Sparks of life and mercy

I cheer for writers the way I cheer for the Red Sox. Once a writer – especially a nonfiction essayist – catches my eye, I’ll look for events where I can say “thank you” in person. Such a writer is Kathryn Jean Lopez, a journalist with a deep-rooted prolife commitment. When she appeared recently at a nearby conference to speak on the theme “Life After Roe: a time of radical challenge and opportunity”, I knew I had to go.

Lopez has written and reported extensively on politics, the life issues, culture, and Catholicism, always with a keen eye. So what does she make of this messy post-Roe culture of ours?

I soon learned that while her essays and reportage are marked by focus, her public speaking is of another order: one story after another in an energetic stream-of-consciousness style. She seemed to shoot off sparks, illuminating one point then another in rapid-fire style that rendered my note-taking nearly useless.

She talked about people. not politics. As one story flowed into another, she made clear where roots need to be cultivated: between people, in one-on-one conversation and service.

“We need to double down on the mercy,” post-Roe. She kept coming back to mercy, and to patience as well. “Being patient with everyone [is key to] life after Roe.” She urged extending that patience to people spreading misinformation about the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. “Assume that people just don’t know. Assume best intentions.”

Lopez is a sidewalk counselor outside a New York abortion facility on a regular basis. She’s a journalist by vocation, and praying on sidewalks was definitely not in her skill set at first. Yet that has become part of her commitment, incorporating prayer and encounter into her life’s work. And those encounters don’t stop once an abortion is over. “We have to be hyper-sensitive to the needs of post-abortive women.”

What moved her to join sidewalk ministry? Seeing medical waste trucks outside the abortion facility, and realizing that the “waste” included human remains. She refused to turn away. In her professional work, she shares with her readers and listeners why they shouldn’t turn away, either.

“Pro-lifers need to have an examination of conscience,” always acting in ways that are merciful, and not just on the sidewalk: for one example, she cited the need to promote policies that support adoption and foster care.

“Think creatively. You never know what you’re being used for….Even those close to us need to know we will love them, not judge them.”

As a Catholic, she noted that the “Walking with moms in need” initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has not yet taken off in a big way. She encouraged her listeners to discover the program. I’m Catholic myself, and I hadn’t been familiar with it. I’m learning about it now.

Here was a journalist, intensely practical, politically savvy, who could have spent an hour talking about strategy and lobbying and state-level legislation. In a room full of activists, that would have struck a familiar if not comfortable note. Instead, with each story she shared – with each spark, so to speak – she illuminated a way forward that isn’t paved with laws and court decisions.

Listening, serving one-on-one, being patient, extending mercy every day in big and little ways: those are precisely the challenges and opportunities that Kathryn Jean Lopez came to talk about. She spoke with urgency, as if she were afraid she’d run out of time before her work was done.

I’m writing this several weeks after hearing her speak at Assumption University. I mentioned earlier that taking notes during her speech was hard, because she kept moving from story to story. She forced me to listen to her whole message, not just listen for the occasional catchy quote (though I did my best to capture some). As a veteran of the public-policy aspect of pro-life work, I needed to hear what she had to say. She left an impression on me while I’m still in the process of decompressing from years of State House work.

You’re not done, she seemed to be saying. There’s better work ahead.

My thanks to Massachusetts Citizens for Life for hosting the convention at which I heard Ms. Lopez speak.