Opinion: Being pro-life by celebrating life

by Vicki Thorn

The week after Easter I was blessed to travel to Piura, Peru, an archdiocese and a city in the north of the country. I came at the invitation of Archbishop José Antonio Eguren, who asked me to introduce to the archdiocese Project Rachel, the post-abortion healing ministry of the Catholic Church in the United States, and to provide training for priests, mental health professionals, medical professionals, and others so that they may better recognize the wounds of abortion and understand how to companion people toward healing through the Sacrament of Penance and compassionate counseling.

The archbishop had chosen that week because they would be a “Celebration of Life” that week, in part to protest attempts to legalize abortion in Peru. Little did I know what that celebration would entail. All I was told is that there would be a series of events in the diocese.

I arrived on Friday and caught my breath. On Saturday afternoon, it began with a Day of the Unborn Child. My escort brought me to the Piura Cathedral where there were many chairs set out to face toward a sizeable stage. I was told that the chairs were for pregnant women who would be blessed by the archbishop as part of the event. A few expectant mothers were there already, and they were given their choice of a pink or blue pregnancy T-shirt. And the crowd of pregnant women kept growing!

My host said, “Come with me,” and so we walked several blocks. We meet one of four groups of people who were walking from the four corners of the city. The archbishop was leading the walk, which included marchers carrying a huge banner. Among them were dignitaries, mayors, elected officials and military officers. The archbishop’s group led the way down a long boulevard that was decorated with signs, television screens, and loud speakers. The walkers were escorted by many young volunteers — who looked a bit like sunshine in their bright yellow shirts — and legions of police. The crowd was composed of people from all walks of life — the young, the old, little kids, adolescent kids, older kids , and young adults! They carried beautiful signs bearing positive messages, such as “Life is Sacred.”

We approached the stage again to find that many more expectant moms had arrived. Planners had been expecting 30 or 40 to show, but by then their number had swelled to more than 100! Archbishop Eguren and the leaders of the walk ascended to the stage, the archbishop made remarks about life and the beauty of life… and the crowd cheered! He prayed a blessing over the pregnant women and also prayed for those who struggle with infertility and for those who have lost children to abortion. He then went down into the crowd with holy water and blessed the mothers as every one of them was given a special gift: A beautiful ceramic baby Jesus crafted by inmates of a women’s prison. The incarcerated women had heard about the upcoming walk and blessing and wanted to affirm the life of the unborn with these precious gifts!

The next day there was a parade in which many groups participated, including members of the military and professional groups bearing names such as “Doctors for Life,” “Nurses for Life,” and “Businessmen for Life.” There also were two groups of little children: The first group of kids was pulling toys and waving like movie stars, while members of the second group were all dressed in costumes — Batman, butterflies, fairies, and more — and all were very serious!

And then it dawned on me: Much of what we do in pro-life work has a predominantly anti-abortion slant. But here in Peru was a gathering that most assuredly was a defense of the unborn but had as its focus a celebration of life! I began to wonder if we, too, could do something like this in the United States, possibly during the summer months far removed from the Roe v. Wade anniversary and the March for Life in January.

What would happen if we were to organize parishes to march to a public park or a Knights of Columbus Hall and have a picnic? We could have doctors and nurses for life, and marching pre-schoolers, just as in Piura. The event would be a family celebration, with parents, babes in arms, toddlers, kids on bikes, and with teens and college students as volunteers to assist with some of the activities. We could invite our Protestant neighbors to join us in this celebration of life. We could even invite out pro-choice neighbors and friends; they just might come to see us in an entirely new light if we can break down some of the stereotypes that divide us in our society. What if we invited pregnant women from our parishes and the pregnancy help centers, and maybe gave them colorful pregnancy T-shirts? What if our pastors, or even our bishops, were to pray a blessing over them all?

Some of you reading this might be dubious about making this work… but it can work! The neighborhood in which I live has had a July 4 parade for more than 30 years. Neighbors young and old gather at a local church, and the Police Band leads us through the streets with police escorts to manage traffic. The American Legion provides small flags which marchers hand out to those who gather on the street corners and porches to observe the parade. These spectators are invited to join us in the march or at the park, where the event continues with ice cream treats, activities for the kids, and live music. This kind of event builds community in so many ways. It sounds like what you might expect to see in a very small town, but I live in a major urban area, and it works there, too.

My heart was changed by what I experienced in Piura, so much so that I haven’t stopped talking about it. What a joyful event it was! We all need more joy in our hearts. Celebrating life is good for everyone… and it should be politically correct to do so.

(Vicki Thorn is the founder of the National Office for Post Abortion Reconciliation and Healing and Project Rachel.)

From catholicpulse.com

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