An enthusiastic crowd of pro-life advocates gathered Sept. 25 in the hall at St. John Vianney Parish in Mentor to launch the fall 40 Days for Life campaign.
John Noall, director of the Cleveland, Bedford Heights and Painesville 40 Days for Life groups, thanked the more than 150 in attendance “for being an advocate for life in the womb.” Also attending the event was Mary von Carlowitz, director of the diocesan Office for Human Life.
Father Tom Johns, St. John Vianney pastor, was unable to attend but Father Alex Clark, parochial vicar, led the opening prayer and shared a personal story about receiving a phone call recently from a distressed grandfather-to-be who asked for prayers for his daughter and her family. The young mother was suffering pregnancy complications that could be life threatening for both her and baby.
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“There have been many tears and many prayers,” Father Clark said, adding they continue to pray that the pregnancy will last long enough for the baby to be viable.
Noall said 40 Days for Life is an internationally coordinated 40-day campaign that aims to end abortion through prayer and fasting, community outreach and a peaceful, all-day vigil in front of abortion businesses. Locally, the group prays in front of the Preterm Clinic on Shaker Boulevard in Cleveland, which he said is the largest abortion provider in Ohio.
The fall campaign, which began Sept. 27, will end with a prayer vigil at 3 p.m. Nov. 5 at Preterm, 12000 Shaker Blvd., Cleveland. Those interested in participating should call or text 216-245-9744 or email email@example.com.
There also are vigils at Family Planning, 54 South State St., Painesville and Planned Parenthood, 25350 Rockside Road, Bedford Heights. Call Carol at 440-823-1204 for information on the Painesville vigil and Mary, 440-897-0656 for information on the Bedford Heights vigil.
Auxiliary Bishop Michael Woost began his remarks to the group by offering a prayerful proclamation of a reading from the Gospel of St. Luke. He shared the account of the annunciation and Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth. Both women were unexpectedly pregnant – Mary with Jesus and Elizabeth, who was much older and believed to be barren, with John the Baptist.
The bishop explained that these two accounts and encounters – annunciation and visitation – are applicable to 40 Days for Life “because here God’s word speaks emphatically to us of the sacred dignity of human life from its very beginnings. The Eternal Word chose to be incarnated in human flesh. The Son chose to become like us in all things, except for sin, even from the moment of his conception in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit. God did not simply choose to become mass of biological cells; God chose to become a human being, a human life,” the bishop said.
“Jesus’ humanity appeared as the sign and instrument of his divinity and of the salvation he brings. In other words, what was visible in his human earthly life leads us to the invisible mystery of his divine sonship and redemptive mission. Through his humanity, we can discover his divinity and the saving grace he offers us,” Bishop Woost added.
“What’s more, by this wedding of humanity and divinity in Christ Jesus, he reveals all human life a being sacred and worthy of God’s love,” he said.
Reflecting further on the annunciation and visitation, the bishop said these are “sacred moments, human and divine encounters.”
In the visitation, Elizabeth and John and Mary and Jesus have a shared sacred experience, a mutual moment of grade. “This is a holy encounter in which something of the divine is revealed and communicated, especially in the in-utero response of the unborn John, who leaps for joy in the presence of the unborn Jesus the Christ,” Bishop Woost said. “This is not an ambiguous work of nature. This is not even simply a human experience … The divine is being disclosed; the presence of God revealed … The intersection of the divine and human all wrapped up in an encounter that begins with a greeting. There is so much more going on here than meets the eye,” he said.
The visitation is an image of what it means to live a graced life as human beings, the bishop explained. “Graced lives permeated by God’s presence and attuned to God’s way. They are lives through which the activity of God continues to be incarnated, enfleshed. Graced lives that bear both a revelation of God’s gracious care and the hiddenness of the Holy Spirit working in human encounters. Lives that share in and communicate the presence and activity of God.
In many ways, our own lives mirror those of Mary and Elizabeth, the bishop said, noting we deal with turmoil and joy, often face the unexpected and are always invited to be instruments of God’s presence and graced beyond measure.
He connected those thoughts with the fall 40 Days for Life campaign by explaining it is a time to enter into prayer, fasting and witness, particularly in response to Issue 1 that will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot statewide. The Church opposes the issue, which would make it easier to end the lives of unborn children by making abortion more accessible throughout pregnancy
“We know what the Church has done and is doing not only to oppose ending the lives of unborn children, but to positively support pregnant women and their children for the sake of life.” The bishop said.
For decades, numerous Catholic social service agencies, in collaboration with other Christian and faith-based and secular organizations, have assisted pregnant women in need with material resources and personal accompaniment during pregnancy and after the child is born, he said. Also, there are programs like Project Rachel that offers post-abortive healing for those affected by abortion.
“Every woman should be able to depend on our communities for support and the Catholic Church remains committed to women in need ... Our God is a God of life,” he added.
“Nothing is impossible with God. We may not be able to change hearts, but God can,” he said. “During these 40 days, may our prayer, fasting and witnessing help others to recognize more clearly the presence of God working in all our lives, especially the lives of the unborn and their mothers.”
The bishop also met Pastor Walt Moss, a retired minister from the Canton area, and his wife Darleen. They are advocates for life and work hand-in-hand with 40 Days for Life and other pro-life organizations to offer prayer and support for pregnant women.
Literature, buttons, signs and other items advocating for life and urging a “no” vote on Issue 1 are available free. Call or text 216-245-9744 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to request the items. Learn more about 40 Days for Life at 40daysforlife.com.