Dcn. James Matthias (right), shown with Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, is the new director of the Respect Life Ministry. (Submitted photo)

It was likely Dcn. James Matthias’ dedication to the life of the unborn through his efforts at Pro-Life WI and 40 Days for Life that caught the attention of Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. On Nov. 29, Dcn. Matthias began a full-time position as director of the Respect Life Ministry, which is part of the Department for Catholic Social Responsibility.

“The archdiocese decided to fill this position after many years. This is a full-time position and meant I had to give up my previous position at Pro-Life WI,” Dcn. Matthias said. “This is a much-needed position and will continue to serve the most vulnerable in our society, even if there are changes in legislation regarding abortion.”

For more than three years, Dcn. Matthias served St. Sebastian and St. Catherine parishes and worked as the operations manager for Pro-Life WI. He oversaw everything within the organization and helped to meet the needs of the state director and the various managers. Dcn. Matthias assisted with budgeting and talked to individuals who called in. Additionally, he brought the film “Unplanned” to approximately 100 parishes in the state.

While respect life is often thought of as a sub-group of human concerns, Dcn. Matthias said respect life and the belief that all human life is sacred blankets human concerns.

“The dignity of the human person is essential to our society and the basis for Catholic Social Teaching. It begins with life in the womb at the moment of conception and continues with every human being until their natural death,” Dcn. Matthias said. “It involves the care and protection of the poor and most vulnerable in our society. It involves stepping up when people are treated with less respect and dignity than we would expect for ourselves. It involves accepting that every life is a sacred gift from God and worthy of respect and dignity regardless of their age, sex, race, wealth, disability, ethnicity or social status.”

The emphasis within the Respect Life Office will be to assist parishes in building a culture of life, Dcn. Matthias said. When pregnancy occurs, whether expected or unexpected, they plan to offer resources, guidance and support for a safe and healthy outcome for the mother and her child.

“We must make choosing life an easier choice,” Dcn. Matthias said. “Imagine if the money being given to abortion houses were given to pregnancy centers that care for the mother and child before and after the birth of the child. Once the child is born, we can provide support and resources to help with parenting and child development. We must also include care for women who chose abortion and are now experiencing the after-effects of their decision, sometimes years or even decades later.”

The work of the Respect Life Ministry will collaborate with the work already provided by pro-life groups such as the Knights of Columbus, pregnancy centers and individual parish respect life groups. Most of these organizations are working independently of one another, and Dcn. Matthias plans to unite the efforts of those in these ministries and coordinate their outreach.

“The opposition is wealthy and loud, but they do not speak for the majority,” Dcn. Matthias said. “If we want to live in a society where every life is sacred, and all persons are treated with respect and dignity, then we have to speak up for the most vulnerable and establish a culture of life … even when it’s not convenient or expected.”

Hoping and praying for a softer, kinder and less angry society, Dcn. Matthias explained that we need to recognize one another as children of God who all deserve the same amount of dignity.

“If we can take away the rights of a child in the womb, then it becomes easier to do the same to anyone who we deem less worthy,” Dcn. Matthias said. “We must restore a culture of life and (we) start by protecting the poor and vulnerable.”

The change toward becoming a culture of life begins in the home, in our domestic churches, Dcn. Matthias said. Parents and grandparents need to speak to their children about what it means to be pro-life and demonstrate it. He said he would enjoy seeing families engaged in community service, and working and serving those in need.

“We must tell them that even though something is currently legal, that doesn’t make it right, and we have to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves,” Dcn. Matthias said. “And we need to have the strength and courage to stay the course, even when it’s our daughter or granddaughter who might be facing an unexpected pregnancy. All too often, when even just one family member or friend supports the woman, she chooses life for her baby. I think it’s important for our clergy, parishes and schools to be more outwardly pro-life. There should be no confusion on where the Catholic Church stands when it comes to being pro-life.”

Dcn. Matthias encourages these three ways to promote respect for the lives of the unborn.

  1. There is a Rite for the Blessing of a Child in the womb. We prayed it at Mass during Mother’s Day. It’s a blessing for the parents and the child. It also reminds those sitting in the pews that we are blessing this gift of a child even before it’s born. A priest or deacon can also give this blessing privately. It’s beautiful and powerful.
  1. Have regular diaper drives, baby bottle collections or clothing drives at the parish. We get accused of only caring about the baby before it is born because people aren’t aware of all the effort the Church puts into helping both mom and child after the birth. Usually, the items are given to pregnancy centers, or parishes maintain a smaller supply to assist the new family.
  1. Some parishes have mom’s groups. It would be great to regularly advertise in the bulletin for pregnant women to join even before the baby is born. Moms can be valuable resources and mentors to new moms.