As marchers gathered in Washington, D.C., for the March for Life Jan. 24, pro-lifers across the country had been gathering for days.
On Saturday, Jan. 22, in downtown San Francisco, Walk for Life West Coast broke another record: More than 40,000 people gathered to hear pro-life speakers, pray and stand united for an end to abortion.
The seventh-annual walk took place on the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
“We are here to break the bondage of the culture of death,” Walk for Life co-founder and co-chair Dolores Meehan told the crowd.
Meehan said the crowd estimate was conservative. “It was closer to 50,000,” she said. “What was so amazing is the police said they had never seen that many people in Justin Herman Plaza for any event before this one.”
Meehan described the day as “wonderful.” The number of powerful speakers included Mary Poirer, Abby Johnson and Brian Walker.
“Nothing is too big for God to forgive,” said Poirer, a Catholic who told of her three abortions.
“You are the new generation of the pro-life movement, and I can tell you Planned Parenthood is shaking in their boots,” said former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson.
Walker spoke of supporting his wife-to-be’s abortion, telling the crowd there was a male in the house but there was not a man in the house. He challenged men to “man up.”
“It was so great to have a man talking to men,” said Meehan, noting this was the first time the walk included this kind of male-oriented talk.
She described how the people then walked in an unbroken line from the downtown plaza over two miles to Marina Green in sight of the Golden Gate Bridge.
As the route stretched along the waterfront, Meehan said it was a heartwarming surprise to see a sailboat following along with a big sign that said “Abortion Hurts Women.”
She said this is an event participants own.
Also, there were next to no counterdemonstrators. “This is San Francisco, the heart of abortion, and they can’t get anybody to come demonstrate against us,” she said.
Finally, although it’s not the first time it has happened, Meehan was pleased that “one of the secular TV stations referred to us as pro-life and not anti-abortion.”
Little wonder Meehan concludes she feels strongly “encouraged that our country is going to be delivered from the scourge of abortion one day.”
Jan. 15 Kickoff
Collaborative pro-life events across the country began on Jan. 15.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City hosted the “Afternoon of Prayerful Remembrance,” a three-hour event.
Archdiocesan Respect Life coordinator Sister Lucy Marie of the Sisters of Life said the cathedral’s Lady Chapel was packed to its 125-person capacity, and additional seats set up were filled as well. The crowd surpassed last year’s attendance.
But since the whole event was televised live by EWTN, potentially millions of viewers nationwide watched and took part in some way in the prayer, a Eucharistic Holy Hour and personal testimonies.
One goal was “for healing for our nation, which has been suffering for 38 years because not only children lost their lives, but so many people are suffering, carrying this wound,” Sister Lucy Marie said.
Theresa Bonopartis is co-sponsor of the “Afternoon of Prayerful Remembrance” and director of Lumina Hope and Healing in New York (PostAbortionHelp.org).
Speaking of this annual prayer service, which she started, Bonopartis explained it shows the far-reaching impact of abortion. “It’s about reaching those people who are in their homes that have been touched by abortion and are suffering from abortion. They lost a nephew or niece, grandson or granddaughter.”
The event is bearing fruit nationwide already. Viewers e-mailed her after the event. Wrote one, in part: I couldn’t be there, but I watched it on EWTN — I have to say, both my husband and I cried throughout most of the service. … The grandparents could easily have been us. … God bless you and the sisters for the good work you are doing to bring about an awareness of the need for healing and forgiveness.
Florida saw a highly successful Jan. 15 commemoration too.
“The march is growing,” reported Lorraine Allaire, director of St. Augustine’s diocesan Family Life office, speaking of the fifth annual March for Life there. “There were more young people than we’d ever seen before.”
Over 1,850 people participated in the event that began the prior evening with a “Living Rosary” of hundreds encircling the Great Cross at Mission Nombre de Dios, the grounds where the first Mass was celebrated in the United States.
After morning Mass at Prince of Peace Votive Church on the mission grounds, scores of youth, families and adults marched to the plaza in front of the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine.
Women from Silent No More, Rachel’s Vineyard and other post-abortion groups led the march, according to May Oliver, coordinator for both the march and the Cathedral-Basilica Respect Life Committee.
At the plaza, the crowd heard national chastity speaker Molly Kelly and others, including actor-turned-Catholic missionary Mario St. Francis. Oliver said this year’s theme was purity and chastity, which the committee decided on during adoration in July, to address root causes of abortion. Bishop Victor Galleone lead the prayer.
“The march itself was joyful,” Oliver said, “and the reception of the march gives me great hope to increase the conversation, bringing this message of chastity out to church and communities.”
More Positive Results
Positive results kept rolling in from events around the country regarding pro-life marches and commemorations held locally.
On Jan. 22, in Dallas, where Roe v. Wade began, the crowd at the Dallas March for Life reached 10,000. This number doubled the size of the participants from just two years ago.
“There were more young people than ever,” reported Karen Garnett, executive director for the Catholic Pro-Life Committee of North Texas, the Respect Life ministry of the Dallas Diocese.
The Highland School in Dallas, for example, brought five buses for the very first time, and the entire confirmation class of Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish school participated.
One of the organizers from the Highland School told Garnett that the turnout was going to be even bigger next year because of the positive experience the young people had.
“The young people are responding to the bishop’s call,” Garnett said. She referred to last year’s challenge by Dallas Bishop Kevin Farrell to increase numbers from 7,000 to 10,000 in 2011.
Everyone’s reaction? “We were off the ground at Dallas on Saturday because of the great turnout,” Garnett said. “Before we got on the plane to fly to Washington (for the March for Life on Monday), we were up in the clouds.”
Thousands of worshippers at this year’s Roe v. Wade memorial Mass celebrated by Bishop Farrell, Dallas’ two auxiliary bishops and Forth Worth, Texas, Bishop Kevin Vann, filled the cathedral and overflowed into the Grand Salon parish hall and to tents outside.
Before the Mass, 800 people first joined the annual Roe v. Wade memorial Rosary in front of the large Planned Parenthood center.
“Three moms chose life during that time,” an elated Garnett said.
She called the parallel service at the cathedral with the First Baptist Church in Dallas the “coolest thing.” While thousands of Catholics were at the Mass, large numbers of evangelicals were at First Baptist for a pro-life prayer service.
After Mass, everyone passed First Baptist on the way to the courthouse, and they were joined by the evangelicals, who had empty strollers to symbolize the children lost to abortion.
So many people attended that “by the time we got to the courthouse for the rally,” Garnett added, “the lot we rented couldn’t hold all the people.”
Police had to assign a street for the overflow.
“The momentum is with the pro-life movement in ways we haven’t seen in many years,” Garnett assessed.
Fifteen-year-old Catherine Buskmiller was one of the scores of youth attending. “I was impressed by the number of people and also the young people coming out,” she said. “This signals this generation is pro-life, and we look forward to a change coming up.”
Rick Doucette, director of the San Antonio archdiocesan pro-life office, reports that on Jan. 22 more people than last year filled St. Mary Magdalen Church for the Mass celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Cantu. “We had 350 people-plus on the march that followed,” Doucette said, “and we very happy with the turnout and the result.”
He noted that Bishop Cantu marched with the participants and prayed the Rosary from the church to the area’s Planned Parenthood business.
Pro-lifers gathered on Florida’s Gulf Coast too.
According to Jeanne Berdeaux, Respect Life director for the Venice Diocese, Bishop Frank Dewane was joined by youngsters for a pro-life event last Friday.
“For the first time we had the fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders from the Port Charlotte Catholic school come,” Berdeaux pointed out. “This was the youngest group ever. That was special.”
Berdeaux said that the 13th annual Prayer Walk in Sarasota Jan. 22 was a success.
Bishop Dewane celebrated Mass at St. Martha Church for a record crowd of 350.
The Knights of Columbus color guard walked with the bishop rather than take the usual shuttle bus to the Planned Parenthood facility, which is the state’s largest, covering 15 counties.
“It was great,” exclaimed Berdeaux. “We had more non-Catholics too this year than ever before because of the 40 Days for Life influence.”
More Masses and Rallies
In the Diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D., diocesan pro-life director Travis Benson said the average crowd numbered about 200 for the Jan. 22 morning Mass celebrated by Bishop Paul Swain.
Benson described the crowd as a good mix of ages. That evening about 150 people attended an ecumenical service held in front of the local Planned Parenthood, despite the very low temperatures.
“There’s consistency year in and year out,” Benson assessed.
Good news rolled in from the Diocese of Austin, Texas, too.
“We had record numbers, up to 1,200 people for the Mass,” reports Marie Seale, director of the Office of Pro-Life Activities and Chaste Living, referring to the Jan. 22 morning Mass at San Jose Parish, which was celebrated by Bishop Joseph Vasquez.
Later, Bishop Vasquez also gave the invocation at the Texas Rally for Life, which Seale’s office hosted. (Other events were also part of Texas Pro-Life Day.)
With up to 5,000 people attending, the crowd at the rally was larger than last year’s.
“There was a ton of youth,” she said, pointing out that colleges within the diocese include Texas A&M University, Texas State University, The University of Texas and Baylor University.
“The best part was that we had a woman testify at the rally about her experience at a pregnancy-resource center,” Seale said. “She brought her 5-year-old boy who was [once] in danger of [being a victim of] abortion.”
“Hearing their story and what the mom is doing now to build a culture of life was beautiful,” Seale said. She added that the No. 1 thing people will also remember from the rally is that Texas “Governor Rick Perry used the event to announce he was listing the state’s sonogram bill as emergency legislation this session.”
Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.