Mulvaney and Catholic Leaders Extol Sanctity of Life, Religious Freedom at Prayer Breakfast
The White House Acting Chief of Staff shared candidly of his faith at the gathering, even as Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka weighed heavily on the faithful.
More than 1,400 Catholic clergy and lay leaders gathered Tuesday morning for the 15th annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.
White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney headlined the event. A devout Catholic, the former South Carolina Congressman captivated the faithful who attended.
“Not enough people are open about their faith today,” said Mulvaney. “Christ wants us to be countercultural, to do the opposite of what is the popular thing at the time.”
Keynote speakers included Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix, Ariz., Curtis Martin of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), and Sister Bethany Madonna of the Sisters of Life. Representing the Vatican, Rev. Christophe Pierre opened the meeting in prayer.
“This is my first time at the prayer breakfast,” said Dr. Michael New, a Stanford scholar who studies pro-life policies. He recently moved to the D.C. area after joining the faculty at Catholic University of America. “It was a really inspiring event. I appreciated how Bishop Olmsted and others prioritized the sanctity of life in their remarks.”
After the weekend terrorist attack against Christians in Sri Lanka, several prayer leaders urged intercession for victims and their families. In addition, women representing two current faith films briefly addressed the audience. The diversity of voices and topics reflected a faith that touches many spheres of society.
“Across the administration, there are Christians of all denominations and folks from all different faiths,” said Mulvaney. “[We are] very vocal about our faith and practice our faith.”
Pro-Life Advances in Trump Administration
As top aide to the President, Mulvaney spoke about their advancement of pro-life policies.
He revealed that President Trump revised the State of the Union address last-minute. The added lines included: “These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and their dreams with the world.” He referred to lives in the womb, lost to abortion.
“The principles of our faith are alive and well and well-respected in this administration — and driving many of our policies,” said Mulvaney. “If you take a look at what the administration has done in its first two and a half years, you can see the principles of our faith being manifest.”
Shawn Carney, president of 40 Days for Life, traveled from east Texas to attend. He addressed the value of prayer in the context of their grassroots pro-life advocacy.
“Across America, we are seeing tremendous impact from prayer,” said Carney.
“When you’re out there praying in front of an abortion facility, the no-show rate goes as high as 75 percent. We’ve seen during our campaigns that 99 abortion facilities have closed.
He praised the ecumenical pro-life movement, as he works with many evangelicals in an area that is “only two percent Catholic.” Carney also noted his fervent commitment to the Church.
“I am Catholic and glad to be at this event,” said Carney. “The guest speaker Bishop Olmsted is a wonderful soul. He regularly goes out to his 40 Days for Life campaign in Phoenix.”
In his remarks, Bishop Olmsted linked pro-life values to personal moral decisions.
“We will stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the authority to destroy unborn life.” – at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Bishop Thomas Olmsted recalls Saint John Paul II’s 1979 Washington, D.C. homily. #NCPB pic.twitter.com/CqRjmneCQh
— Catherine Hadro (@CatSzeltner) April 23, 2019
“Mothers and fathers, you are called to have great hearts — countercultural and brave,” he said. “You can build something better, freer, more generous and nobler beginning in your own home.”
Mourning Victims of Terrorism in Sri Lanka
Representing young adult missionaries on college campuses, Curtis Martin of FOCUS briefly addressed the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka that targeted Christians.
“[We are] a nation that is torn in many ways,” said Martin. “We’re walking through the scandals, the breakdown of the family, infanticide — we just saw anti-Catholic terrorism. When God’s people in the midst of their suffering cry out to God for mercy, He hears them.”
In coordinated attacks at four churches and two hotels in Sri Lanka, more than 320 people died and over 500 were injured.
Rebecca Shah leads the Southeast Asia Action Team for Religious Freedom Institute, a nonprofit advocacy group. She offered her expert perspective in an interview at the prayer breakfast.
“It was targeted at a Catholic area of Sri Lanka,” said Shah.
“Though the nation’s Christian population is only six percent, they are concentrated in certain pockets. Catholics are the most visible Christians in Sri Lanka. Because of the priests’ vestments, terrorists can easily identify them.”
She noted the incident could have been prevented with better government action. Intelligence agencies in India had warned Sri Lankan officials of a potential attack, but to no avail.
President Trump addressed the attacks, a statement which Mulvaney echoed.
“We’ve spent a great deal of time over the last two and a half years on the mistreatment of Christians and other religious minorities overseas,” said Mulvaney. “It’s powerful [and] heavy stuff. The President has taken the principles of our faith and made them manifest.”
Sparking Cultural Change
In the midst of devastation, prayer leaders at the event including pro-life advocate Abby Johnson spoke of an eternal hope. Her real-life story is the subject of the breakout hit film Unplanned.
“I’m waking up every day to dozens of messages of people telling me they walked into the film Unplanned pro-choice and walked out pro-life,” she said. “Women who had an abortion appointment scheduled went [to] see Unplanned. They watched the film and cancelled their appointment.”
Last week in a Congressional hearing, Unplanned co-director Chuck Konzelman gave similar testimony. He stated that nearly 100 people in the abortion industry had reached out to Johnson’s ministry about leaving their jobs.
“Friends, this is why we decided to do Unplanned: for the conversion of hearts,” continued Johnson. “This was to make God’s story and His radical mercy something that is known to every single household.”
The messages were rousing yet sobering all at once at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast yesterday. I started welling up with tears as soon as @AbbyJohnson walked on stage, overwhelmed by the power of the work God is doing for Life.
— Father Craig Vasek (@FatherVasek) April 24, 2019
Sharing of their advocacy for freedom globally, Shah emphasized the role of faith in society. “Religion is a fundamental part of human flourishing,” she said. “Man does not live on bread alone. Human beings are not just bodies, they are embodied souls.”
“The freedom to practice religion is not only a human right,” added Shah. “It’s important for the development of the poor, and for national security.”
Johnson urged believers to know what they stand for, not merely against.
“As Catholics, as pro-lifers, we must be about conversion,” she said. “It cannot be about outlawing things that are immoral. It must be about changing our culture to one that identifies things that are immoral and making them unthinkable. Unplanned has been a change agent in that way.”
Courage for Battles Ahead
Spiritual themes of repentance and renewal anchored the prayer event.
“We’ve lost our way spiritually,” said Curtis Martin of FOCUS. “In our history, [our nation has] experienced several Great Awakenings. Usually these [revivals] were inspired by evangelical Protestants, who call people to fall to their knees and beg God for mercy.
“Wouldn’t it be a great time for a Catholic Great Awakening? Let’s be the first to lead the way by falling on our knees to God and begging for mercy.”
For attendees desiring to live out that faith, a key takeaway was practical involvement in the pro-life movement.
“Civilized society should defend the weak and vulnerable,” said Dr. Michael New. “Everyone has a role whether it’s praying outside an abortion clinic, raising money for nonprofits, or helping with post-abortion counseling. There are countless opportunities.”
His fellow pro-life leader agreed in her remarks, linking their cause to the faith they hold dear.
“We have the truth,” said Abby Johnson. “It’s something that people in our world are searching for desperately. Don’t hide it under a bushel. Be bold in your faith.”