(Maria McFadden Maffucci delivered this speech at the Human Life Foundation’s Great Defender of Life Dinner on Sept. 26, 2013, at which Eric and Susanne Metaxas were honored.)
Welcome to all our friends—I see many beloved faces here, and many new ones as well; I am so grateful you are all here tonight to help us honor Susanne and Eric Metaxas.
This is our 11th annual dinner, and we have just about a sell-out crowd! As you know, events like this take a terrific amount of work, and I thank all our staff and volunteers. A warm thanks to our board members, table sponsors, and dinner guests; and special thanks to Sean Fieler, Chairman of the Host Committee, and to Greg Pfundstein and the Chiaroscuro Foundation, as well as to Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and the Knights of Columbus, for supporting this dinner at the Ronald Reagan level.
In my welcome to you in this year’s dinner journal, you will read a bit about each of the “greats” we remember at this event—President Ronald Reagan, journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, Congressman Henry Hyde, Ambassador Clare Boothe Luce, and Rev. Harold O.J. Brown—and the integral roles they played in the Human Life Review’s history.
Also, in your gift bags, you will receive a copy of our latest book, The Reach of Roe, edited by our managing editor Anne Conlon, and the latest issue of the Human Life Review, with contributions by honoree Eric Metaxas, Anne Conlon, and John Burger, all here tonight. Other Review authors with us this evening are Senior Editor Mary Meehan, Brian Caulfield, and George McKenna. Our staff is small but mighty: In addition to myself and Anne, we have Rose Flynn DeMaio, our financial manager, and Christina Angelopoulos, my beloved sister, who is our production manager and IT expert. Our most amazing volunteer, Pat O’Brien, knows ALL of you by name. And a special thanks to Jennifer Lahl, founder and president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, who you will hear from later tonight, and who has brought you DVDs of her important documentary, Eggsploitation.
Part of the Foundation’s mission is to support pregnancy centers with matching grants, and that is how I met Susanne Metaxas, soon after she became the executive director of the Midtown Pregnancy Support Center in 2006. But I really came to know Susanne when we were both asked by the Family Life/Respect Life office of the Archdiocese of New York and the Sisters of Life to collaborate on a project with Michaelene Fredenburg and her ministry, “Abortion Changes You.” Our role was to help raise awareness and funds for a campaign to put “Abortion Changes You” ads on the New York City subways. Working with Susanne was a joy: She is smart, funny, compassionate and generous. It was her generosity that really impressed me: As a busy woman and mother, she took on this extra, volunteer project because of her overriding concern for women—both women facing unplanned pregnancies and women who have had abortions. Last year, we made a visit to the center after Susanne had it renovated, and I was really struck when I walked in. Let me put it this way—there can be an element of “do-gooding” where the focus is on the good done and not the person being helped. Susanne’s philosophy is completely the opposite. The minute you walk in to MPSC, you feel so welcome and special—it feels calm, and safe, and designed with the client in mind. I think the care Susanne put into this welcoming demonstrates her witness that each person who walks in that door is a child of God who deserves to know that they are loved by God—and if they can feel that love, then they can be open to the help they so sorely need.
The first time I remember being keenly aware of Eric Metaxas was also in 2006, when someone passed on to me his spoof of Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, a blockbuster bestseller which made offensive claims about Jesus. The book’s popularity was a sore spot for me . . . and Eric skewered it, in the form of a letter to the devil Wormwood, recalling C.S. Lewis’ wonderful Screwtape Letters. As a New Yorker, I do not like to call attention to myself, but I began chortling on a city bus, and could not stop. And this brings me to a great gift of Eric’s, his humor, which he often uses in defense of an important truth. Laughter itself is a great gift, taking the edge off pain. I used to work for the Christian sociologist Peter Berger, who wrote a book about humor and Christianity, (Redeeming Laughter) and he refers to humor as one of the “signals of transcendence.” I agree.
After that I became an Eric Metaxas fan, and was delighted to learn more about him through my friendship with Susanne. What made me think of Eric for this award was when I watched his National Prayer Breakfast Speech on YouTube. When I saw him speak about the humanity of the unborn—with President Obama and Nancy Pelosi seated nearby—he spoke the truth with love and compassion for those who disagreed. That was quite a feat.
Eric and Susanne together are especially appropriate to be honored tonight, because they represent both programs of the Human Life Foundation. Eric writes: And, like us at the Human Life Review, he knows the power of the word, for good or ill. And he has devoted himself to bringing great witnesses for life to our attention. Susanne runs a life-saving pregnancy center. These two missions were the vision of my late father, J.P. McFadden, who founded the Review in 1974. He once wrote that “we would not be like Nazi Germany; no one should be able to say they didn’t know what was going on.” One mission of the Review is to create an historical record. But that is just one facet: The Review exists to reach minds and hearts with the truth, to persuade, to strengthen, and to create a community to proclaim, against the media bias of today especially, that the intelligent, scientific, and moral position, whether you are religious or not, is to be pro-life, to defend life. And for those of us who are Christian, well, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, the church “must be the voice of the voiceless.”
Eric’s’ latest book of course is Seven Men and the Secrets of Their Greatness—the point being that we need to learn from heroes who have gone before us. It is in this spirit that I welcome our Emcee tonight, Nicholas Salvatore Di Iorio, as the inaugural James P. McFadden fellow. One of the most hopeful changes I have seen in my lifetime is the increase of pro-life interest and fervor among the young. Soon upon learning about the Human Life Review, Nicholas was captivated by my father’s story, and he believes that other young men and women will be likewise inspired. He has initiated the creation of a junior board, whose members are with us this evening.
Finally, to our loyal supporters here tonight—some of you have been to every one of these dinners, and you answer my fundraising letters—you do so much. You know well that there have been times over the last years when I wondered if we would make it, and if it were not for you, and your sacrificial generosity, we would not have. This dinner marks a new strength for us, and, I hope and pray, a period of growth. So to our new friends, we invite you to be part of the fellowship represented here tonight—we hope you will want to join us and help us keep the Human Life Review speaking the truth about human life to a world that longs to hear it. Thank you.