By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — On Jan. 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Roe v. Wade case that women have the legal right to abortion. Since then, each year, thousands of men, women, young adults and children have gathered on the Mall in Washington D.C., to march for life.
This year, the 41st anniversary of that ruling, many thousands traveled through snow, wind and bitter cold to Washington, D.C. for the March, and those who were unable to travel there, gathered in their home cities to pray for life, for the not yet born all the way to natural death.
In Kansas City, a Mass, sponsored by Missouri Right to Life and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, was celebrated in the Chapel of Our Lady of Ephesus at the Catholic Center, with Father Ken Riley, Judicial Vicar, as principal celebrant and concelebrated by Father Charles Rowe, Vicar General.
In his homily, Father Riley told about 50 people in the chapel and the main lobby a story about a husband whose wife lived in a nursing home, suffering from Alzheimer’s. How he visited her every day, telling her the latest family news, which she would forget as soon as she heard them, feeding her lunch and telling her he loved her. When friends would question why he kept going to visit her when she didn’t know who he was, his answer was always “Because I know who I am.”
“The husband’s faithfulness,” Father Riley said, “is the perfect and complete answer to what we are doing … as well as who we are … in continuing a quest that promotes, protects, provides for human life, especially the unborn: Because I know who I am; because we know who we are … made in the image and likeness of God.”
The Gospel reading for that day was Mark 9:30-37. Part of the reading included:
“They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.’ Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.’”
Father Riley explained that through the gospel account can be seen that the disciples were beginning to realize exactly who Jesus is … “the good news that Jesus embodies, the importance of God’s will and way over human domination, power, rank and privilege. And so do we as Catholics, start to understand who we are, what our lives are about and what we mean when we say we believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son and our Lord.”
This belief “is a journey of discipleship,” he continued. Our faith is one of witness like the early disciples … “of innocence, and of trust in what is not visible to worldly eyes, easily grasped by little children.” Father Riley suggested striving to be as “a child who welcomes another, a child who loves people without hate or prejudice … a child who in welcoming and acknowledging, treating with respect and love the born and the unborn, welcomes God’s eternal love,” … again revealed upon earth. “At this we ought not to fall silent.”
He reminded those present of the words of Isaiah, that God promised to “make you a light to the nations that his salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
In shining as a light to the nations, Father Riley said, we have to speak, we have to act in both charity and true love, but with a voice of truth, with a witness of faith and with a trust in God’s eternity.”
Harkening back to the story of the husband and wife, he said, “it was not her recognition of him, not her knowing the names of family or friends, not even remembering the story of their life together that mattered; it was his beloved’s being a child of God, born … innocent, welcomed, loved.”
At the conclusion of the homily, Father Riley said, “God our creator, … grant that we, whom you have made stewards of creation, remain faithful to this sacred trust and constant in safeguarding the dignity of every human life.”
After Mass, about 20 people bundled into coats and scarves and, some praying aloud, some silently reflecting, walked the 5 blocks in 30 degree temperatures to Ilus Davis Park across from the Federal Courthouse at Ninth and Oak streets. There they met others who were gathering to pray, holding signs reminding drivers, passersby and those entering or leaving the courthouse that adoption is an alternative to abortion and of the pain and regret those who have gone through an abortion feel, even years later. The prayer vigil was organized and sponsored by Missouri Right to Life.
Several Kansas City area faith leaders led prayers. As they prayed, a few drivers waved thumbs up or honked horns in support.
Reverend Aaron Lavendar, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Kansas City, prayed that American leaders “would get to know the Lord” and change would occur, starting at the center and moving out to the circumference. In other words, the changes would start with the leaders and lawmakers and move out to encompass everybody.
Reverend Algernon Baker, pastor of Bethel Family Worship Center in Ruskin Heights, urged repentance and thanked God for being the God of all. “Show us the way back to you,” he said.
Reverend Jim Shimel, pastor of Buckner Restoration Branch, asked those present to “cry out to God for those who have no voice to speak for them.”
Father Angelo Bartulica, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Raytown, asked God to help those present “be agents of love” and let those hurting from abortion know that “there is a heavenly Father who loves them.”
Deacon Bob Bates of St. Sabina Parish in Belton also urged prayer and repentance, and asked all those present to join him in the “Our Father.”
When the prayer vigil ended, with quiet goodbyes the group picked up their table, the placards, and the bullhorn, and departed, many for lunch at Anthony’s Restaurant a few blocks away, others to return to work or their homes. But for everyone who participated in the Mass and the prayer vigil on a cold afternoon, the words of Father Riley and of the priest, the deacon and the ministers, remained in their minds.