I really thought I could nail down that Forest Society patch for visiting 33 Society properties throughout New Hampshire. I’ve fallen short. Dalton and Sandwich did me in, which is to say I haven’t been able to manage a trip to Dana Forest or Eagle Cliff. I’ll settle for earning the patch via tier 2 status, AKA the easy way, which involves concentrating on one specific region and answering a few questions about the properties there. I shall send the Forest Society my entry in a New Year’s Day email.
Don’t think for a minute that my time on the patch project has been wasted. I loved every property I visited. Every mile driven was worth the time and effort. Sometimes, I’d go a few miles off-route on a business day just to find one of the reservations or forests on the project list. (Tip: always keep walking shoes in the car.) One gorgeous fall day, I spent hours on the Route 16 corridor plus-or-minus a few miles, discovering four Forest Society properties including High Watch Reserve. I wanted to stay up there on Green Mountain until the last leaf dropped.
Seeking inspiration for your hikes this coming year? Check out the Forest Society’s list. Make a list of state parks you want to visit. Do a web search of conservation commissions in the towns near you; you’ll find a treasury of local trail maps and descriptions.
Having enjoyed music from NCC students both at their campus and at various New Hampshire events, I can say you’re in for a treat if you attend one of the Polyphony Choir’s upcoming performances. All these events are open to the public.
Saturday, December 9: Enfield, NH, Shrine of Our Lady of LaSalette, 5:15 p.m. concert: “Carols to Light Our Way” followed by 6:30 p.m. Mass
Sunday, December 10: Manchester, NH, Ste. Marie Church, 9:30 a.m. Mass
Sunday, December 10, Nashua, NH, St. Aloysius of Gonzaga Church, 6:00 p.m. concert: “From Advent to Christmas: a Concert of Carols”
Monday, December 11, Stockbridge, MA, The National Shrine of the Divine Mercy: Mass at 2:00 p.m.; concert TBA (contact NCC for further information as the date approaches; 603.456.2656)
Tuesday, December 12, Baltic, CT, Academy of the Holy Family: 1:00 p.m. concert: “From Advent to Christmas: a Concert of Carols”
Tuesday, December 12, Bridgeport, CT, St. Augustine Cathedral: 6:30 p.m. concert: “A Concert to Honor Our Lady,” followed by 7:00 p.m. Mass
Father Stephen Imbarrato of Priests for Life paid a visit to New Hampshire recently, leading a prayer vigil outside Manchester’s Planned Parenthood office before speaking to an attentive audience about effective pro-life action. “We aren’t doing enough: that has to be our starting point.”
Fr. Imbarrato, an EWTN television personality and longtime pro-life activist, was a guest of New Hampshire Right to Life. About 25 people joined him for prayer outside PP, at midday on a workday. A larger group attended his presentation afterward at a nearby retreat center.
I was drawn by Fr. Imbarrato’s story, and despite my differences with Priests for Life – more about that below – I found his message worth hearing.
The Foundation for His Work
He has a unique personal story, with an astounding array of experiences that leave each listener with something with which to identify. A priest who’s an adoptive father, grandfather, and father of an aborted child – thereby hangs a story, to which he referred only in passing in his New Hampshire appearance. We’re left with YouTube to lay the foundation for Fr. Imbarrato’s work.
Basics: “We’re Not Doing Enough”
In New Hampshire, Fr. Imbarrato began his presentation by referring to his Priests for Life colleague, Fr. Frank Pavone. “As he says, our work should begin with repentance. The biggest obstacles [to a culture of life] are within ourselves. We aren’t doing enough; that has to be our starting point.”
“Enough” starts with prayer, with Fr. Imbarrato recommending that activists – and those Catholics who should be activists – pray to God daily, with this petition: “What can I do, through Your grace, to save a child today?”
He is not a supporter of the “faithful citizenship” or “consistent life ethic” model advocated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, fearing that it dilutes opposition to abortion and euthanasia by introducing other issues including immigration and the environment to a list of topics for the faithful to consider when casting a vote. Politically, he said, this is “pandering to Catholic Democrats.” He called the split Catholic vote in the United States “a scandal.”
“Abortion and euthanasia are foundational. You can’t be wrong on those. These are the pre-eminent issues of our time.” He recommended Pope St. John Paul II’s Gospel of Life(1995) and the USCCB’s Living the Gospel of Life (1998) as documents that clearly affirmed this. “Read and share them.”
At the Ballot Box
The leader of Priests for Life, Fr. Frank Pavone, was NHRTL’s featured speaker at their 2016 banquet. The point he pressed the most in his speech, aside from opposition to abortion, was the imperative of electing Donald Trump to the presidency,and the evils of not doing so. (The election was only a few weeks away at that time.) I was repelled by both major candidates, and I eventually voted accordingly. In his NHRTL speech, Fr. Pavone pretty much ordered voters like me off the island, so to speak. Fr. Imbarrato, without mentioning the 2016 election directly, was obviously on the same page.
Every general election candidate choice is easy, he said: “is a candidate pro-abortion or not? There’s one issue and one issue only.”
(Indeed – and I was skeptical last fall of a presidential candidate who made pro-life noises but had no pro-life roots. But I digress.)
He is optimistic about the pro-life possibilities under President Trump. He called the prospect of presidential personhood proclamation part of a “decisive strategy” toward changing a pro-abortion culture. As for urging the President to take such a step, he said, “we have direct access to this President” via social media, an avenue never exploited to such an extent by previous presidents.
Pro-life Leadership in the Catholic Church: “Not United”
Fr. Imbarrato was unsparing in his indictment of American bishops as factors both cultural and electoral tolerance of abortion. “The bishops aren’t united” in recognizing abortion as the foundational pro-life issue. Further, “We’re not hearing our shepherds talk about chastity. That has repercussions.”
How can Catholics respond to this? He suggested three ways to “up our efforts.” First, “pray inconveniently” – meaning in front of abortion facilities, in season and out of season. With that, “fast – that’s always inconvenient.” Finally, “almsgiving – acts of charity and mercy.” They add up to witness, he advised, that can move even bishops.
He added this to the list later in his talk: “invite people to Mass.”
Fr. Imbarrato urged his listeners to embrace “decisive strategies to end abortion,” ranging from political to spiritual.
•”Heartbeat bills,” which would make abortion illegal once a fetal heartbeat is detectable, early in pregnancy. “All our efforts” – presumably he meant political ones – “should be toward that.” He cited Ohio’s heartbeat bill as an example. Perhaps due to time constraints, he did not mention that Ohio governor and former presidential candidate John Kasich vetoed the bill last December, citing concerns that it would lead to unwinnable litigation. At the same time, Kasich signed a 20-week ban without exceptions for rape or incest.
•Resisting the use of tax dollars to support abortion. He mentioned a proposal for a “national tax strike,” advanced by Mark Harrington of the Center for Bioethical Reform.
•Sustained peaceful, prayerful protest outside abortion facilities. He said he has no problem with the use of what he called “abortion victim imagery,” a longtime point of contention within the pro-life movement. (40 Days for Life, for example, does not employ that tactic, and I personally consider the bloody-baby photos counterproductive.) No apologies for that from Fr. Imbarrato: “let’s start upsetting people.”
•A personhood proclamation from the President. “Start talking it up. Personhood is the right strategy.”
His New Hampshire audience was appreciative, all too aware that in our state, abortion is legal throughout pregnancy with nearly no regulation. (While New Hampshire has in place good cultural markers like parental notification and a partial-birth ban, neither one addresses a preborn child’s fundamental right to life.) The people around me, without exception, seemed to be refreshed by Fr. Imbarrato’s bracing words.
Whatever my differences with him, I recognize that anyone who energizes people to peaceful action in defense of life has something of value to offer. Anyone who challenges Catholics to take their civic responsibilities seriously is doing important work. Any man with Fr. Imbarrato’s experience speaks with an authority that must be respected.
A sense of place, of gratitude for one’s own surroundings, is a wonderful thing. I had to learn it and earn it. Here’s my post from Granite State Walker (August 2013) about a gentleman who helped me along the way.
Mr. Stiles’s lesson: share what you love
In August 2013, I read in the newspaper about the passing of a New Hampshire gentleman named Walter Stiles. The published tributes indicated that he was a generous man in every respect, devoted to his family, active in his community. I met him once more than twenty years before his death, had a single unforgettable conversation with him on the subject of lilacs, and never saw him again. In the short time we chatted, he managed to convey his great and contagious affection for this state and its natural beauty.
We were at a political gathering, not a social one, and there was a lot of edgy debate among attendees that day. No matter. By some chance, I was seated next to Mr. Stiles, who I think was a state representative at the time. His kindness and dignity were a kind of antidote to the tension in the room. I asked him what he did when he wasn’t serving in his political office. I realize now that he could have said any number of things, for as his obituary made clear, he was a man of many parts. What he chose to tell me about was his interest in horticulture, particularly lilacs.
I had never paid much attention to lilacs before that time, to tell you the truth. They were just sort of there. Listening to Walter Stiles, I began to realize what I’d been missing. He told me about the Governor’s Lilac Commission, which was a fairly new group at that time. He told me that the lilac was the state flower, and that he hoped to see more people plant them around their homes and schools and towns. He talked about the flower’s wonderful fragrance (which I had never stopped to notice). He told me about the people working with the Commission and with their own local garden clubs to encourage cultivation.
When the day’s proceedings were over, he bid me a cordial farewell and went on his way. He must have been grinning to himself, knowing better than I did that he had dropped an idea in front of me and that I was sure to pick it up eventually.
As I said, that was many years ago. Since then, lilacs planted by my husband have grown to line one side of our yard. I wait impatiently every spring for those gorgeous blossoms. I fill vases with them and bring them into the house so the fragrance can fill the rooms. Wherever I see lilacs in blossom, I appreciate all the colors from white to deepest purple. I’m grateful to everyone who has gone to the trouble of planting the bushes, which take a few years to establish. As I learned to look for lilacs, I learned to keep my eyes open for the other flowers all over New Hampshire. The variety astonishes me anew every year.
It’s no accident that I do more hiking as I get older. I have more to appreciate and enjoy. I’ve benefited from many people who have taken the time to share with me their love of this state’s beauty. From such folks, I am learning more all the time, and I have all the more reason to savor my time on the trails.
If you’re a fan of being outdoors, I hope you’ll do what Mr. Stiles did: share your enthusiasm. I only met him once, and I never had the chance to thank him for expanding my horizons just a bit. I’m guessing he’d consider those lilacs in my yard thanks enough.
Sarah and Griffin’s Law has been signed. I was determined to see this happen, in person. I wouldn’t believe it otherwise.
New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu signed SB 66 on June 30, and now the fetal homicide measure will be known as Sarah and Griffin’s Law. It will go into effect January 1, 2018.
At that time, prosecutors will have the option of bringing a homicide charge against a person whose violent actions cause the death of a preborn child at or after 20 weeks’ gestation, against the will of the mother.
The state Supreme Court’s 2009 plea in the Lamy case was a factor in passage of this new law. Overturning a drunk driver’s homicide conviction for killing a child who died from injuries sustained in utero by the drunk driver’s actions, the Court told the legislature it would have to update state law in order for such a charge to stick.
Finally, the legislature and a governor have answered the Supreme Court with something other than “meh.”
The families of Griffin Kenison and Sarah Crucitti were at the Governor’s side as he signed the law. Their extended families, children included, filled the Executive Council chamber. Some held photos of Griffin and Sarah.
Three generations of Griffin’s family were there, including “Grammy Shirley,” who told me with deep emotion three years ago “we’re on a crusade.”
A year ago, Governor Sununu was an Executive Councilor. In that capacity, to the dismay of many voters, Councilor Sununu in voted “Yea” on a state contract with abortion providers – a contract that the Council had rejected a few months earlier, with Sununu voting “Nay.” He flip-flopped.
Shortly before the 2016 gubernatorial election, with Sununu in a tight race, a concerned pro-life Republican asked Republican candidate Sununu what pro-life initiatives he (Sununu) could support. The candidate responded with a short list, made public with his consent.
Fetal homicide was #1 on the list.
I give him credit for keeping his word.
I give credit to the legislators who persevered to pass a fetal homicide bill. At least one New Hampshire legislator has been an advocate for such legislation for more than twenty years.
I give credit to the concerned voter who last year elicited Chris Sununu’s written support for fetal homicide legislation.
I give credit to the New Hampshire Supreme Court justices, who in signing the Lamy decision placed the matter squarely in the legislature’s arena eight years ago.
I give most of the credit to the families who lost their children and who came to Concord again and again to tell their stories.
I spoke to baby Griffin’s great-aunt at the bill-signing ceremony. “I didn’t think I’d live to see this day,” I told her.
“A Safe Harbor for Mother and Child.” Step by step, St. Gianna’s Place is on the way to becoming a shelter for pregnant and parenting women. Administrative details are in place: a board of directors; nonprofit tax status. Now comes the work of acquiring a house, most likely in Londonderry, New Hampshire.
St. Gianna’s is taking shape one step at a time, guided by board members and an increasing number of supporters. One of those supporters, Lynn, hosted me and several other women for coffee recently so we could meet Maria Szemplinski of the St. Gianna’s Place board.
Maria talked about the planned home and about the people whose vision has brought the project this far. She told us about the need for more shelter beds in our area: “our Calcutta is right here,” she said, evoking Mother Teresa. She talked about other shelters in the region and how their staffs have been generous in sharing their advice and experience with the St. Gianna’s team.
So what’s next? We asked Maria what we could do.
One obvious answer: fundraising. That wasn’t what Maria led with, though. She asked us to consider what our gifts might be.
I knew some of my fellow guests slightly, and had met others for the first time that morning: a student active in pro-life work at her school, people with experience working with at-risk youth, an adoptive parent. These were women with full lives, hardly in need of another project, but all of them eager to offer practical assistance to pregnant and parenting women. I was in a room full of potential mentors and teachers.
Our hostess was meeting one of St. Gianna’s most urgent needs by welcoming us for an information session. Spreading the word is critical to attracting the material support the project needs. Maria and her fellow board members welcome opportunities to speak with any person or group who’d like to learn more.
Maria made it clear that even at this stage, the St. Gianna’s board is on the lookout for people with the skills to work with women who want educational guidance, job training, and parenting skills.
Eventually, it will be time to furnish and equip the house that will serve as the shelter. There will be ongoing needs for food, baby supplies, and building maintenance.
There will be – there is – work for everyone who wants to make the shelter happen and help it thrive.