WASHINGTON — That old cliché — “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” — is ringing true as pro-lifers coast to coast get ready for this year’s March for Life Jan. 22.
The various attacks on life over the past year haven’t dampened their resolve. As Robert George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, and a leading thinker in public policy, noted recently in the Register. “It speaks well for my country that, despite our terrible policy of abortion that has been imposed on us by seven unelected and unaccountable judges, we have built and sustained — for 36 years — the most powerful pro-life movement in the world.”
Jan. 22, 2009, saw an estimated 300,000 people rally for the unborn at the National Mall in Washington. March for Life founder Nellie Gray said it was “the largest march we ever had. Doesn’t that say this activity is properly led by the work of God Almighty trying to help us stop this evil we have? That number coming together last year shows us the deep concern the whole population has for our people” and for our trying to bring constitutional protection to the life of everyone.
Marchers will bring the message of this year’s theme — Stand Up Now — Unite for the Life Principles — No Exception! No Compromise! — to President Obama at this year’s first-ever White House Mini Rally, a flashlight vigil to be held Jan. 21 in Lafayette Park by the White House.
Those who can’t make the trip to Washington can join commemorations around the country on or near the anniversary date.
In the heartland of Nebraska, for example, the annual Walk for Life takes place in Lincoln Jan. 30. According to Greg Schleppenbach, director of pro-life activities for the Nebraska Catholic Conference, the number of people attending Mass at St. Mary’s, the old cathedral across from the state Capitol, preceding the Walk for Life were approximately 50% more last year than the previous year.
“I expect it to be overflowing this year, as well,” said Schleppenbach, who is seeing many signs of renewed energy and vigor in the pro-life movement.
“People have been awakened because there have been more attacks on the pro-life policies on the federal level,” he said. “More people are seeing the need to stand up for life.” During the Mass, “Intercessors for Life” cards will be handed out; the cards ask for a weekly commitment to some form of prayer and fasting.
In California, Walk for Life West Coast (WalkforLifeWC.com) in San Francisco has ballooned from 7,000 participants in 2005 to more than 32,000 in 2009.
“Everybody ... promised to bring back a friend, and they did,” said Dolores Meehan, Walk for Life West Coast co-founder, who expects at least as many this year, with scores of buses already registered to come.
“Let people know hope is far from gone,” Meehan said.
The message is resonating overseas, as well. Meehan will be a guest speaker in France at Paris March for Life. “They look to America as the example of what it is to start a movement,” she said. While many think of San Francisco as today’s Sodom and Gomorrah, “We’re seeing hearts being converted,” she added. “We give the glory to God.”
A Healing Image
In Texas, meanwhile, Karen Garnett, executive director for the Catholic Pro-Life Committee of North Texas, the Respect Life ministry of the Dallas Diocese (ProLifeDallas.org), finds recent Dallas March for Life numbers have grown dramatically.
“What started in Dallas must end in Dallas,” she said in a reference to the original court challenge that became Roe v. Wade. She said that in 2008 the crowd swelled to 2,000, but was more than double, at 5,000, the following year.
Dan Baker, immediate past state deputy of the Knights of Columbus in Georgia, is organizing Knights on the state level for the first time for a Mass at Atlanta’s Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the Capitol rally following it. In 2009 the Knights distributed 300 “Defend Life” signs for the rally. “Building on the success of last year,” said Baker, “our state Right to Life chairman has ordered 3,000 signs for this year.”
In Florida and elsewhere, the Divine Mercy image is beginning to be carried during rallies and marches marking the Roe anniversary. In the Diocese of Palm Beach, Robert Allard, the founder and director of the Apostles of Divine Mercy (DivineMercySunday.com), explains why people are turning to the miraculous image. Not only is the image important in postabortion healing; many times near abortion businesses “you see people praying with the Divine Mercy image,” he said, “in hopes of turning the abortion-minded girls away from abortion and to Jesus with the words ‘Jesus I trust in you.’”
Allard indicates that Jesus made specific promises concerning the image. He quoted from the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul: “I am offering people a vessel with which they are to keep coming for graces to the fountain of mercy. That vessel is this image with the signature ‘Jesus I trust in you’ (No. 327).”
“People are recognizing they can get graces from that image,” noted Allard. “Jesus said it’s the last hope of salvation.”
Allard will have the image at the anniversary rally. The main Jan. 22 event is a Rosary led by Palm Beach’s Bishop Gerald Barbarito in front of the courthouse, according to the diocese’s Respect Life director, Don Kazimir. While past numbers have remained around 150, Kazimir anticipates many more this time: Upwards of 400 people just participated in 40 Days for Life, which “brought many more people into the pro-life movement,” he said.
The Divine Mercy is the major focus for the Afternoon of Prayerful Remembrance at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York (see PostAbortionHelp.org). Sponsored by the Sisters of Life and by Lumina Hope and Healing’s director, Theresa Bonopartis, this three-hour prayer service for “healing, forgiveness and God’s mercy” takes place on Jan. 16. Archdiocesan Respect Life coordinator Sister Lucy Marie of the Sisters of Life explains the afternoon service includes adoration, personal witness (either in person or via a reader), confession and Mass.
”It’s not only to see the horror of abortion,” said Bonopartis, “but to show the far-reaching impact of abortion, and most importantly to be connected with the great love and mercy of God.”
Her hope is that parishes and dioceses will host this prayer service because everyone has been impacted in one way or another by abortion. “It’s the perfect thing for people to do in their churches,” she said, “if they’re not able to go to the March for Life.”
In fact, Sister Lucy points out an Afternoon of Prayerful Remembrance will be held on Jan. 21 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at the invitation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops so that people attending the national march will become familiar with this prayer event. That includes many young people.
From his national and international position as president of Human Life International (HLI.org), Father Tom Euteneuer finds “an encouraging sign of life and vitality” in the prayer marches and rallies being generated across the country.
“They are grassroots expressions of the conscience of America,” said Father Euteneuer. “The pro-aborts can’t generate this kind of vitality for the cause of killing babies. Nor can they recruit the young in massive numbers like we see happening by the pro-life marches and rallies around the country and indeed around the world,” he said, citing the million-plus people at last November’s pro-life march in Madrid, Spain.
Increasing numbers lead him to conclude: “That is an extraordinary testimony to the human heart’s ability to grasp the truth and to do something about it, peacefully. Let us pray that this chorus of truth will become a tsunami of conscience in the coming year to cleanse our world of such a great evil as abortion and the culture of death.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.