Marching for Life Across America
Local events to commemorate Roe v. Wade increase and multiply.
WASHINGTON — The annual March for Life is scheduled for next Monday, Jan. 24. Not everyone can make the trip to Washington, D.C. But that doesn’t leave thousands of supporters from large cities and small towns across America out in the cold.
From the city where the Roe v. Wade court case was first argued to the Rocky Mountains to the Big Apple, plans are in place for commemorations on or near the 38th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down most abortion laws in America.
In San Francisco, Walk for Life West Coast (WalkforLifeWC.com) has ballooned yearly, from 7,000 participants in 2005 to more than 35,000 last year, according to Dolores Meehan, Walk for Life West Coast co-founder.
“It was an amazing turnout with the rain we had pouring on us,” Meehan said of the 2010 event.
This year’s events, to take place on Jan. 22, the anniversary of the day Roe was decided (the D.C. march is pushed back to the odd date of Monday, Jan. 24, so that the lawmakers are in town), begin with morning Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco. Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco is scheduled to celebrate the Mass, joined by seven other California bishops.
The day’s events include a speech by former Planned Parenthood facility manager Abby Johnson, who decided to leave the abortion business during a 40 Days for Life vigil, and a Silent No More gathering. Johnson wrote about her conversion in a new book, Unplanned, which is published by Ignatius Press.
The annual Walk for Life’s St. Gianna Molla Award will honor 10 people from the San Francisco Archdiocese, both living and deceased, who pioneered the pro-life movement in the archdiocese when they saw the Roe decision coming.
“We’re honoring them with the award for heroism,” Meehan said, “because they maintained the movement and passed it on to us.”
And for the first time there will be a youth rally sponsored by the Knights of Columbus to give young people an opportunity to get on the pro-life bandwagon.
In America’s heartland, an annual Walk for Life takes place in Lincoln, Neb., on Jan. 29. According to Greg Schleppenbach, director of pro-life activities for the Nebraska Catholic Conference, the day’s events begin with Mass at St. Mary’s, across from the State Capitol. Omaha Archbishop George Lucas and Grand Island Bishop William Dendinger are scheduled to celebrate the Mass. This year’s homilist will be Msgr. Philip Reilly, founder of the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants based in Brooklyn, N.Y., who conduct peaceful prayer vigils outside abortion businesses around the world.
Last year the church overflowed with upwards of 700 worshippers, more attendees than the previous year. Schleppenbach anticipates “similar, if not bigger, numbers.” Attendees will join the local Walk for Life to the Capitol to hear short speeches, and then go on to the University of Nebraska to hear Right to Life-sponsored speaker Melissa Ohden, an abortion survivor from Sioux City, Iowa.
Following the march, Msgr. Reilly will give a workshop on the Helpers’ approach and methods of sidewalk ministry and counseling. Schleppenbach noted the high interest in this workshop, including among the university’s Newman Center students.
On the East Coast, several events have been taking place in the Archdiocese of New York to anticipate the March for Life. A three-hour prayer service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Jan. 15, for example, focused on the Divine Mercy for “healing, forgiveness and God’s mercy.” It was co-sponsored by the Sisters of Life and Lumina Hope and Healing.
Sister Lucy Marie of the Sisters of Life, the archdiocesan Respect Life Office coordinator, said it is an event anyone in the country can participate in.
“We want people to watch the prayer service (it was broadcast on EWTN) and participate with us and be united with us in prayer,” she said, “but also to know this is a prayer service that can be replicated in parishes all over the country, because the materials for it are available. We want people to see what it looks like, because it is very beautiful and powerful. They can do it in their parishes the following Saturday, Jan. 22.”
Lumina Hope and Healing’s director, Theresa Bonopartis, sees the prayer service as the perfect thing for people to do in their parishes if they aren’t able to go to the national March for Life.
New York’s old cathedral will have a Roe v Wade-related event as well. A “Witness for Life” will take place at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in lower Manhattan Jan. 22. The church was declared a minor basilica last year. Sponsored by the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, the event will begin with Mass, followed by adoration and a Rosary procession to a local abortion business.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, newly elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, joined Yonkers, N.Y., Mayor Philip Amicone Jan. 9 for the mayor’s fourth annual proclamation of Yonkers Respect Life Week. “We all know it, don’t we? We’re not talking about a ‘fetus,’ ‘a mass of cells,’ but a baby,” the archbishop remarked. “Even the teenage mom on a recent MTV program sympathetic to abortion knew it when she pointed to a little baby and whispered, ‘Don’t tell me that little baby is just an “it.”’”
Depending on the Weather
In smaller venues, numbers aren’t large, but enthusiasm is strong. According to Valerie Johnson, Region 8 director for South Dakota Right to Life, an average of 200 show up for the annual hour of reflection at the State Capitol Rotunda in Pierre. This year’s event will be held on Jan. 22 with the theme “Unity — Together We Succeed.”
“Weather affects our numbers,” she noted. Last year the bad weather limited attendance. Everyone hopes this year’s weather will allow more than the average number to attend.
In Florida, good size crowds usually turn out for the March for Life in St. Augustine and the commemorations in the Venice Diocese.
“We normally get a couple of thousand; it’s really a good turnout,” noted Lorraine Allaire, director of the Family Life Office for the St. Augustine Diocese. She said busses come from other parts of Florida, including the Orlando Diocese.
The Jan. 15 march, associated with the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine, began at Prince of Peace Votive Church at the Mission Nombre de Dios and proceeded to the Public Plaza downtown.
A “stand for life” takes place at the federal courthouse in Duval County on Monday, Jan. 24. According to Allaire, hundreds turn out for this event.
Jeanne Berdeaux, Respect Life director for the Venice Diocese, said that prayer vigils have been scheduled in every town where there are abortion businesses and that Venice Bishop Frank Dewane will lead each vigil. The first is on Jan. 21 in Port Charlotte, beginning with Mass at St. Charles Borromeo Church and followed by a Rosary at the nearby abortion business.
Then, on Jan. 22, the 13th annual Prayer Walk takes place in Sarasota with Mass at St. Martha’s Church and bus shuttles to Planned Parenthood, which is the largest Planned Parenthood facility in the state, which covers 15 counties.
“We had over 300 [people come] last year, which was a new record,” Berdeaux said. “Every year it’s getting bigger and bigger.” Because this year’s walk falls on a Saturday, she expects the attendance to swell. More events are scheduled for February and March.
In Colorado, on Jan. 22, Denver Auxiliary Bishop James Conley will be celebrating a Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception at 10am.
“This will be a day of prayer and penance in reparation for the tragedy of abortion,” Bishop Conley answered via e-mail. “We are planning on walking to the State Capitol after Mass and praying a solemn Rosary. This is not a day to celebrate; it is a day to mourn and do penance.”
He is scheduled to concelebrate Mass in Colorado Springs today, Jan. 17, with Bishop Michael Sheridan as part of a pro-life day organized by a talented 15-year-old pro-life leader named Zach Goodwin.
Don’t Mess With Texans
In Texas, Karen Garnett, executive director for the Catholic Pro-Life Committee of North Texas, the respect-life ministry of the Dallas Diocese (ProLifeDallas.org), said their Dallas March for Life is one of the fastest-growing events in the country. In 2009, the crowd numbered 5,000; in 2010, it grew to over 3,000 for the Mass and 7,000 for the march immediately afterward.
“This year we’re expecting even larger crowds because of the momentum,” Garnett said. “This is where Roe v. Wade began.”
Dallas Bishop Kevin Farrell has called for 10,000 to march this year. “The call is from the top,” Garnett said.
Garnett finds great significance that the cathedral is dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe because “she’s the patroness of the unborn.”
The Archdiocese of San Antonio has a full weekend planned, beginning with the annual Roe v. Wade commemoration Mass on Jan. 22 at St. Mary Magdalen Church. The principal celebrant will be Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Cantú. Several priests will join him. After Mass, there will be a march from the church to the area’s Planned Parenthood location.
“We say a Rosary on the way there for life, one while we are there, and another Rosary on way back,” Rick Doucette, director of the archdiocesan pro-life office, said.
On Sunday, Jan. 23, San Antonio Right to Life will hold a rally in Milan Park downtown where speakers will include newly appointed San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller.
“We usually fill the church to overflowing. We’ve gotten several hundred at the Mass and the march,” Doucette said. Hundreds are also expected to come to listen to pro-life speakers. Doucette is expecting even more attendees with Archbishop Garcia-Siller speaking.
“We’re extremely excited to have our new archbishop there,” he said, especially since as one of his first official actions “he’s coming to participate in a pro-life activity.”
Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.