Roses represent loss, youth bring hope at annual Respect Life Mass
FORT WORTH — Carrying a flower during the presentation of roses at the start of the annual Respect Life Mass was sad but empowering, Jessica Sheptock said.
Sad, because she knew each of the 60 roses represented one million unborn babies lost to abortion since Jan. 22, 1973. Empowering as she reflected that God created each of those lives, He knew each one, and He loved each one.
The Respect Life Mass is especially meaningful to Sheptock, mother to five-month-old Cesar Sebastian and birth mother to another son. “I knew I was not ready to be a mother when I became pregnant at 20, so by the grace of God I chose the option of giving my child to a family. My [first] son will always be near and dear to my heart, and he will live a full, happy life.”
Cesar was one of many children present at the Respect Life Mass at St. Patrick Cathedral, held Jan. 22, the same date the Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade 45 years ago and legalized abortion on demand. The children, including 70 youth in the choir from St. Michael Parish in Bedford, added a hopeful element to the somber Mass.
After the procession of roses, Betsy Kopor, the coordinator of Rachel Ministries for the Diocese of Fort Worth, placed the Book of the Innocents on the altar. Rachel Ministries offers spiritual and emotional healing for women after an abortion, which can include naming their aborted baby and writing his name in the book.
“The Book of the Innocents is a very beautiful part of the Mass,” said Terri Schauf, director of the Respect Life Office for the Diocese of Fort Worth. Schauf explained that the book always remains unopened, but its placement on the altar symbolizes placing those children with God.
Bishop Michael Olson celebrated the Mass. His homily detailed how the legalization of abortion has added to the elevation of individualism and selfishness in our culture and increased suspicion and mistrust — “mistrust between a mother and her child, between a husband and wife.”
The bishop cited the Gospel from Matthew 18, where Jesus said “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
A child, Bishop Olson reminded, is the most dependent in a family. Whereas our secular society values a false independence, interdependence is the ideal.
A person’s true identity is formed in service and in sacrifice, configured with Jesus on the cross. “Christ gives Himself that we might live and carry the truth of the Gospel, including the inestimable value of each and every human life,” Bishop Olson concluded.
Now in its 17th year, the Respect Life Mass is important to the diocese because it’s an opportunity to ask God for forgiveness as a nation for abortion and to pray that hearts will be converted to support life from conception to natural death, said Bishop Olson.
The Mass ended optimistically, with the bishop praying a blessing for the expectant parents in attendance.
Several students from the University Catholic Community at the University of Texas at Arlington attended to “offer prayers for the babies who have died and think about who they could have become,” said Estefania Barreto. Mia Flores added that as she saw several religious women and priests present, she wondered how many of the unborn babies might have been called to a religious vocation.
Sheptock, who said she is blessed to be a mother again, left the Mass encouraged because she was “surrounded by others with the same love for children and God. All together, we are praying for unborn children.”
Being pro-life is important for Catholics, Sheptock continued. She volunteers at a pregnancy aid center that helps mothers in crisis pregnancies by providing material and emotional support. “I want to let them [the clients] know that life is a possibility. It can be done. And it’s a decision that will weigh on a mother’s heart for the rest of her life.”