Weekend in Hermiston, OR

24-26 January 03 with Fr. Matthew

"A miracle happened in this parish this past weekend," beamed Fr. Joseph Reinig, pastor of Our Lady of the Angels parish in Hermiston, OR. This encapsulates what happened over three days in a parish of 1,100 families, 60 percent of which are Hispanic.

Fr. Dan McCaffrey, founder of NFP Outreach (Natural Family Planning Outreach) insists that God's plan for human love, or NFP, is a preachable message. Hermiston is living proof of this.

Oregon presents a real challenge to the acceptance of the values contained in Humanae Vitae. The state is 60 percent unchurched. Even Catholics pride themselves on being independent, free thinkers, and self reliant. The great push for euthanasia took place here, because of little resistance to it, and assisted suicide is still legal. There are no restrictions on pornography. In the Diocese of Baker, which encompasses 68,000 square miles, and everything east of the Cascade Mountains, there are 40,000 Catholics. Bishop Robert Vasa has 39 active priests to assist him, and many come from other countries and other states.

Fr. Joseph Reinig is 70 years old. He was a married man, with nine children, and then became a widower. He was called to the priesthood, did his theology at Blessed Pope John XXIII seminary in Weston, MA, and was ordained in 1998. When Marge Rolen approached her pastor with the prospect of a Parish Mission on Birth Control, he immediately recognized the value of this. Marge and her husband, Dr. Robert Rolen OD, teach natural family planning.

Both Fr. Reinig and Marge believe that the great response of the people to this message can be attributed to the blessings and assistance of our Blessed Mother. In Hermiston there are 75 family shrines dedicated to Our Lady of Schoenstadt, which is a form of Marian spirituality applied to marriage and family life. Our Blessed Mother prepared hearts for all this to happen, and for the receptivity to the Church's teaching on marital love.

Publicity went out to the parish and neighboring parishes a month in advance. Invitations to special events were sent to NFP couples, to midwives, medical doctors, and to local priests and deacons. Committees were formed. One More Soul provided 200 audiotapes of Janet Smith's "Contraception – Why Not?" in both Spanish and English. These were made available in the Church vestibule the week before, and almost all were taken. Attractive posters with photos of the speakers appeared on the Church doors, and notices were placed in local newspapers.

Emails and telephone calls exchanged regularly among Hermiston, Oklahoma City and Atchison, KS. Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB, a moral theologian from St. Benedict's Abbey in Atchison, arrived on Thursday, 25 Jan 03. Dr. Martha Garza, MD OB/Gyn, arrived on Saturday from San Antonio, TX.

Friday morning there was a two hour conference with six priests and two deacons. The emphasis here was how to preach this message, and where to find rich resources for explaining God's plan for human love and life. Fr. Matthew provided a wealth of material, much of which is available from One More Soul. (Visit their website: www.OMSoul.com) The response from the priests and deacons was enthusiastic.

Friday afternoon a reporter from the East Oregonian came to the parish for an interview. Fr. Matthew explained, in layman's terms, the beauty of God's plan for marriage and family, how far we have drifted away from that plan, and why respect for human fertility and the life-giving power of authentic love is the way to return to God's plan. The reporter invited Fr. Reinig to contribute future articles to the religion section of her newspaper.

Friday evening there was a potluck supper for NFP couples of the parish and their children, about 50 people. Fr. Matthew and Fr. Reinig encouraged the couples to continue the wonderful witness of their lives, and to share the secret of their good marriages and happy families with others.

Over the weekend there were six Masses, three in English, and three in Spanish. At all of the Masses Fr. Matthew received the complete attention of the congregation, an endorsement from the parish priests, and then applause. Clearly, the message of God's plan for human love and life was falling on ears open to the truth, and upon hearts willing to respond to God's will. Maria de Jesus (Chuchy), the parish secretary, helped Fr. Matthew fine-tunes his homily to the culture of the Mexican parishioners.

Saturday night there was a supper for medical doctors, nurses, midwives, pharmacologists, and teachers of NFP in Kennewick, WA, about 40 miles north of Hermiston. 30 people came to hear Dr. Martha Garza speak about the need for, and the merits of, NFP. This was the first time all these people had come together to reflect upon these matters. As a result of this event, we can expect that there will be much more promotion of these values in the Tri-Cities of Pasco, Kennewick and Richland, WA, and Walla Walla.

On Sunday, after each of the five Masses (2 in English and three in Spanish), there was a conference in the parish hall. Doughnuts, coffee and soft drinks were provided. After the 11:30, 1:30 and 6 PM Mass sandwiches and cookies were also provided by the parish, as well as child care. Many pamphlets in English and Spanish, published by the Couple to Couple League, were made available, along with audio tapes by Dr. Janet Smith on "Contraception – Why Not?" Topics ranged from sterilization, side effects of contraception, tactics used by Planned Parenthood, to benefits coming from the virtue of chastity.

Dr. Martha Garza MD is remarkably gifted for presenting the values of Humanae Vitae, Familiaris Consortio and Donum Vitae, documents of the Church which contain the moral principles which pertain to human love and human life. Besides being an OB/Gyn, she is also a reproductive endochrinologist, (a specialist in hormones and fertility). She brings both theoretical and practical knowledge of the dangers and risks to health caused by birth control pills, Norplant and Depo Provera. She explains how she came to fully appreciate the beauty of God's plan for fertility and life-giving love. As a woman, she brings a special sensitivity to the importance of fertility for a woman. "A woman," she asserts, "is by her very makeup a life-giving person." Contraception regards human fertility as a disease, instead of a blessing, and is a contradiction to love's requirement for total, unconditional gift of self to another person, and the total acceptance of the gift of self made by the other to you.

Audiences after each Mass listened and watched attentively as she described the biological processes involved in the first days of life. Many couples simply do not know how God designed the human body. They do not appreciate the fact that we are bodied persons, male and female, made in the image and likeness of God. Nor do they understand the importance of the fact that our fertility is an intimate part of our persons. The culture of death draws a curtain of non-perception over these realities, and reduces them to mere objects to be manipulated according to our whims.

Dr. Garza lamented that she had attended Catholic schools for 16 years, and never heard these values explained. Medical schools have not yet discovered natural family planning, and the money to be gained from the sale of contraceptives encourages them to ignore it. Only with time and lived experience did she come to understand where contraception and sterilization go wrong, and began to search more deeply into the Church's wisdom on human sexuality. Then she discovered the theology of the body as so eloquently explained by Pope John Paul II.

After the 8 AM Mass (English) 40 parishioners came to hear her. After the 9:30 Mass (Spanish) 70 came. After the 11:30 (English) 50 came. After the 1:30 (Spanish), 90 came. After the 6 PM (Spanish), 50 came. When you consider the energy that goes into making presentations, answering questions, and then dealing with private questions, you can appreciate how weary Dr. Garza was at the end of that Sunday.

Were there doubting Thomases and Thomasitas at Our Lady of the Angels? Undoubtedly. They have not heard this message proclaimed for over thirty years. And in this they are typical Catholics. But everyone today knows that something is seriously wrong in a society where more than 50 percent of marriages break up, 80-90 percent of Catholics are either contracepting or are sterilized, 1/4 to 1/3 of all unborn babies are aborted, and 80 percent of young couples are cohabitating. Everyone knows that this is not what God intended for love, life, marriage and family. Everyone is looking for a better way to promote good marriages and healthy, happy families. Only one stood up and left, and this health care provider. The collection that Sunday was as good as any typical Sunday. And most people applauded.

Many commented that Fr. Matthew's sermon did not make them feel condemned or harsh. They appreciated the fact that most of the blame was placed on the clergy for not telling us. One lady, a convert, said: "I wondered if not to sterilize was a Church teaching anymore since I had not heard it ever spoken at Church."

If this could happen in Hermiston, OR, at Our Lady of the Angels parish, it could very well happen at your parish also. For more information call

Natural Family Planning Outreach at 405 942 4084 or 405 728 9644 or email at nfpoutreach@nfpoutreach.org

What will be the follow-up at Hermiston? We can expect a greater demand for classes in NFP. Thus it is crucial that NFP teachers already be in place before the NFP weekend. Periodic reminders will come from the priests and deacons about the importance of these values. Pamphlets and audiotapes in both Spanish and English will be in circulation throughout the parish. God willing, when the happiness of marriages and the vitality of families in this parish increases and multiplies, other people will begin to notice and begin to ask: "What is it that you know that we don't know?"

Marge Rolen concludes: "We so appreciate this help from outside the parish, and the help of such expertise. We have only good things to say about NFP Outreach. It is God's help for our times."