Catholic Church: don't judge, just pray

Catholics across the US were encouraged to pray, fast and abstain from meat on January 24 for women facing unexpected pregnancies.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called for the day of prayer, stating: "May we accompany women facing unexpected pregnancies with the compassionate and merciful love of Christ."

In his address at the Opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life, Cardinal Sean O'Malley likened the feelings of a woman finding herself unintentionally pregnant to those of the woman who is almost killed for being adulterous in the Gospel of John chapter 8, saying they must feel "overwhelmed, alone, afraid [and] confused".

"We must never allow that woman to perceive the pro-life movement as a bunch of angry self-righteous Pharisees with stones in their hands, looking down on her and judging her," he urged.

"We want the woman to experience the merciful love of Christ. Jesus does not condone the woman's fall, but he does not condemn her.

"He invites her to make a new start, to know that she is forgiven and loved."

In the Biblical narrative, Jesus famously says to the men ready to kill the woman for her actions: "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." As the crowd know they are not sinless, they drop their stones and leave.

The USCCB invited believers to demonstrate similar forgiveness and mercy, being an unjudgemental people who love one another as well as those outside the Church.

"Pope Francis urges us to practice 'the art of accompaniment' which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other, in this case, the woman in crisis," the statement from the Bishops Conference reads.

"This accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian Life."

The Pope has repeatedly professed the importance of listening to, caring for and walking alongside those who feel abandoned, but do not believe they can turn to the Church for help.

"We need to practise the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur," Francis wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation last year.

At the end of its Year of Faith in November, the Catholic Church expressed a commitment to opening itself up more intentionally to respond to and engage with real life issues and the struggles that many modern day people have to deal with, such as unwanted pregnancies, and has been praying for a particular issue each Friday.

To get updates on the newest intention each week, go to http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/new-evangelization/year-of-faith/call-to-prayer-friday-fast-intentions-and-reflections.cfm

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