Freedom to choose

With the recent seating of Pope Francis I, I want to believe that there is indeed a new day dawning in America and throughout the world.

As a child I had a friend who was a practicing Catholic (at least as much as a child can practice any religion). We were in the throes of discussing right and wrong when my friend told me not to worry, “if we sin we can go make a confession to the priest and it will all be forgiven.” This sounded wonderful to me. How in the world had I lived to be 11 years old without knowing about this? It was right then and there that I decided to become a Catholic. With a bold sense of determination and self-confidence I went to my father, a Pentecostal preacher, and announced my intent he convinced me to change my mind by telling me that only through believing in Jesus Christ and accepting him as my savior could my sins be forgiven. But, he told me that it was still my choice. And that is where I believe we need to be as a people today, we need to be free to make personal choices.

As Christians around the world celebrate this holiest of times known as Easter, and the Jews celebrate Passover, we are reminded that this is also a time for new beginnings and hope for our future; after all it is spring.

Whether you celebrate Easter or Passover or neither, this is a time for renewal and self-reflection. This is a time for growth and this is a time to open our hearts and our minds to what lies ahead with a newness of spirit and resolve. The world in which we live today is not that of our parents or grandparents, it is a scary place sometimes, and we need to be free to make informed choices. That is why we have elections. We hope to put into place individuals who will keep us safe and make the world a better place. Such, I believe, was the challenge before the cardinals in electing Pope Francis I; yet, as humble, good and righteous as he appears, we should remember that he is a man, not a god.

It is said that as cardinal, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a believer of serving the poor and the underprivileged. He spoke in favor of civil unions for gays and lesbians. It was reported that he has shown a willingness to accept women in positions of leadership in the church, and he appears to be a man of the people rather than a pious patriarch. If these things are true, then there may be renewed hope for those who want to have the freedom to make their own choices.

Freedom is what the founders of our country believed in. The freedom of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is still too often defined as “my way or the highway.” Before the Civil Rights Act, one was only free to eat at a diner counter in Alabama if they were white.

As a child I can remember seeing signs above water fountains saying “white” and “colored.” While we have managed to take away most of the racial prejudice, there still remains a desire to tell a woman whether or not she should have a child, or if two adults of the same gender should have the same rights as heterosexual adults.

If one truly believes that this is a time of renewal, a time of celebrating Christ rising from the tomb and washing away our sins, then it must also be a time for those of us who have been too quick to take away choices to step back and emulate Pope Francis in his attitude toward those who are suffering in whatever manner.

I have never been faced with the decision of whether to have an abortion. I can only imagine how terribly difficult a decision such as this must be and I respect the courage of those who have had to make such decisions.

I have no (known) gay or lesbian children, stepchildren or grandchildren, but if I did, I know that I would love and support them in their choices to include their choice to marry or not. I believe that marriage is a commitment between two persons with or without children. Having children does not guarantee love and commitment, just look at the divorce rate and the many single parent households? Whether to marry is a very personal choice a freedom.

Maybe there is a lesson to be learned by all of us if, indeed, Pope Francis is amenable to civil unions among gays and lesbians, maybe, just maybe our Supreme Court Justices will look at this argument before them this week and make the decision allowing the gay and lesbian community the same right to choose whom to love and to marry as their heterosexual neighbors. Maybe this will truly be a time of renewal because for whatever we believe, for whatever we stand, if we are to survive we must find a way to do it together, and that will take more than a priest, more than a pope, more than the Supreme Court; that will take God.

Let us pray for a blessed Easter, Passover and personal renewal of spirit.

Have a great day.

Vicki Westling is a Dunkirk resident and author. Send comments to