Recently I recounted to my 13-year-old son the story of a young Marine killed in action in Vietnam, who was recently given a posthumous Bronze Star for valor. His former commander, now a parish priest in Virginia and a good friend of our family, was asked to present the award to the young man's mother. During the ceremony, Father John read from the last letter Joseph Roble had written to his family.
Joseph, 21, had been on active duty for 10 months when, in September 1968, he wrote a letter home. While driving back to his unit a few days earlier, he'd seen a little Vietnamese boy, about 4 years old, standing by the road. For some reason, the boy reminded Joseph of his young brother, Billy. Joseph thought: Why shouldn't this little boy have the same happiness and security, the same hope for the future, as my young brother has? He went on to say that he was prepared to give his life to see that this little boy had that chance. That if he were to be hurt or killed in trying to do that, he didn't want a lot of tears; he wanted his family and friends to be proud that he had died for something he fully understood and firmly believed in. Joseph was killed in action a few days later.
My son was as deeply touched by this story as I was, and we went on to discuss the different opportunities we have in life to give of ourselves to help others. As a family, we have just finished a novena for life, supporting in prayer the attempt in Congress to override President Clinton's veto of the ban on late-term abortions. My son was shocked that we couldn't stop such terrible acts of violence, and I was at a loss to explain it all to him. It seems so obvious that good people would want to protect the lives of those who are so defenseless.
Yet for so many years I, too, had closed my eyes and ears to the pro-life message. I knew abortion was wrong; I just didn't want to be involved. I felt I had no right to tell another woman what to do, that perhaps I didn't understand her circumstances and would just add to her pain. I was so aware of the mother, I couldn't see her unborn child. Yet at the end of the day it was women who had aborted their children who finally helped me understand that abortion not only brutally kills the child, it wounds the mother for the rest of her life — and can destroy the soul of a nation. Understanding that truth, and firmly believing that we have a duty to speak the truth, not in anger but in love, I made respect for life from conception to natural death a central issue in my run for the presidency of Ireland last year.
Fifteen years have passed since my “Road to Emmaus” experience. As each year goes by, it seems that my pro-life vision widens, so that, along with the life of the unborn child, it also includes the spiritual life of the mother, the abortionist, and any one else who facilitates the death of the defenseless pre-born baby. There is no room for anger in a pro-life heart. For myself, prayer keeps it at bay, along with the memory of the words of a dear friend, Msgr. Philip Reilly, who says that abortion centers are the Calvary of today. We are called to be there, like Mary and John, not locked away fearful in the upper room. Even if we cannot help a woman understand the mistake she's making, the last look she'll see as she enters the building will be the love of Christ in our eyes, and when she leaves after the abortion, the first thing she'll see is the look of Christ's forgiveness in our eyes.
I have no doubt that the terrible ongoing repercussions of abortion in our society, where the value of life is continually devalued, will be recognized in time. If we cannot teach our young people, in word and in action, that it is wrong deliberately to take the life of another person, then may God help us all.
We have God-given opportunities every day to live our lives for others. As we do so, we ourselves grow closer to God, and inspire others by the example we give. The words written 30 years ago by the young Marine Joseph Roble are still touching hearts today. His young brother Billy, now in his 30s, will soon leave for Vietnam, where he will teach English to Vietnamese children — a gift given in memory of his brother's dream for a young child he saw standing by the roadside. We are not all called to acts of heroic self-sacrifice. But anything we do in love, however small, to defend and protect life will be an essential and irreplaceable part of breaking down the Culture of Death and building up a beautiful and lasting Culture of Life.
Dana, an internationally acclaimed singer-songwriter, has performed on numerous occasions for Pope John Paul II. She ran for the presidency of Ireland in 1997.