Boarding a train home

Happy New Year! I’m at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, ready to board a train home to Washington after a good week with family.

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I’m eager to be back in Washington, back to what feels like home after so many years of thinking of Philadelphia in that way. But Washington has been a great gift, personally, spiritually, and professionally. And so it’s easy to call it home.

Wherever we find ourselves in life, it’s good to ask whether the place you are feels like home. And if not, to start making it that.

Advising abortion based upon a guess

Gina Christian reports on the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia’s 38th Annual Stand Up for Life Dinner, which took place last month in Philadelphia:

When Rachel Guy was just 22 weeks old, several doctors urged her mother to have an abortion.

They explained that a “chromosomal abnormality” would very likely leave Rachel blind and deaf.

Guy’s parents advised that abortion violated their deeply held religious beliefs, and sought out a new team of physicians who supported their decision to bring their baby to term. Arriving via Caesarean section, and with a birth weight of just over one pound, Guy spent five and a half months in neonatal intensive care.

Now a young adult with full faculties of sight and hearing, Guy recently shared her life story at a major gathering of the area’s pro-life organizations.

Guy was the keynote speaker of the 38th annual “Stand Up for Life Dinner” held Nov. 24 at the Philadelphia 201 Hotel in Center City.

Sponsored by the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, the event drew more than 1,250 attendees, including dozens of high school and college students who were honored during a “roll call” of represented Catholic schools by Father Christopher Walsh, chairman of the Pro-Life Union’s board and master of ceremonies for the dinner.

Father Walsh, the pastor of St. Raymond of Penafort Parish in Philadelphia, welcomed guests by showing images of babies that had been assisted by the Pro-Life Union’s member agencies during the past year. Among them, Philadelphia-based Guiding Star Ministries, which now partners with archdiocesan Catholic Social Services, has cared for about 240 single pregnant women since its opening in 1992, said Father Walsh.

He added that more than 400 calls and texts had been exchanged last year through the Pro-Life Union’s pregnancy hotline (484-451-8104), and he urged attendees to keep the number handy.

“God might be using you to save a life,” he said.

I had been familiar with the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia through my family, and it was Fr. Chris Walsh who first invited me to join the board of the Pro-Life Union. One of the people I’ve met along the way has been Dr. Monique Ruberu, whose witness to human life is incredible:

Dr. Monique Ruberu, a Montgomery County-based obstetrician and gynecologist, echoed Guy’s observation by sharing a painful example from her own medical training.

While still in her residency, Ruberu was asked by a professor and mentor to assist with an abortion. After reminding him that her beliefs would not permit her to perform the procedure, she allowed the professor to convince her the abortion was necessary due to a “fetal anomaly,” and she would not directly participate but only provide confirmation that the procedure had been completed.

Speaking through tears, Ruberu said she was tasked with “putting together the pieces of this child” to ensure it had been fully removed from the mother’s womb.

“I stood there and put the small arms and legs and body back together,” said Ruberu. “And with tears pouring down my face, I knew then I would never again put anyone in front of God or these sweet, innocent children.”

Now a board member of the Pro-Life Union, Ruberu speaks extensively in support of the pro-life movement, and in 2018 co-founded Sidewalk Servants, whose members volunteer one or more hours per month to pray and to offer pro-life resources to women visiting abortion centers.

‘Meet me at the eagle’

Among John Wanamaker’s lasting gifts to Philadelphia are the old Wanamaker’s flagship that Macy’s now occupies, and a beautiful work of art that remains in its heart—an incredible American Eagle.

I saw it yesterday when visiting Center City for the first time in a while, and thought I’d share it and the language from the marker that accompanies it. I remember my grandmother telling me about growing up in the city in the 1930s and ‘40s, and how the Wanamaker eagle was a frequent meeting place.

Meet the Grand Court Eagle.

This majestic bronze beauty proudly hails from Frankfurt, Germany, home of its creator, sculptor August Gaul. Department store pioneer John Wanamaker purchased the eagle for his flagship store following its debut at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The rest is history. Before long, “Meet me at the eagle” became the catchphrase for shoppers and visitors meeting in Center City.

The eagle has remained right here for over a century; the floor beneath reinforced with extra girders to accommodate its massive weight of 2,500 pounds. All 5,000 feathers, including 1,600 on the head alone, were wrought by hand.

Thanks for visiting the Grand Court Eagle and carrying on a long-beloved Philadelphia tradition of rendezvousing in Center City.

The marvel of an ordinary life

I caught a 5pm Amtrak to Philadelphia earlier and am visiting for 12 hours or so. It’s good to be here, even briefly. I’m short on time; sharing something I saw recently:

“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

—William Martin

Roe and abortion in American life

Catherine Glenn Foster, President & CEO of Americans United for Life, appeared at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia tonight.

I left Washington mid-afternoon and caught a train from Union Station to Philadelphia to be there for the hour-long conversation—ostensibly about Roe v. Wade, but in fact about whether abortion represents a public good, and whether the Supreme Court should be made to preserve abortion as America’s most controversial public policy.

It’s worth watching as an introduction to two diametrically opposed factions in American life: one faction that ignores the scientific and embryological facts concerning what abortion itself is and does and is concerned with its utility as an alleged means of empowerment, and the second faction which views abortion as fundamentally incompatible with the constitutional human right to life as much as it is incompatible with justice and equality.

I was disappointed by how much politics and elections drove the conversation among the former faction, and was encouraged that Catherine Glenn Foster was able to move the conversation toward the more important teleological questions behind abortion-as-public-policy.

Independence National Park in 2026

David Murrell writes on Independence National Park, worth reading this Independence Day weekend:

The City of Philadelphia, which technically owns Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell (more on that later) and profits immensely from the park’s tourism, is guilty of neglect, too. Over the past decade, it’s given a total of $76,000 to the park — less than the annual salary of a single police officer.

But perhaps most damning of all is the widespread apathy toward the park, which seems to be shared by just about every Philadelphian. Is there something missing in our genetic code? People in Boston and Washington, D.C., have a certain historical pride baked into their DNA — even though neither of those cities has the place where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, the building where the Constitution was debated, or Alexander Hamilton’s central bank. We care more about sports, food and Rocky than our historical significance. Perhaps a Freudian psychologist would trace this apathy back to when our young city lost its status as America’s capital in 1800.

In 2026, the United States will turn 250. It seems self-evident that the entire country’s attention will shift to Philadelphia, as it has for every significant anniversary in American history: the Centennial in 1876, the Bicentennial in 1976. Will our city’s crown jewel be polished in time?

When you take a tour of Independence Hall, you’re meant to absorb the following bit of American gospel above all else: that the United States is a grand experiment, its brand of federalism a shining beacon for all other governments to follow. What they don’t tell you on the tour: The federalism celebrated in American lore is also the precise reason why Independence Park is foundering. …

“Philadelphia has, literally, the best stuff in the nation,” she says. “I just can’t imagine that everyone shouldn’t be sending all their dollars to fix it and make it even better.”

It could happen. The world got a glimpse of widespread civic-mindedness in April, when the Nôtre Dame cathedral burned in Paris. Residents streamed into the streets as flames burst from the spire. One onlooker told the New York Times in a moment of despair, when the building’s fate still hung in the balance, “Paris is beheaded.”

Parisians arguably have every excuse to be more apathetic about their history than Philadelphians are, considering France’s wealth of historical sites. Yet $1 billion was raised for Nôtre Dame in the two days after it burned. To the French, the cathedral wasn’t merely another famous building — it was the soul of Paris, the lifeblood of the city. Would people be similarly devastated if Independence Hall caught fire?

We tend to think of historical buildings as just that: old, fixed in time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Their pasts may already have been written, but they straddle past and present in equal measure. Each dollar Walker solicits for the First Bank or Independence Hall becomes part of those buildings’ legacy; each tour MacLeod leads widens their story. And we seem to have forgotten that ours is an active inheritance — it must be maintained. There are few consistent lessons across history, but this one is most apt: Just because something is here today doesn’t mean it will be here tomorrow.

Joe Biden’s Philadelphia headquarters

Joe Biden is headquartering his campaign in Philadelphia:

Joe Biden will base his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, setting up in a city where he has deep ties and in a state that is central to his strategy. …

“We’re proud to anchor our campaign in the birthplace of American democracy,” said a statement to The Inquirer from Greg Schultz, Biden’s campaign manager. “Philadelphia is a thriving city and a testament to the American spirit, built by the ingenuity and tenacity of ordinary people who did extraordinary things. Its storied history and celebrated diversity will serve as an inspiration for Team Biden, and is the ideal setting to continue our fight for the soul of this nation.”

The national headquarters, which will be in Center City, will have around 50 staffers to start, a number that could grow as the campaign goes on, and especially if Biden wins the Democratic nomination. The site will become the day-to-day nerve center for Biden’s strategic planning, media team, and others. …

Democrats and Republicans both view Pennsylvania as one of the most critical battlegrounds in the 2020 race, and the Scranton-born Biden has staked much of his pitch on being able to win back the state that narrowly supported President Donald Trump in 2016.

Biden, the early leader in polls of the Democratic primary field, was sometimes dubbed Pennsylvania’s “third senator” when he represented Delaware and, after his term as vice president, established the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania.

His wife, Jill, grew up in Willow Grove.

Pennsylvania has also been a major focus for Trump, a Penn graduate who has held dozens of rallies in the state and is scheduled to return Monday for an event near Williamsport, two days after Biden appears in Philadelphia.

Good for Philadelphia.

Rally Against Bullying

I was in Center City, Philadelphia yesterday for the Rally Against Bullying, organized in response to Pennsylvania State Representative Brian Sims’s live-streamed verbal abuse and harassment of a grandmother, mother, and three teenaged girls who were praying outside of Center City Philadelphia’s abortion center:

The “Pro-Life Rally Against Bullying” took place in front of a downtown Philadelphia Planned Parenthood facility. On May 2, state Rep. Brian Sims livestreamed video from the same location, posting two videos in which he denounced two women, three teenagers and a man.

Sims called for donations to Planned Parenthood while offering money to viewers who could provide the identities and addresses of the witnesses.

Shortly after the videos emerged on social media, the national organization Live Action organized the rally. It featured representatives from a number of local and national groups…

Several speakers directly addressed Sims’ claims that the pro-life advocates he had filmed were racist.

Richara Krajewski of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia said she stood before the crowd “as a pro-life black woman.”

Noting that “it’s so popular now to call out racism,” Krajewski wished to clarify that application of the term, particularly “in the context of pro-abortion politics.”

“Real racism,” she said, “is co-opting the language of liberation to advocate for the destruction of the lives of the most vulnerable. Real racism is a so-called white ally telling black and brown women that they need to choose between their dreams and their babies.”

Kevin D. Williamson writes on Brian Sims’s decision to stream himself harassing members of the public:

The times being what they are, perhaps we should classify political fanaticism of the social-media performance-art variety as a kind of insanity. Political fanatics such as Sims live in the shadows between the idée fixe and outright monomania. The inferior kind — and Sims is the inferior kind — fixate on terminology as a substitute for ideas, and for them buzzwords are a necessary intellectual crutch. Hence, Sims’s shouty accusations of “white privilege” in the face of a young woman who, as she pointed out with a smile, is not white. Intersectionality — it is a bitch.

Rep. Sims had offered $100 to anyone who would reveal the names and home addresses of the women he filmed himself harassing. Thankfully, that resulted in Philadelphians instead crowdfunding more than $125,000 to benefit the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia and Guiding Star home for women and children.