The worldwide 40 Days community concluded their respective Lenten campaigns for life at the stroke of midnight Palm Sunday evening. It was the sixth centrally coordinated 40 Days effort since the event was ‘franchised’ in 2007. It is quite astonishing to think that a small pro-life chapter in Bryan/College Station , Texas, who tentatively stepped out to run a 40 Day vigil in their local community in 2004 has given rise to worldwide phenomenon with over 350,000 participants. This year 40 Days vigils took place in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Northern Ireland and, of course, Australia.
During the Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday vigil this year there has been 493 verifiable ‘turnarounds’ where local pro-life teams actually spoke to women who decided against going through with an abortion at clinics where the vigil was taking place. The babies definitely saved are only the tip of the iceberg. There is the conversion of those whose long held secret of having aborted has began to heal through contact with 40 Days. We cannot ever know how many ‘silent turnarounds’ happen where women simply don’t turn up for their appointment at a site where the vigil is taking place (this figure would be in the thousands). Finally, there is an exponential growth in the Church’s pro-life outreach through joining the 40 Days bandwagon…
2010 vigiler Sister Rosalita Judge O.P. from upstate New York summed up her feelings on the 40th Day, sentiments shared by all: “I have prayed with all of you who are able to stand and pray at an abortion site. The Lord is listening to our prayers. May he continue to do so even after the 40 days are over. What we are praying for is the lives of unborn children. We will not know until we reach heaven how many have been saved. God bless all the 40 Dayers who have so consistently fought the good fight.”
It has not just been ‘seasoned’ pro-lifers participating in the 2010 prayer vigil because the 40 Days model is continually drawing new people into pro-life activism. First time vigil attendee Nicole Junkin, from the ‘Deep South’ in Alabama, relayed a commonly heard refrain of gratitude on the last day of the vigil: “I have been blessed to be involved in this campaign and will continue in this fight for life. The changes in my life have been many. Some of those are that I conquered several firsts (standing in front of an abortion mill, speaking to a woman there looking for services, praying and fasting with a purpose), my relationship with Christ has deepened, my trust in Him and a deeper acceptance of His love for me…” Conversion is a consistent thread in everyone’s 40 Days testimony.
There was an amazing story of conversion ‘on the operating table’ at Day 29 of the vigil in Providence, Rhode Island. 40 Dayer Joanne said a Planned Parenthood worker confronted one of their prayer volunteers who was carrying an “I regret my abortion” sign. The abortion mill employee argued that this woman had no “right” to regret her abortion!
“The employee joined the escorts near me to ridicule our prayer volunteer for having had eight children,” Joanne said, “even saying vulgar things against her motherhood.”
As the Planned Parenthood worker and the escorts continued to mock the now pro-life mother with the Silent no More sign, Joanne pulled this courageous woman aside “to assure her that God was blessing her greatly.” Just at that moment, one of the girls that the arrogant pro-abortion ‘escorts’ had ushered into the mill came bursting out of the abortion center.
“It’s so scary in there,” she said. “This is the second time I’ve come for an abortion and couldn’t do it. I was in the room and on the table, and I couldn’t do it — so I left. Thank you for being here. God bless you!” The Planned Parenthood employees who had been mocking the mother-of-eight were stunned. Appropriately enough Divine Providence was at work in Providence and everywhere the 40 Days vigil descended in 2010.
Reading the 40 Days reflections from the United States one is often struck by moments where in a human sense all hope has been lost only for a miracle to save the day at the very last moment. On Day 27 People praying at a vigil outside an abortion center in Mission Hills, California watched as a woman arrived for her appointment. Prayer volunteers spoke to her briefly as she walked toward the building.
Local 40 Days vigiler Patti said, “This particular woman seemed upset with what she was about to do but she went in anyway.”
When she came out of the facility a little time later, a pro-life counselor asked if she had changed her mind. “No, I forgot my Medicare card at home and I have to go get it. The 40 Days counselor responded immediately with conviction, “You know, that’s just God telling you that you’re not supposed to be here to have an abortion”.
Patti then saw the woman break down: “She acknowledged the comment and left crying. She did not return to the clinic!” There are hundreds of local stories from this year’s campaign like this one where the presence of dedicated prayer volunteers at an abortion facility has been the difference between life and death for a child and between hope or heartache for the mother.
In the United States it is commonplace to see a 40 Days team features in the local TV news as their vigil becomes a notable living landmark in the city. A March 17 transcript from the local NBC affiliate’s nightly newscast in Columbia, Missouri, reads like an advertisement for the 40 Days campaign:
KOMU Columbia Newsreader: “Staff cuts have caused a halt to surgical abortions at the local Planned Parenthood facility in Columbia. There have been no surgical abortions for about two weeks, because the Planned Parenthood lobbyist says the facility lacks the staff to perform this type of abortion…”
Anti-abortion group “40 Days For Life” has been picketing the Columbia Planned Parenthood since February.
“God is the one that does everything. We are just — we are here praying and asking for the end of abortion and how God does it is up to him,” said Kathy Forck, 40 Days of Life Campaign Director. She said she heard from a Planned Parenthood staff member the facility had halted surgical abortions, which she said was “music” to her ears.“
Imagine seeing a story like that leading the TV news in your city! If you go to the 40Days for Life website and click on the ‘News’ section you will find a tab for ‘TV News Reports’ in the right hand column. They are well worth watching because you can get a sense of the breadth of the 40 Days campaign by watching each little community faithfully staffing their 2010 Lenten vigil and spreading the pro-life message.
It will be fitting to give Fr. Frank Pavone from Priests for Life the final word on the 2010 campaign. Here is Fr Pavone’s ‘daily reflection’ for Day 40 of the campaign just past. It is a message of hope and of victory to meditate upon as we give thanks for all the wonderful graces poured out during the worldwide 40 Days campaign we have just witnessed:
“Every activity we undertake in defense of the sanctity of life is prophetic, inasmuch as
it points to the day when ‘death will be no more.’”
Every victory we have when an act of abortion is prevented is prophetic of that day when death itself will be definitively conquered.
Every triumph of grace in this world, whereby someone is brought to see the value of life and given the strength to welcome it, is a breaking into our history of that definitive future in which the old order of things will have passed, and all things will be made new.
As pro-life warriors, we must keep our eyes fixed on heaven, and our hearts secure in the hope that the day is coming when all evil will be conquered. It is the future that shapes the present; it is victory that informs the battle; it is the destination that determines the journey.
Daily, we are called to reflect on heaven. When we weep, we are to think of the day when every tear will be wiped away. When we face the destructive power of death, we are to think of the day when death is swallowed up in victory. When we labor against abortion, we are to think of the day when we will have the rest and peace of the final triumph of life.
“Heaven is as real as earth, and its joys will be as real as our present sorrows.”