By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 18, 2011
Three women received the 2011 People of Life Award for their lifetime commitment to caring for women and children.
The awards were given as part of the annual national Diocesan Pro-Life Leadership Conference that took place Aug. 8-10 in Atlanta.
One of the award winners is Magaly Llaguno, a leader since 1972 in the effort to reduce abortions in the Hispanic community in the United States and in Latin America.
“I really think that is the answer. Love. That’s the only way we are going to win the battle if we bring God’s love to them,” said Llaguno about the women who have had abortions.
The other honorees at the private dinner were Dr. Joanne Angelo, a Boston psychiatrist, and Mimi Eckstein of the Archdiocese of Denver.
The award recognizes people for their prolonged efforts on behalf of pro-life activities that uphold the dignity of the human person. It promotes the vision of Blessed John Paul II outlined in his 1995 encyclical “The Gospel of Life.”
It’s the fifth time the People of Life Awards have been handed out. They have been given previously to 14 honored leaders.
Llaguno, who lives in Florida, has made it her mission for more than a generation to serve the international Hispanic community. She founded Comite Pro Vida Internacional, which later became Vida Humana Internacional (VHI), the Hispanic division of Human Life International.
Internationally, there were an estimated 4.1 million abortions in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2003, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Abortions are tightly regulated in most countries in the region, according to the institute. In the United States, Hispanic women had 22 percent of abortions in the United States in 2004, according to the institute.
Llaguno’s initial efforts were modest, working without pay out of her home. But she took on more responsibilities to respond to community needs. She and collaborators have grown the international effort, starting organizations in Latin America, despite the threat of violence faced by activists there.
“That’s how it gets started. One person and over 100,000 babies are saved,” said Llaguno, talking about a colleague in Latin America.
The organization she founded provides assistance, training and materials to 26 organizations in 18 countries and information to more than 200 pro-life collaborators throughout Latin America. She has also spread her message in published writings and online and on radio and TV.
“If we don’t show God’s love to other people, we aren’t going to be believable,” said Llaguno as she accepted the glass award.
The national conference, held at the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel, Atlanta, had 126 registered people representing 51 dioceses from across the country. The conference is sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.
Before the awards ceremony and a dinner of Southern food at the famed Mary Mac’s Tea Room, participants filled the Sacred Heart Basilica, Atlanta, where Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo celebrated Mass.
The cardinal, the archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas, and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, encouraged the group of mostly women filling the pews of the historic downtown church to persevere in their efforts.
“We work even harder for the victory of human life,” he said.
Cardinal DiNardo said the pro-life ministry is an important dimension of the efforts of the USCCB. He said the leadership conference is an opportunity for people who work on the issue to support each other and learn from each other’s efforts.
He said the “obvious challenge” in the future will be ensuring that conscience protection measures are part of government-mandated health care programs.
Cardinal DiNardo has criticized proposed government mandates for “preventive services” that must be included in any health plan under the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
One of the mandated services is coverage of “all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.”
He has said the exemptions offered to religious organizations by the government are “so narrow as to exclude most Catholic social service agencies and health care providers.”
Working with the federal government will require “all of our wiliness” to achieve the goals and priorities of the church, he said.
“We’re really going to have to work hard,” he said. “I hope you will pray, pray. And then work.”
Honorees at the dinner were greeted with standing ovations by the crowd as they received their awards.
Angelo was recognized as a “physician, researcher, mentor advocate for post-abortion healing and defender of the elderly and dying.”
Trained at Tufts University School of Medicine, Angelo has published extensively throughout her clinical practice in child, adolescent and adult psychiatry. She has taught at Cornell, Harvard and Tufts medical schools. She has served as an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Tufts since 1974. Angelo has held leadership positions in several medical societies, as well as in University Faculty for Life and Women Affirming Life.
For 14 years, she has served as a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
She had a role in setting up a hospice program in Boston for people with terminal illness and getting the Boston Archdiocese involved with Project Rachel, a healing ministry for women who have had abortions.
In her brief acceptance remarks, Angelo thanked the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities for the recognition and the pro-life community for drawing her out of her medical office to work on the issue.
Mary Katherine “Mimi” Eckstein most recently was instrumental in starting the Gabriel Project in the Denver Archdiocese, in addition to her 20 years of service as the former director of the Respect Life Office.
The Gabriel Project is a program that pairs pregnant women in need with parishioners who assist them throughout their pregnancy and beyond. And under Eckstein’s watch, a second house to assist women in need is scheduled to open in September.
In accepting her award, Eckstein said she believes the honor goes to all the people who help the pro-life ministry serve the people, not for her efforts alone.
She also read a letter of greeting from former Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who is to become the new archbishop of Philadelphia Sept. 8.