking theology courses at Marquette University, Anne kept borrowing my textbook with the Catholic social teachings,” he said. “Even though she was just a high school student, she would read those documents again and again and again. In fact, it got to the point that I had to start asking her to lend it back to me for my courses.”
A presider at the march and Benediction service, Bishop-elect Haines described it as “everything that I hoped it would be. There was such a sense of reverence in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the praying of the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet that was so very tangible.”
Originally, the Jericho March was to be held outside Affiliated Medical Services on North Farwell. It was relocated to St. Rita’s to keep the emphasis on prayerfulness, said Fr. Kitzke.
“The bishop-elect and I made that decision because we were very averse, in these rather tender times in history, of, in any way, shape or form, walking with the Eucharist in what could be perceived as a gathering of protest, or somehow as a weapon to make a point,” he told the congregation.
Attendee Tobey Neuberger, a parishioner of St. Francis Borgia Parish in Cedarburg, said that she was pleased with the location change.
“It’s so powerful to be in the church,” she said. “It’s easier than going to the abortion clinic, which is where we normally are (doing sidewalk counseling). It’s a good effort, it’s a good opportunity to come together in prayer and storm heaven, asking God to end the evil of abortion. It’s a good thing to do as a family.”
It was out of concern for women who are at risk for choosing abortion that Sherry Novak decided to attend the service. A parishioner of St. Mary Parish in Menomonee Falls, “I know a lot of women who have been hurt (by abortion),” she said.
She herself has lost children to miscarriage and spontaneous abortion, and worries for women who “think this is their only choice.”
She attended with her husband Jim and their son even though they had to fit the event in around their daughter’s Confirmation, held on the same day.
“You can’t find a better purpose, or something that’s more disgraceful to mankind, than killing the unborn,” said Jim Novak. “So this is where we need to be.”
Neuberger attended the service with three of her six children. “We do talk about (abortion) a lot, because it is such a scourge in our country, our nation and our city. We try to get them to understand the dignity of every human life, and to fight for the unborn because they do not have any voice. We do our best and we pray a lot for it … it’s just part of our family life.”
The children in the congregation were invited to join the procession with the Blessed Sacrament. Bishop-elect Haines called the invitation “an affirmation of their dignity and a recognition that – even being so young – they are an important part of the Church.
“They, too, are a part of the effort to build a culture of life,” he said. “They are the promise and hope of that future.”