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catholics for a free choice

Some Reflections on Prayer Cards: What's the Problem?

Frances Kisslign

12 June 2004

Recently, some anti-women’s rights groups and a few moderates in the Catholic community have expressed outrage that Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir (an independent prochoice organization in Mexico that is part of Catholics for a Free Choice’s international network) has developed a prayer card for women who are considering or have had abortions. The very simple card appeals to the Virgin of Guadalupe and seeks her intercession.

For the ultraconservative crowd, of course, there is nothing a prochoice Catholic group could do that would not invite criticism. If one uses religious symbols, piety, or prayer, it will be called blasphemous; if one does not, it will be called secular. We spend little time worrying over their complaints.

There are times, however, when these objections provide an excellent vehicle for expanding on the issues and for dialogue with others in the church. The prayer card and other uses of traditional piety by Latin American prochoice Catholic groups is a case in point.

Frankly, items such as the prayer card and certain posters developed by Latin American prochoice groups are uniquely Latin American They are simply not the way we at Catholics for a Free Choice in Washington DC express our spirituality.

At the same time, those of us in the North (including colleagues in the Catholic community in Europe) would do well to adopt a learning posture in relating to southern spirituality and symbology rather than criticizing or dismissing it. After all, is it not valuable that those who are prochoice on abortion, family planning, and related matters to include prayer in their discourse and conscience formation? Is it not a good thing that they turn to the core stories of Christian piety in an attempt to understand what God is asking of them? Does it not make sense that they would, given Mexico’s strong commitment to the Virgin of Guadalupe, invoke her in their decision-making processes? Why would we find that inappropriate?

And why do we not comment on, criticize, and otherwise express our distaste for the same or even more political and callous use of religious symbols by those opposed to women exercising their moral wisdom in relation to pregnancy? Has no one in the Catholic mainstream noticed the religious art of the antichoice camp? There have been pictures of fetuses on the cross and prayer cards of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane passed out to pedestrians in public squares. Individuals will kneel before clinic doors holding up the Rosary. Each Good Friday, protesters in Boston dress as Jesus and drag a giant cross from one clinic to another, while others carry a porcelain statue of Mary. A “prolife artist” proffers images of “Stem Cell Jesus” glowing above a traveling family whose father holds the “stem cell infant.” The American Life League recently placed ads in newspapers around the US calling on the Catholic bishops to deny communion to politicians who vote in favor of safe and legal abortion using the crucifixion as their central image. Antichoice Catholic protestors have screamed “murderer” at women outside of reproductive health clinics and at political rallies against abortion, all whilst brandishing banners of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Do these religious symbols and stories belong to those Catholics who do not believe in women’s moral capacity to make choices? Do only some Catholics own our tradition’s religious symbols? Can we not respect the various styles of religious expression that serious, progressive, Catholic feminists will use in their journey?

I would hope so. I make no apology for my Latin American sisters who use our history, our stories, our saints, and our symbols. I applaud them.

Frances Kissling
President, Catholics for a Free Choice