The battle for life

Moira Cullings

In an increasingly secular society, Catholics are the underdog when it comes to fighting for life issues. But Father Luis Granados reminds us we have a very important weapon.

“We have the solution,” said Father Granados. “We have Jesus Christ, the Lord of life.

“You have to remember that the Lord is at work,” he said. “He’s greater than our sins and he has put us here to fight against all these crimes against life.”

Life issues in the modern age

Father Granados is a professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary who teaches topics like bioethics and moral theology. He is also in residence at St. Mary Catholic Parish in Littleton and serves as a chaplain for the Catholic Medical Association-Anschutz Medical Campus, an association of medical students at the University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus.

Father Granados and fellow chaplain Father Angel Perez-Lopez provide spiritual direction, Mass, confessions and conversations about Church teachings for students who are interested.

Through what they call “Bioethics, Beer and Pizza,” a monthly social event where the priests get together with some students and professors from the university, the priests have gotten to know the issues students face in their educational journey toward medical careers.

“One of the things they say is more aggressive right now is the gender ideology,” said Father Granados. “The persecution comes in that way.”

One of the first topics discussed in their emergency room classes is what to do when a person who is transgender comes in. They also face other topics in which their opinions aren’t popular, particularly with abortion and euthanasia.

Father Granados believes euthanasia has become more common due to the principle of “autonomy.”

“[People believe that] I am just an individual isolated, and I am the owner of my life,” he said. “We have forgotten that we are children of God, that we have received our light from the Lord.”

As part of the Respect Life Month this October, the archdiocese will host a variety of prayerful events outside of Planned Parenthood in Denver. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

He looks to St. John Paul II as an example of the invaluable wisdom and experience older people can offer.

“He was the strong one in the beginning, the active St. John Paul II, and later he became the passive and sick,” said Father Granados. “Both were talking about Jesus.”

Other life issues like suicide occur for a variety of reasons, and Father Granados believes part of the problem is a lack of connection with others.

“The perception is nobody loves me, I have no vocation, and also nobody needs me, I have no mission,” he said.

Father Granados believes that one-on-one interactions with those close to us will help change people’s hearts with these issues, along with prayer and calling representatives when applicable.

Although the situation might seem dim, Father Granados remains hopeful.

“The future belongs to those open to life and protecting life,” he said.

Responding to the culture of death

Several of today’s life issues have developed over the past few decades, and the archdiocesan Respect Life Office is determined to address them head on.

As part of Respect Life Month, the office’s annual Gospel of Life Conference taking place Oct. 20 will help attendees make sense of the confusing life issues in today’s world.

“It’s going to be such a powerful day,” said Lynn Grandon, Program Director at the Respect Life Office.

With this being the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae, the conference will focus on the outcome of his predictions.

“We decided to focus more on the prophecies that were within the document and the consequences that our society has faced because they ignored his prophecies,” said Grandon.

The future belongs to those open to life and protecting life.”

A handful of presenters will discuss how the Church is responding to the issues that have sprouted in our society since the pope’s warnings.

“Of course, the most common one is how he talked so forcefully about what would happen to a society that allowed artificial contraception,” said Grandon.

Grandon has found that when it comes to changing minds on such a massive issue, it works best to appeal to the right audience.

“When I talk to people out in the pew, what many don’t realize is Catholic thought has brought us to the place where we have responded in an amazingly wholistic way to the issue of contraception,” said Grandon. “We have phenomenal science backing these incredible natural fertility awareness-based methods.”

Grandon said many women, particularly in Colorado, are conscious about what they put in their bodies. But those who choose to eat organic-only diets are often also using birth control, which can have a negative impact on the body.

Marguerite Duane, MD, will discuss how to respond to this crisis with fertility awareness-based methods at the conference.

To address an even more recent issue in today’s society, Deacon Patrick Lappert, MD, a reconstructive plastic surgeon for men and women injured while serving in the military, will speak on transgender surgeries and Christian anthropology.

“Because he’s been in that [plastic surgery] field and has all of these peers that work in that field, he is acutely aware of what has happened in our society with people that are having transgender surgeries,” said Grandon.

Deacon Lappert will openly address what the media will not — how transgender surgeries work and the real impact they have on those who choose to undergo them.

For Grandon, it’s devastating to “hear the consequences in these people’s lives from doing this — not just physically, but what happens to them psychologically, and the greater proven exponential risk of suicide and all of the physiological things that happen to their bodies because they do this.

“[There are] things that they were not prepared for that are going to happen to them.”

Grandon believes that while presenting on a complex topic, Deacon Lappert will bring a message of hope to those in attendance.

“He brings in this Christian anthropology to show people in the audience how we, as followers of Christ at this disordered time in human history, are to show the love and compassion of God and reach out properly to these people to try to touch their souls and bring an awareness of God and the unconditional love of God back into their life,” she said.

What many don’t realize is Catholic thought has brought us to the place where we have responded in an amazingly wholistic way to the issue of contraception.”

Michaelann Martin, wife of Fellowship of Catholic University Students founder Curtis Martin, will present on help for families with special needs, Emily Stimpson Chapman will talk about Humanae Vitae with a fresh perspective, and Dr. Michael Barber of the Augustine Institute will wrap up the day.

Through the Gospel of Life conference, Grandon believes attendees will walk away with a better grip on their beliefs and how to articulate them.

“Every presenter is going to give them concrete tools that are going to help them dialogue effectively with their friends, relatives, associates, neighbors,” said Grandon. “Because that’s what we need right now — we need talking points.

“We need points of reason to dialogue with our friends and family on these issues and to help those around us to understand that at this crucial time in human history, the Catholic Church has solid moral, sensible, reasonable answers to what’s happening.”

Like Father Granados, Grandon is grateful that Catholics have a special weapon in the fight for life.

“We are the only entity right now in the entire world that offers hope in this time of crisis,” she said. “We have this balanced understanding of what has gone wrong, what is going wrong and how to fix it, so we can move forward in hope.

“Nobody else has that message — no one.”

COMING UP: Catholic medical students fearlessly take pro-life issues head on

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Catholic medical students fearlessly take pro-life issues head on

Despite conflicts, we need Catholic healthcare professionals more than ever

Therese Bussen

With abortion and contraception deemed as necessary practices in the medical field, and now with the legalization of physician-assisted suicide in Colorado, the healthcare field is not friendly to the Catholic teaching of defending natural life to natural death — or those who believe and practice it.

It’s particularly a challenge to medical students, who may be required to learn about or witness practices that conflict with Catholic teaching, and deal with difficult professors and colleagues.

But that’s not stopping Catholic medical students from pursuing the field, where they can be a witness to others. In fact, it requires a deeper faith life and relationship with Jesus Christ, according to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus chaplain, Father Angel Perez-Lopez.

“Sometimes the difficulties they encounter motivate them to go deeper in their faith, which isn’t a bad thing,” Father Perez-Lopez said.

Father Perez-Lopez and his co-chaplain, Father Luis Granados, provide Masses on campus, as well as confessions, advice and spiritual direction. They also host a once a month event where they discuss ethical questions with students.

Father Angel Perez talks with Kaitlin Vanderkolk, a second year medical student and a member of the board for the Catholic Medical Association, following Mass at the Bushnell Auditorium on the Anschutz Medical Campus on Oct. 24. (Photos by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

“Some of the issues are with the beginning of life and the end of life, basic virtues needed for healthcare, difficult scenarios, and the meaning of human suffering and sickness,” Father Perez-Lopez said. “We also talk about the false notion of autonomy of life as well as euthanasia and assisted suicide. Human life is everything.”

Difficult scenarios dealing with the dignity of human life are many even in the classroom, both from teachers and fellow classmates. But it’s also an opportunity to witness to the faith.

“We had a representative from Planned Parenthood to teach on ethics. The whole time, I held and prayed a rosary,” said physician assistant student at CU Anschutz, Catie Bettendorf. “During that class, God provided opportunities to talk to my classmates about my beliefs and why. It really comes down to being open to God’s will and asking Him to provide opportunities to share him with others.”

“In the medical field, students are taught that Natural Family Planning (NFP) methods have a 25% failure rate,” Bettendorf added. “This is of course false, and the data was gathered in misleading manner. I share journal articles with my classmates giving the actual data and the other methods. It has also prompted good discussion with peers who do not understand why I do not want to use birth control.”

Clinical rotations are another opportunity where students may encounter difficulties and provide a witness to the faith, says general medicine student at CU Anschutz, Catherine Waymel. Clinicals don’t start for another couple years for her, but she plans to be honest about her beliefs to both supervisors and patients.

“[I’ll handle it by] being forthright and just saying, ‘This is my situation, I conscientiously object,’ which is still acceptable in the medical field. And being forthright with patients,” Waymel said. “Just being honest and saying it is the best way to approach it. I expect an uphill battle, but I also can’t [be a health professional] without [my faith].”

We need physicians and providers who are also Catholic and believe life has value… Persecution shouldn’t be a deterring factor. It’s necessary so we can continue having providers who value life. It’s also a vocation, and every vocation has its challenges.” – Catherine Waymel, general medicine student at CU Anschutz

But to have a steadfast response to difficulties in the medical field requires a solid faith community, a life of prayer and a deep relationship with Christ, Bettendorf and Waymel said. Both are members of the Catholic Medical Association student chapter on campus, which provides Catholic students a place of solidarity and support.

“Our class is really fortunate — we have a lot of Catholic students and they’re very involved,” Waymel said. “I can’t help someone through suffering if I’m running from my own suffering…I can’t do it without a relationship with Christ. That group has helped a lot too, to know that I’m not the only one.”

“Without a relationship with Christ, there is no way I could stay faithful in this field,” Bettendorf said. “Each morning, I read the daily readings and offer my day to God. Sunday Mass, daily Mass when I can, reading good Catholic books and weekly adoration are crucial for me.”

Despite the challenges of the healthcare field in a culture that does not support the dignity of life, both Bettendorf and Waymel pursue their careers with confidence and encourage those similarly called to not be afraid.

“He made it abundantly clear I was supposed to be in healthcare, in Colorado, and he continues to reaffirm almost daily,” Bettendorf said. “There is a need for Catholic healthcare providers, and my desire and skillset aligns with God’s to meet that need. It is challenging but it is God’s will, and that is what ultimately fulfills us.”

“We need physicians and providers who are also Catholic and believe life has value. We’d very quickly have trouble finding someone who wouldn’t persuade a mother of two kids to avoid having more children,” Waymel said. “Persecution shouldn’t be a deterring factor. It’s necessary so we can continue having providers who value life. It’s also a vocation, and every vocation has its challenges.”

Father Perez-Lopez encourages students, or those interested in pursuing the field, to remember the true meaning of human suffering, which is so closely encountered as a professional, and to be unafraid if the Lord calls them to serve people in this way.

“At the core of problems people in this study face is the redemptive meaning of human suffering — we’ve lost that. To die, to be sick, to be handicapped, doesn’t make sense. Jesus gives suffering meaning,” Father Perez-Lopez said.

“I repeat, ‘Do not be afraid.’ The Lord has conquered the world…I would encourage them to be very well grounded in their faith and take this position [in the field] as an opportunity to rediscover and deepen your faith.”