By Kirsten K. Evans
WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 16, 2010 (Zenit.org).- On Capital Hill, President Barack Obama and U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi are praying for 216 votes.
That’s the number they and the Democratic Party need to secure a victory on the long struggle over a health care reform bill, one of the hallmark issues of Obama’s administration.
But right across the river, Bishop Paul Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, is praying for a different number — 215.
The House is expected to vote this week on the version of the health care reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate earlier this year. If the House approves it with a vote of 216, the legislation is virtually certain to be signed into law by the president.
A bishop’s plea
The bishop held a day of prayer and fasting in his diocese on Monday with the intention of protecting the life, dignity, health and conscience rights of every human person in the legislation that Congress is considering.
“Catholic teaching tells us that our support for the dignity of life includes access to affordable health care,” he wrote in a letter distributed in every parish bulletin throughout the diocese on Sunday, as well as by e-mail and to the media. “This support, however, cannot come at the expense of the respect for life at all stages, from natural conception to natural death.”
He invited the faithful to fast for the protection of the “life, dignity, health and conscience rights of every human person in any legislation that Congress considers.”
“In moments of concern and crisis, Catholic tradition through the centuries has unfailingly urged the faithful to turn to the spiritual aids of prayer and fasting. I ask you to consider offering a rosary, prayers at Mass, time spent in Eucharistic adoration or other forms of prayer for this intention. Through our fasting and prayers, we ask the Lord to lead the hearts and minds of our nation’s leaders as they make crucial decisions concerning the protection of life.”
Bishop Loverde’s call to the faithful for prayer and fasting to defeat the abortion provisions contained in the bill went out to a diocese that envelops nearly 3 million people.
The Diocese of Arlington incorporates 21 counties within its borders, among them some of the most educated, affluent and politically powerful counties in the nation.
Flanking the Western border of the District of Columbia, the Diocese of Arlington is home to many of the nations most prestigious and influential public policy makers and political players.
Concern for reform
The U.S. bishops have long been advocates of national health care reform; a system they feel often penalizes the poor, disenfranchised, and vulnerable of American society.
But the bill that now stands at the center of the American debate would include a broad allocation of federal funds toward abortion and abortion rights — an element the bishops deem unconscionable.
“In our Catholic tradition, health care is a basic human right. Access to health care should not depend on where a person works, how much a family earns, or where a person lives,” the bishops state on their Web site. “Unfortunately, tens of millions of Americans do not have health insurance.
“According to the Catholic bishops of the United States, the current health care system is in need of fundamental reform. A society that does not ensure basic life-affirming health care for those in need is failing in a basic responsibility.
“Since the right to health care is based on the right to live, it is also clear that what attacks life is not health care at all, and not a legitimate goal of health care reform. The Church insists that reform is too important and legitimate a goal to be hijacked by destructive agendas such as government-mandated abortion coverage.”
Response of the Faithful
Anne-Marie Dardis, a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Alexandria, Virginia, was grateful that her pastor included the bishops’ letter in the Sunday bulletin. “After watching the news all weekend and feeling bombarded with all of the news on health care, it was nice to know that there is something concrete I can do to show that I really do care.”
Ann Marra of St. Mary’s in Old Town, Alexandria, said, “Our pastor exhorted us to use ‘whatever means available to us’ to stand up for the dignity of human life. I feel like [the] fast is a modest but essential first step.”
Joelle Santolla, director of communications of the diocese, told ZENIT that “the reaction throughout the diocese has been very positive, even stronger than we expected, and we are happy to see the initiative being picked up by blogs and media, spreading the news, so that ultimately the movement spreads beyond the diocese.”
“It is not enough just to pray and fast,” she added. “We are asking our parishioners to let their prayer lead to action, and to follow-up by contacting their legislators to make their voices heard. We have links on the diocesan Web site which facilitate this for people.”