National Catholic Register


40 Days for Life

New Pro-Life Ministry Spreads Beyond Expectations This Lent



March 15-21, 2009 Issue | Posted 3/6/09 at 10:02 AM


BRYAN, Texas — Beginning on Ash Wednesday and running through Palm Sunday, the 40 Days for Life campaign is going strong.

By Day 6, the campaign had confirmed 33 lives saved from abortion.

“So many people are frustrated with our culture, and through prayer we can effect change,” said Shawn Carney, the national campaign director for 40 Days for Life. “The most urgent issue of our time is abortion. Nothing will survive if abortion does, but we have to fight with the spiritual weapons of prayer and fasting.”

This Lent, the 40-day campaign is in more than 125 cities throughout the United States, four in Canada, and one in Australia. It gains its inspiration from the scriptural examples of God using 40-day periods to transform individuals and their communities: Noah in the flood, Moses on the mountain, Christ in the desert.

Carney says the program has grown beyond “our wildest expectations.”

“We did something small here in 2004 in Bryan/College Town, Texas, and it just grew,” he said. “We have lowered our local abortion rate by 20%.”

It went national in the fall of 2007 with 89 cities.

During 40 Days campaigns, groups maintain 24-hour prayer vigils in front of abortion businesses. Many hold their vigil only during the hours when the clinics are open or for designated hours during the 40-day period. In towns where there are no clinics, vigils are held in other public places, such as city halls, court buildings or parks.

Carney reports that in the last 18 months, 175,000 people have participated in the three national campaigns; 13 clinic workers have approached groups, come to conversion, and left their jobs; three abortion clinics have closed their doors forever, and 1,128 mothers have confirmed they chose life because of the presence.

Deirdre McQuade of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities said that such grassroots efforts are part of what Pope John Paul II called a “great campaign in support of life,” to build a society in which abortion would be unthinkable.

“Prayer has always been at the heart of the Catholic pro-life movement,” she said. “It is one of the four pillars of the U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, along with education, public advocacy and pastoral care for the poor and vulnerable. Without private and communal prayer entrusting this vital work to the Lord of Life, our efforts would be in vain. Our Lady of Guadalupe plays a special role in pro-life intercessory prayer, as she is both the patroness of the Americas and of the unborn. The pro-life movement’s long-term endurance in prayer is one of its most beautiful qualities.”

Veteran Prayer Warrior

In Napa, Calif., a veteran prayer warrior, Ron Maxson, spearheads 40 Days for Life. For the 15 years prior to the campaign, Maxson had held a lone daily vigil in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Napa. Since 1967, he has been active in writing legislators and pro-life political action.

Maxson explained his attraction to 40 Days for Life: “I tried everything else and failed. Only God can lead me now, through prayer, fasting, and talking to people. We are up against spiritual warfare, and without God, the odds are bleak. God has put each of us in our place for the battle, and the battle has to be consistently fought.”

Last fall, Maxson organized 350 individuals in prayer, 24 hours a day, for 40 days in front of the Napa clinic. He also helped organize a 40-day vigil in Clearlake, Calif., and this spring, he assisted organizers to set up their first vigil in Santa Rosa.

Maxson continued, “People have recognized that there is an evil demon in our culture. The only way to deal with that is through prayer and fasting.

“What a perfect connection it is to pray, fast, and repent of our failures in the Lenten season that our Church has observed for two millennia,” he said. “What an affirmation of the many pastoral suggestions to laymen: Apply our faith in the world.”

McQuade commented, “During Lent, the Church invites us to prepare for the Resurrection through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Peaceful, loving prayer vigils, such as the 40 Days for Life campaign, fit that calling beautifully. Just as Mary stood faithfully at the foot of the cross, participants hold vigil at our modern Calvary, bringing God’s mercy to a place of death, deception and despair. They give witness to God’s love, which is deeper than all the evil in the world and offer healing to families broken from past involvement in abortion.”

Be Not Afraid

People are often interested in participating but are afraid of public vigil.

Carney responded, “It is not illegal to pray in front of a clinic. They should not be afraid. Christ tells us that. We have never had a major exchange or confrontation at a clinic site. Some are nervous that religious radicals will come, but then they see it is a mom with a toddler praying the Rosary. Abortion proponents don’t know how to deal with prayer, because prayer brings peace, and they are not at peace. We bring peace where peace does not exist.”

Carney emphasized the central purpose of 40 Days for Life: “We need to go out to where abortions are happening with a positive, uplifting message, and that has been effective. It is important that the response be at the local level, instead of waiting for Washington to correct the culture.”

He added, “God needs us to defend life and help these children, and he asks us to do so with a loving heart and prayer.”

Robin Rohr writes

from Willits, California.

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