By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Perhaps a higher plan was at work when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in January, rather than in June, four full decades ago.
On a Jan. 22 morning when the outside temperature barely reached a bone-numbing 20 degrees, nearly 200 Catholics first attended Mass with Bishop Robert W. Finn at the Catholic Center in downtown Kansas City.
Then most of them marched — with their bishop in the lead down — down frigid Ninth Street to form the bulk of the crowd at a noon hour Missouri Right to Life prayer witness for the legal protection of the unborn in front of the Charles Evans Whittaker Federal Courthouse.
For a solid hour, with the exception of the very young and the much older who stood the freezing weather as long as they could before leaving, they prayed along with several Christian ministers, in prayerful, peaceful witness.
Most carried newly minted signs: “50+ million abortions since Roe v. Wade,” the “50” crossed out and replaced by “55.”
Others brought their own signs, some of them handmade. “Announcing another life to love and protect” read one of them. “It’s a Girl!” said another, a sign for the celebration of a newborn purchased at a party supply shop.
The crowd included an old salt — former Navy chaplain Msgr. Ralph Kaiser, 84, who was there for the duration.
“Old sailors don’t die,” he told The Catholic Key. “They have to shoot us.”
The Mass was celebrated in the Our Lady of Ephesus Chapel which couldn’t hold half the people who were there. They spilled out in the Catholic Center lobby, nearly filling it, and every chair hastily brought to accommodate them.
And Bishop Finn included a quote from a surprising source in his homily:
“You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time — not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.”
“These are the words of President Barack Obama in his second inaugural address,” Bishop Finn said, only one day after the president spoke those words.
“Now, dear friends, I make these words my own: We have the power to change the course of our country,” Bishop Finn said.
“Forty years is too long,” he said. “We have the obligation to vote in defense of human life. We have the obligation to lift our voices in defense of human life, the ancient value and enduring ideal, the self-evident truth — we are created equal and endowed by our Creator with life.”
Young and old, Catholic and Protestant, they then stood freezing for a full hour in front of the federal courthouse, as ministers led them in prayer and reflection, especially drawing on the Psalms for spiritual warmth to replace the physical discomfort.
“We have to remember in Proverbs, God tells us to rescue those who are led to slaughter,” said the Rev. David Smith, pastor of Pleasant Valley Baptist Church.
“Most of all, we have to keep praying,” he said. “God will hear our prayers.”
It was cold, but the witness was strong and warm.
At the end of the rally, Sister in the Lord Jesus Maria Damiana Lee gave up her coat to a young girl in a baby stroller just before she walked back to the Catholic Center for the car to take the girl, her mother and herself back to the warmth of home.
In gloved and ungloved hands, dozens of Catholics brought out their rosaries to pray.
Then pressed into service by surprise, Bishop Finn offered an impromptu prayer of thanksgiving.
“We are thankful for the gift of life,” he prayed into the portable bullhorn.
“We thank you for the witness of so many here today who have braved the cold to bear witness to your precious gift of life,” Bishop Finn prayed.
“This must be, because we know that one day what we believe in our heart of hearts will be incorporated into law, that your law, the law of nature, will become the law of man,” he said.
“You have entrusted to us life and freedom. We must speak this truth. We must teach this truth that you are the Lord of all, and we are stewards of this gift of life,” the bishop said.