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Immigration, heartbeats on tap at Pro Vida congress

Archdiocese hosts national event with speakers covering gamut of pro-life topics

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ORLANDO | “Being a practicing Catholic is a synonym of being pro-life.”

Those words of Marcela Villegas, a speaker at an upcoming pro-life conference, summarize the values of the Church and its views regarding the sanctity of life.


On Oct. 29-31, the Archdiocese of Miami will host the sixth national Congreso Pro Vida, an event highlighting a multitude of pro-life topics important to the Church, from protecting life in the womb to abolishing the death penalty, with human trafficking, immigration and drug addiction also included. Hosted by Archbishop Thomas Wenski, the convention will encompass three days and feature more than a dozen speakers from diverse career backgrounds, including technology and legal services.

The Congreso Pro Vida — a national event — is being held in lieu of the annual Florida Respect Life Conference, which is generally held every October and hosted by a different Florida diocese. The event can be attended in person or virtually, and will include sessions in English and Spanish. In-person sessions will take place at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens.

Speakers will include Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop Felipe Estevez of St. Augustine; Mother Adela Galindo, founder of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary; Mari Pablo, campus minister and morality teacher at St. Brendan High School in Miami; Jim Wahlberg, executive director of the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation; and Clemente Aguirre, a death row exoneree.

In anticipation of the national congress, the Florida Catholic spoke with two speakers about their roles in the upcoming event and how they incorporated their faith into their conference discussions.

With current campaigns around the country to showcase the benefits of being pro-choice, Villegas has an important pro-life profession — ultrasound technician.

“God creates us with such love that it can be visible in each baby,” she said. “It is breathtaking to see a nine-week baby as little as two centimeters (0.7 inch) moving the legs and arms. Or a six-week baby’s heart sound. It is definitely without a doubt a miracle that only God is capable of.”

Originally a dentist from Colombia, Villegas decided her Catholic values were more beneficial by informing others of the importance of life in the womb. She has been a part of the local pro-life movement for eight years, working for the South Pregnancy Help Center, part of the Archdiocese of Miami’s Respect Life Ministry.


“Having the privilege and the responsibility of seeing life first-hand has greatly increased my Catholic faith,” she said. “I’ve been devoting more time to study our Catholic beliefs and history.”



Myriam Mezadieu, chief operations officer for Catholic Legal Services in Miami, shares a similar story about protecting life. Mezadieu’s primary concern is to stress the importance of the nuclear family in the immigration process in America. She quoted Mark 3:25, “‘And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.’ The same if a family is torn apart. It cannot survive.”

Her presence at the conference will express disdain for “what we have seen over the years, how migrant and immigrant families have been separated at the border and how the separation affects children.”

Maintaining and protecting life at all stages and at all costs is a burning fire for Mezadieu. Her lifelong goal is to uphold what she views as critical to her Catholic values, “by reuniting and keeping families together, by giving dignity to our migrant, refugee, immigrant sisters and brothers.”

The recent disaster at the U.S. border in Del Rio, Texas, that involved mostly Haitian refugees fleeing their war-torn homeland is a perfect example, Mezadieu said.

“We have seen the humanitarian crisis at the Del Rio border and how Haitians and Haitian families are being singled out under Title 42 and put on flights back to Haiti, a country reeling from crime, political upheaval, economic calamity, and a devastating earthquake on August 14 of this year. It does not only cause discomfort and distress but also places psychological stress on these families, and eventually leads children to depression and other psychological disorders. This is inhumane.”

Still, to change a person’s mind is difficult. Simply telling them about the horrors at the border or how abortion will destroy not only the unborn baby’s life but the would-be parents’ too, is just not enough. Proper dialogue on these humanitarian subjects is required, as is an open mind to assess the other side’s argument. That is what both speakers are hoping naysayers to their cause will have when they present in October.


Mezadieu knows that immigration is a hot button topic in America. She also knows how important it is to try and see the other’s perspective when discussing sensitive matters. “I put myself in that person’s shoes so that I can understand or empathize with their point of view instead of being quick to judge” and “will use what I have been taught by the Church to assist,” Mezadieu said. “The ability to listen and understand others’ plight as each one of us has a history or has experienced challenges” is a key to empathizing with another.



Villegas’ method when dealing with a pro-choice person is to simply show them the marvel on the screen. “As an ultrasound technician I have the privilege of seeing and hearing the miracle of life on a daily basis,” she said. “Usually there is not much need of me talking a whole lot to the patient. Most of the times changing a patient’s mind only takes the showing on the screen monitor of the motion of the baby and sound of his heart. After only a few seconds of seeing and hearing her baby, a pro-choice person can change her mind by seeing the beauty of life and decide to keep her baby.”

Fighting for immigrant families is why Mezadieu will speak at the Pro Vida conference. Without a well-stabilized family to help each other, she knows people will fail. She uses her favorite Bible passage, Psalm 100:3, to express her message. “Know that the Lord is God, he made us, we belong to him, we are his people, the flock he shepherds.” She recognizes that men and women are one with God and the significance of that connection should never break. “Who am I to object to life or force families to be separated?”

At the Pregnancy Help Center, Villegas knows “our pro-life message gets out every time a woman or a man comes through our doors doubting if is a good idea or not to keep their baby. We provide care, compassion, respect, love, and knowledge about the development of a human life. We make every effort so that our visitors leave our center with true knowledge about life.”

“It is essential to understand that pro-life is pro-family,” Mezadieu said. “Once one part of the body hurts, the entire body weakens. It is not only bringing a child into the world. It is also keeping this family together. We keep families together and or reunite families by assisting those who come to south Florida from foreign lands and who lack sufficient means to obtain legal help and by providing quality services without regard to faith, race, national origin, or any other distinguishing characteristics.”

“The Catholic Church teaches us that all human life is sacred,” Villegas said. “That is, from the moment of conception to the moment of our natural death. Our faith allows us to know and understand this concept.”

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