The feast of the Holy Innocents on Dec. 28 — celebrated in the Church as early as the fifth century to recall and honor the children of Bethlehem martyred because of Our Lord shortly after he was born — has taken on added meaning for many in St. Paul, Minn.
There, the Knights of Columbus' Saint Paul Council 397, based at St. Mary Church, has instituted an annual prayer event officially called the Knights’ Rosary for Love and Life today.
Members and others gather in St. Paul’s Midway section for this prayer event in front of the city’s Planned Parenthood. Considered the country’s third-largest abortion facility, the building is near the University of Minnesota and many other college campuses.
While this year makes the eighth annual Rosary for Love and Life, the co-founders have always hoped it would become a national event, then an international one.
In fact, co-founders James Richardson and Maurice “Maury” Prater believe that this can act together with the annual March for Life in January as “bookends for life — one to open the year, the other to close the year,” said Richardson. “It’s a great way to end the year with love and life in the spirit of the Author of Life who came to earth as a baby.”
The Knights’ Rosary started in 2005, when Prater shared his idea for a prayer event with his friend.
“I instantly liked Maury’s idea to observe the feast of the Holy Innocents,” Richardson recalls. “It’s the one wrinkle in the smooth sheet in the week between Christmas and New Year's. It’s the one day in the week of joy that causes us to wince. It seemed like the perfect occasion to memorialize and pray for the holy innocents of the abortion mills.”
Richardson explained that, along with their council’s John Paul II culture of life speaker series, this Rosary would become another important contribution “to the culture of life and the civilization of love that our Popes John Paul and Benedict have been speaking about.”
With added help from two others he also credits as co-founders — the late past Grand Knight Charles Greene and Sister Julia Kubista, now of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo. — the Rosary has drawn more people each year, despite the usual cold, snowy December weather in St. Paul.
“It always seemed to me the feast of the Holy Innocents is a natural to have a pro-life activity that would end the year on a Catholic feast day, the day of the Holy Innocents,” Prater explained about his initial idea. “The holy innocents are what it is about — especially praying in front of abortion mills.”
Even though Prater relocated to St. Louis to be advancement director of the Missionaries of the Holy Family, he keeps in close touch with Richardson and the annual event.
Richardson noted that this year takes on added meaning because it is adding a remembrance of the innocent children slain in Newtown, Conn. As innocent children were savagely slain in Newtown, and innocent children are slain every day in America, he said we as a nation have to “recover our natural repulsion in shock and horror at the slaughter of any child, the slaying of all children, the massacre of all innocents.”
There is no mincing words when it comes to the holy innocents.
“We think in America we’re so progressive,” Richardson reflected. “The ‘right to choose’ is part of the progression. Rather than progressive, we’re regressive. We’ve regressed to the thoughts and actions of King Herod 2,000 years ago.”
He drew the conclusion that because King Herod was after all children from birth up to 2 years old, the feast of the Holy Innocents is not strictly limited to life in the womb. The Holy Innocents were also out of the womb.
“These poor children of Newtown shared their brief lives with the holy innocents outside the womb,” he said. “The massacre in Newtown seems obviously a logical extension of the massacre that’s going on everywhere. The slaughter is both obvious and concealed in our country. It’s just that we can see the slaughter outside the womb.”
A yearly participant like Annette Alfonso agrees.
“It’s a pro-life effort,” said Alfonso. The wife of the council’s past Grand Knight Dominic Alfonso, she is a longtime pro-life promoter, from taking part in all the 40 Days for Life campaigns in the St. Paul region to wearing a “little feet” pro-life pin daily as a silent witness everywhere she goes.
She recalls that when she, along with other children, learned in school how wicked King Herod was in slaying the Holy Innocents, they were horrified and didn’t think that kind of thing happened anymore.
“But we’ve done better than King Herod ever did. We’ve built all kinds of places where children can be killed,” Alfonso explained. More than 55 million innocent babies have been put to death in America since 1973.
“We need to continue to be horrified with this awful slaughter of babies,” she said. “We need to recover those things that deepen our faith. We (need to) come out here to pray and to ask God for the end of the slaughter of the innocent babies.”
Among those who recently joined in this event are members of the Pro-Life Action Ministries based in St. Paul, as well as the color guard of the Father Timothy Vakoc Assembly #3335, a new group of fourth-degree Knights named in honor of the priest of the Saint Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese who died in 2009 from severe wounds he suffered as an Army chaplain in Iraq.
Executive director Brian Gibson explained that the interdenominational PLAM also helped set up the event.
Gibson commented on the importance: “It’s the Church’s recognition of the young martyrs who died for Christ who were wholly innocent and defenseless. They had done nothing wrong. But the king wanted to eliminate a rival. Abortion is the same thing — killing the defenseless and innocent at the whim of a woman, an abortionist, for selfish reasons. It’s important to point out the reality that innocence needs to be honored and the sanctity of human life be upheld.”
To meet all these goals, Richardson and Prater hope this event spreads rapidly.
“All people of good will could be praying to God for love and life at noon around the world on this day,” Richardson said.
Prater emphasizes that this Rosary intention is a natural for families to do together at home.
“In the culture of death, life isn’t appreciated,” he said. “But life begins at conception – that needs to be protected and nourished. Because the families are the domestic church, and families are the primary educators for children, that’s where it starts. Tying this into the feast of the Holy Innocents would be something children would appreciate. They already know the story of the Holy Family fleeing from Herod into Egypt.”
Richardson concludes that, ultimately, the purpose is a reaffirmation of love and life, “to end the year with a celebration of life and gratitude for what is good, which all comes from God.
“We are rejoicing in the birth of our Christ Child, who is our Redeemer, who saved us. We are a culture of life and a civilization of love. It’s a big party of love and life at the end of the year — that’s our ultimate goal.”
Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.
For information on starting a Rosary for Love and Life on the feast of the Holy Innocents in your area, contact the St. Paul Council at (651) 698-3008.