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NRL News
Page 6
July/August 2009
Volume 36
Issue 7-8

Fr. Raphael Challenges Pro-Life and Black Communities to
Build Bridges of Communication

At the National Right to Life Convention Prayer Breakfast, Keynote Speaker Fr. John Raphael, SSJ, told the pro-life attendees that the pro-life community and the African-American community have much in common regarding the respect for human life but have not connected with each other sufficiently.

As a black priest from New Orleans and chairman of the Josephite Pro-Life Committee, Fr. Raphael has worked for nearly 20 years to raise the consciousness of Blacks regarding the plight of the unborn. He sponsors regional workshops for pro-life education.

In his talks, he finds that African-Americans nod in agreement. But when it comes to voting, even the most pious pro-lifers will vote for a pro-abortion candidate because of social-cultural reasons. Fr. Raphael believes that the black population needs to be convinced that the life issue is so important that they would insist that whoever asks for their vote should be pro-life.

A dramatic focus on this issue arose May 17 when pro-abortion President Barack Obama gave the commencement address and was given an honorary degree at Notre Dame. This was an intense experience for Fr. Raphael, who is a 1989 Notre Dame graduate.

During the election, while the African-American boys in the high school in New Orleans where Fr. Raphael teaches were ecstatic that an African-American man could break the racial barrier to become president, Fr. Raphael had been carrying on a pro-life information crusade.

He cited abortion statistics, parallels between abortion and slavery, comparison of the number of black deaths from abortion to total black deaths (pointing out the genocide happening when blacks comprises 13% of the population but have 37% of the abortions), highlighting Planned Parenthood’s concentration of abortion clinics in minority neighborhoods, and relating the history of Margaret Sanger’s “Negro Project” to reduce births among blacks.

As we know, these facts did not change “the racial mandate” in a black community bursting with pride in a black leader who could become the U.S. president. But after Obama was elected, Fr. Raphael pointed out that the “Obama Abortion Agenda” was real and had real victims.

When it was announced that Notre Dame would honor Obama, Fr. Raphael was dismayed at the position this put him in, and the Church as well. If it was okay with Notre Dame to honor a pro-abortion president, then it must be okay with the Church. He felt he was suddenly transformed into “a quirky priest with a personal agenda.”

Fr. Raphael chose to participate in the Rally for Life at Notre Dame on May 17. He shared that the religion writer for the local newspaper, in a front page article, gave a fair and balanced explanation for his participation in the pro-life rally.

Yet African-Americans, he said, responded angrily, both to the article and to Fr. Raphael. Nevertheless, he felt that, after years of trying to provoke anger at abortion and getting only a yawn, the newspaper article did more to draw attention to the issue than anything else.

When the black priest from New Orleans arrived at the rally, he was welcomed with open arms by the pro-lifers. But Fr. Raphael commented that to his black brothers and sisters he was “an enigma at best and a traitor at worst.” So he asked himself why these two communities have not been able to connect with each other better. He pointed out that black culture has been forged out of suffering and is a world often alien to white pro-lifers.

Two moral concerns seem to stand in contradiction: the racial issue and the life issues. Logically, of course, these two concerns are not in contradiction. Yet social and political history have placed them in opposition. Is it possible to overcome this divide?

Fr. Raphael urged a strong bridge of communication between the pro-life and black communities to educate the average African-American on the importance of protecting the lives of unborn black children. This needs to be done in terms that are meaningful within the black community, one that speaks about their fight for justice and relates this to the injustice to black mothers, families, and unborn children in the abortion agenda. In addition larger resources need to be devoted to this educational work, building on those efforts already made.

Better public relations also should let the public know of all the good work pro-lifers have done for years helping pregnant women of all races, before and after birth, with generous support, he said. “Being pro-life is ... a way of life that places specific burdens and responsibilities on us,” Fr. Raphael emphasized. “But victory belongs to the children of God.”