Bearing fruit, making progress: latest 40 Days for Life campaign concludes

A portion of this post is adapted from remarks I delivered at the closing rally for 40 Days for Life in Manchester, New Hampshire.

This has been one of those 40 Days for Life campaigns that I refuse to call a “Spring” campaign. Too darn cold and snowy. So what did we have for the closing rally? Temps in the mid-forties, and a forecast of rain. Spring rain! How good that sounded.

40 Days for Life participants in prayer
The winter/spring 2018 40 Days for Life campaign in Manchester, NH draws to a close with prayer. All photos in this post by Ellen Kolb.

I was blessed during this campaign to be able to participate in campaigns in Concord and Greenland as well as Manchester. Manchester’s sort of home base, and I’m grateful to campaign coordinator Sheila and her team. Traveling was good, though. I saw 40 Days for Life through fresh eyes as I visited different towns.

Leader of Manchester NH 40 Days for Life campaign
Sheila D. led the Manchester, NH campaign. She’s a volunteer, as are her colleagues on the leadership team.

One of the things I love about 40 Days for Life is its presence in so many cities at the same time. If I was praying at 7 a.m. in Manchester, even with just one other person, I knew we were praying and witnessing in solidarity with many other people.

We have good days – a conversation with a woman considering abortion, a “save,” maybe just a smile from a passerby – and bad days when we feel “what’s the point?” When that happens, remember that peaceful, consistent pro-life witness during 40 Days for Life is touching people not involved with the facility outside which we stand. The neighbors see us. So do the driver of the school bus rumbling down Pennacook Street, and the woman walking to the Rite-Aid on the corner, and the guy sweeping the streets. There’s no telling when or where or how peaceful witness will bear fruit.

We all know that it’s not bearing fruit at the State House at the moment. March was a discouraging month, legislatively. It would be easy for me to focus on that. Culture is about more than politics, though.

This was brought home to me at a recent hearing in Concord, where I met someone just getting started in pro-life work. At the same hearing was an old friend who’s been in the vineyard with me, so to speak, for about 30 years. The three of us got to talking. My new friend asked us if New Hampshire had made any pro-life progress over the years.

I felt like a know-it-all fifth grader. Ooh! Ooh! I know this one! I got ready to launch into a sixty-second rant about how terrible our laws are relative to the right to life. As I drew breath to start, though, my old friend said, “oh yes, definitely.” Knocked me right off my soapbox. New friend and I exclaimed at the same time, “what do you mean?”

My old friend then laid down a bit of truth that put politics in its place. “Thirty years ago, there were seven crisis pregnancy centers in the state. Now, there are 30 places, pro-life places, where women can go.”

Think about that. Thirty places. And they’re not just about crisis pregnancies, either. For example, what does every center publish on its wish list for donations? Toddler-size diapers and training pants. So much for only caring about babies until they’re born. And for moms and dads, many centers offer parenting classes and assistance with job-hunting. Some places offer housing for pregnant and parenting women who would otherwise be homeless.

Each of the 30 places began with one person seeing a need. It takes a team to open and sustain a pro-life project, but each one starts with a single person with compassion and vision. Think of that next time you’re in prayer, alone, wondering if you can make a difference. Yes, you can.

We begin laying the groundwork for the Fall campaign today. Let’s spread the news. If you have pro-life friends, if you’re in a service group or prayer circle, if you have a podcast, if you are part of any pro-life organization that needs a speaker, invite someone on the 40 Days for Life leadership team. I’m saying this without consulting any of them, but I feel safe in saying that they would welcome the chance to tell more people about what 40 Days for Life is about.

I want those team leaders to get so many speaking engagements that they can’t keep up. Let them get mad at me for putting them in that predicament. It’ll be worth it.

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Recommended Viewing: “Desperate Measures”

Not long after Fr. Imbarrato paid a visit to my area and spoke about the need for “decisive strategies” for pro-life activists, I read about his arrest for a sit-in at an abortion facility. Not on the sidewalk – but in the facility itself. Thirty years ago, I would have admired that.

Thirty years ago, I hadn’t met any former abortion workers.

I read Abby Johnson’s Unplanned in 2010, and later met and listened to her. I met Catherine Adair in 2011. These women told me about how, when they were working at Planned Parenthood, the actions and words of some pro-life activists actually increased the sense of solidarity among the clinic workers and the fear among clients. They forced me to see activism differently.

Please watch this 20-minute video from Sidewalk Advocates for Life. Abby and Catherine are both featured. Entitled “Desperate Measures,” the video is a direct response to recent sit-ins and “rescues.” The message is don’t do it – and here’s the better way to carry out peaceful pro-life witness. 

A 40 DFL Challenge!

I just subjected myself (and my Facebook followers) to five minutes on-camera to throw down a modest challenge. The next 40 Days for Life campaign is hours away. In New Hampshire, three campaigns are going on, with plenty of vigil hours open for your participation.

And so: for every new 40 DFL signup between publication of this post and midnight on Saturday, February 17 (late Friday night/early Saturday morning) for one of the New Hampshire campaigns, I’ll match it with an hour of vigil myself, up to a maximum of 10 hours in Manchester, 10 in Concord, and 5 in Greenland.

You don’t have to be a new participant, although I expect this will draw some first-timers who are committed to the 40DFL mission, including the Statement of Peace that is integral to the campaign. If you sign up tonight to add an hour to your existing 40DFL schedule, that will count toward the challenge.

New to 40 Days for Life? Read all about it and its mission of peaceful pro-life witness at 40daysforlife.com. Look for the “locations” link at that site to find out more about the New Hampshire campaigns. There are Facebook pages for each campaign as well.

Don’t want to keep vigil alone? If you want a partner, contact your local campaign via Facebook or the campaign’s 40DFL page.

For Your Weekend Calendar: 40 Days for Life N.H. Kickoff Rallies on Sunday

Make plans to attend a rally in your area to launch the next 40 Days for Life campaign. Manchester and Concord campaigns are having a joint rally at 2 p.m. on Sunday, February 11 at Ste. Marie’s Church (Montminy Hall) in Manchester. Same date & time in Greenland, beginning at the town offices on Portsmouth Avenue and proceeding along the sidewalk to the nearby Lovering Center.

40dfl greenland kickoff40DFL Manchester kickoff

 

Catching Up: Marching for Life in D.C. as Roe Turns 45

If you’ve had your fill of March for Life coverage, my apologies for this post (and please tell me where you’re getting your news).

The first March for Life in Washington was 44 years ago, one year after the Roe v. Wade abortion decision was imposed by the Supreme Court.  There’s been a march every year since then. I’ve been to six or seven of them.

t-shirt from March for Life 2018
I traveled to the March with a group from my parish, part of a six-bus caravan.

Never have I been part of a larger march than I was last January 19. The weather was surely a factor: full sun, mid-forties. Yet that doesn’t account for most of the marchers, who chartered their buses months ago.

I didn’t count noses. It’s tough to count from the midst of a sea of humanity. I’ve since seen back-and-forth posts from attendees at the March for Life and the following day’s “women’s march,” with squabbles over crowd size that sound like some chief executive tweeting about who’s got a bigger button.

I can assure you of a few things: the March for Life is not a diminishing phenomenon. It continues to attract marchers of all ages. It’s also a rallying point for new pro-life coalitions and groups (like the former abortion workers of And Then There Were None) that couldn’t have been imagined back when Nellie Gray organized the first March for Life in 1974.

March for Life 2018
The view from mid-crowd at March for Life 2018, passing by National Archives in Washington.

I missed the President’s pre-March rally video-link greeting, choosing instead to meet with a group from New Wave Feminists who were hosting a rally of their own before joining the March. If you think all pro-lifers are alike, NWF will burst your bubble. And it’ll be fun.

During the March, I lost track of my marching companions not once but twice. It was tough to stay in touch with them even via text, as the sheer number of people making social media posts from the March affected local cell service. No problem: this was a good day to make new friends and to bump into old ones.

Next year’s March for Life in D.C. will be on Friday, January 18, 2019.