By Elizabeth Lev
ROME, NOV. 20, 2008 (Zenit.org).- A rainy November morning seemed like a funny time to start talking about spring. But last weekend the Springtime for Faith foundation held its third annual summit here in Rome.
Inspired by Pope John Paul II's words, "The Spirit will truly bring about a new Springtime of Faith, if Christian hearts are filled with new attitudes of humility, generosity and openness to his purifying grace," the Springtime Foundation tries to galvanize lay leaders to be witnesses to their faith not only in their homes, but in every aspect of their lives.
Despite the chilly, shorter days, and the bare trees in the normally lush Borghese park, business executives, authors and television celebrities gathered to listen to a series of lectures on signs of a new springtime in the Catholic world.
The lineup of speakers was as brilliant and variegated as the fall foliage: Cardinal Francis Arinze; Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the pontifical household; Legionary of Christ Father Thomas Williams, author and CBS News analyst; and Joan Lewis, bureau chief for EWTN -- all pointed out various signs of spring in what seems to be a cold, hard winter in the Catholic world.
This distinguished display, the cream of the Roman speaker crop, was well worth dodging the wildcat traffic strikes that are typical of Italian fall, but one participant, a newcomer to the speaker scene in the Eternal City, brought rays of warmth from a new and surprising direction.
Kellyanne Conway, founder of "The Polling Company," gave a riveting keynote address searching for signs of a springtime of faith in the wake of the U.S. elections. With an overwhelming victory going to the most pro-abortion presidential candidate in the history of the United States, and the Freedom of Choice Act looming on the horizon, who would ever think to look for signs of hope in what appears to be a deep freeze?
Conway navigated her audience though the torturous world of polls and statistics, illustrating the pitfalls and misrepresentations used to manipulate public opinion, particularly on issues such as abortion, gay marriage and the "Catholic vote."
First, she warned of the dangers of "feel good phraseology." "Pro-choice" sounds forward-looking and positive, as opposed to "pro-infant massacre," for example. Pro-lifers, on the other hand, have been so vilified by a hostile press that they are at best accused of rigid intransigence, and at worst are associated with jihadism as they regularly bomb abortion clinics.
"People like to feel good about themselves, so phrasing the question in a way that makes ideas sound palatable will provoke a certain type of answer," noted Conway.
The result is that when asked if they are pro-life or pro-choice, 42% of Americans fall into the first category while 48% claim to belong to the second. But upon a more careful breakdown, Conway showed that the situation changes.
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Dividing up limitations on abortion into six categories, Conway explained that 9% support a complete ban on abortion for whatever reason, while 12% think it should be banned except in the case of saving the life of the mother. Thirty-two percent think that the only exception to an abortion ban should be rape, incest or life of the mother (which Conway pointed out comprises 0.3% of abortions).
In the more permissive categories, 28% say abortion should be allowed within the first trimester, 7% until the sixth month, and 6% think that abortion should be anytime for any reason.
In this light, people taking a more restrictive view of abortion make up 53% of the population while the more permissive group is 41%. Conway pondered why if "the economy is in full meltdown, and international tensions at fever pitch, is the president's No. 1 priority a law that is supported by the smallest minority?"
Conway told an enlightening story about how statistics are used to drive public opinion. Confident that most people didn't think aborting a fetus was murder, the Los Angeles Times commissioned a poll asking people whether they considered abortion murder. Fifty-pour percent of those polled answered yes.
Full disclosure required the publication of that data, but instead of making headlines, it was buried on the newspaper's Web site.
Conway emphasized that these seedlings of springtime need to be protected and nurtured. She said Christians needed to hail their heroes as much as Americans rallied around Joe the Plumber.
For example, registered nurse Jill Stanek, the courageous nurse who testified about the horrific deaths of children born alive after botched abortions, has been relegated to obscurity, instead of being celebrated as a hero.
Conway held up the battle to ban gay marriage as an example of successful communication. Using no talk of laws or science, bishops simply explained what gay marriage is, what it entails and how it would affect people's lives, and despite the incredible amount of money and celebrity faces thrown at the ban, it passed.
Echoing the Council of Trent 400 years ago, Kellyanne Conway spoke of a need for clarity on the issues, intelligibility to understand what the questions are about and a stimulus to piety. The new springtime will bear fruit by appealing to what is best in people and their innate desire to do the right thing.
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Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University's Italian campus. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.