Bonita Thom
Director of Office of Respect Life

Each October, we celebrate Respect Life Month throughout the Diocese of Superior. This year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Pro-Life Secretariat has titled the theme of our Respect Life Program “Radical Solidarity.” Solidarity is a tenant of Catholic Social Teaching which teaches us that to love our brothers and sisters, we must promote peace and justice in a world of conflict and hostility. The reflection for this year’s theme focuses on the Gospel of John: “I give you a new commandment: Love one another. Such as my love has been for you, so must your love be for each other. This is how all will know you for my disciples: by your love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

I was very fortunate to know someone who lived a life of radical solidarity, and I witnessed the impact he had on both those in need and the college students to whom he ministered. Fr. Bill Mehrkens was the priest at the Newman Center in Moorhead, Minnesota, and served as my mentor during my college years. Fr. Bill taught, preached, and lived a life that projected peace and justice. He was a humble man who always exhibited respect and care while providing for the needs of others. He helped establish a Dorothy Day House in town and later Churches United for the Homeless, a local shelter. I knew him during the in-between time when the shelter was in the basement of the Newman Center on the weekends.

It was during the hours of volunteering at the shelter that I was able to connect with many people with various backgrounds and struggles. We volunteered and spent nights providing for the people who came to the shelter as well as provided them with a modest breakfast before we needed to open the office. Each volunteer had different gifts to offer. Some were a ray of light and offered hope, while others listened to their challenges and offered direction to services that might help them. The challenges people faced varied from struggles with addiction, leaving abusive relationships, generational poverty, and falling between the cracks in the social welfare system. In these circumstances, their humanity and dignity were acknowledged and respected. Fr. Bill reminded us of the Scripture verse from Matthew 25:40, “And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

For the past few years, the Pro-Life Secretariat has focused on mothers in need through the “Walking With Moms In Need” program. The initial phase of this program inventoried community resources specific to moms and families that are also beneficial to anyone in need by including medical, financial, and other necessary resources. The next step in the program focuses on ministries that are inclusive and supportive of moms and families in the parish and community.

In the coming year, may we work toward radical solidarity by sharing our gifts and talents with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially those who are experiencing difficult circumstances.

Bonita Thom