When Mary Ann Harold asked Our Lady how she could promote life, she was led by way of the Rosary right to Jesus in the Eucharist — on a nationwide scale.
“Mother Mary is our CEO,” she says with a smile.
Harold began a small pro-life apostolate — a “rosary quilt of prayer” — with some friends several years ago in Medford, Mass. Since then, their efforts have blanketed the country with a collective prayer apostolate that now focuses on the Eucharist.
Harold's group is the apostolate Prayers for Life. Its newest mission is a Mass Line: a chain of Masses celebrated regularly across the country for Our Lady's pro-life intentions. The goal is for every parish in America to celebrate at least one pro-life Sunday Mass each month.
“If hearts change, then laws will change,” Harold tells the Register. “The growth of a pro-life Mass Line will certainly impact the outcome of this great spiritual battle.”
With this Year of the Eucharist winding down, Prayers for Life has mailed an invitation to enlist to nearly every parish in the U.S. To date, 15,000 Masses have been celebrated or pledged.
Harold recalls how the apostolate took off after Pope John Paul II blessed it on Dec. 12, 2001, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the unborn.
After that pilgrimage to Rome, Harold envisioned the Mass Line as a spiritual outgrowth of the Rosary project. As John Paul later said in Rosarium Virginis Mariae, his 2002 apostolic letter on the Rosary, because this meditative prayer focuses on the key events in Christ's life, it “helps us to be conformed ever more closely to Christ until we attain true holiness.”
“And the Mass is the highest form of prayer,” Harold points out.
The Diocese of Beaumont, Texas, was the first to respond with 96% of its parishes, 47 pastors, joining the Mass Line. Volunteer Mary Ann DeCoux of Beaumont laid the groundwork by meeting personally with each pastor over a three-month stretch.
“The next year, it took me only two mornings to renew by phone,” DeCoux says. “Grassroots works best.”
Both the Mass Line and the Rosary project are ongoing, but Harold hopes that the Holy Spirit prompts people to realize the urgency. One Wisconsin couple, Kevin and Leslie O'Brien of suburban Milwaukee, responded quickly.
“When we finally realized what abortion is, we were shocked. We realized that we'd been misinformed,” says Kevin O'Brien, a 35-year-old former pro football player for the Buffalo Bills. “Now we're hoping to help educate others, especially in our age group. Prayer is such a powerful tool.”
The Mass Line's spiritual director is Father Donald Mulrenhan of Divine Word Missionaries in Boston.
The apostolate began with the motto of St. Pio of Pietrelcina: “The Rosary is the weapon!” Founders aimed high: Generate three million Rosaries, one million in honor of each Person of the Holy Trinity.
Harold and quilter Mary Jo Ridge started with one hand-stitched quilt. They asked participants to pray 50 five-decade Rosaries in addition to their regular prayer commitment. After the prayers were offered, the person's name was sewn on the quilt. Another 50 Rosaries, or an additional 50 hours of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, earned a red silk rose next to the name.
Then the quilt traveled on display. “People felt that they had helped by seeing their names on the quilt, and seeing that encouraged others,” member Natalie Shaw of Medford says.
Msgr. Walter Rossi, rector of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, welcomed the quilt display again this year. It had first debuted in Washington, D.C. at the 1999 March for Life. During the next few years, volunteers began separate quilts in at least 20 different states.
San Antonio Archbishop Patrick Flores joined the prayer effort. “As these special Rosaries are being offered, a quilt of life is being built,” he wrote in a letter supporting the apostolate.
“This is something everybody can participate in,” Harold stresses. “It's really a personal call to deeper holiness and commitment.”
Time to Act
In addition to St. Pio, the group's spiritual patrons are Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and St. Leopold Mandic, a Croatian priest who was a gifted confessor. The themes of repentance, reparation and Divine Mercy are key.
Two large hand-painted Divine Mercy of Life banners can accompany the national quilt on tour. One banner first waved over Boston's Fenway Park during a Jubilee Year youth celebration.
Marian of the Immaculate Conception Father Seraphim Michalenko, of the Divine Mercy Shrine in Stockbridge, Mass., served as artistic adviser on the banners. “I believe that the Chaplet of Divine Mercy is a powerful prayer for life,” Father Michalenko says.
Even if a woman is unready to admit or to confess her abortion, Prayers for Life members are committed to praying for her. Harold recounts one poignant case of a woman who turned to the Rosary following an abortion. After praying, the woman had her baby's name embroidered on the quilt. Then in a dream her son said to her, “I love you and I'll see you in heaven.”
The woman told Harold, “I finally realized that I could ask God's forgiveness and I could start to forgive myself.”
The idea for a national prayer apostolate was conceived in 1998 when Harold saw the graphic video Hard Truth, which showed an aborted baby in a dumpster. She realized that she had to act.
Then 53 and the mother of four, she felt fearful about “being on the line.” But she realized that the U.S. Catholic bishops were urging more prayer in defense of life, and she remembered her own father's advice: “Stay home and pray more.”
And so she began to do her part in response to John Paul's plea in Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life): “[A] great prayer for life is urgently needed, a prayer which will rise up throughout the world.”
Gail Besse writes from Hull, Massachusetts.
Prayers for Life
Phone: (781) 391-1396