By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Bitterly cold temperatures may have frozen the numbers, but not the spirit of some 120 pro-lifers, 43 years after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in the United States.
In 23-degree weather, the pro-lifers peacefully stood vigil for nearly 90 minutes through the noon hour in Ilus Davis Park, across from the Charles Evans Whittaker U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Kansas City, praying literally for the lives of those who have no voice — the unborn.
“I want to thank you all for your presence,” said Bishop James V. Johnston, shortly before he led the five-block, uphill procession from the Catholic Center to the courthouse.
“As we walk, we want to have a prayerful spirit as we pray for a change of heart in this country that only God can bring,” he said. “We can be part of a great ministry to stand arm in arm with our brothers and sisters in the womb. We entrust everything to the Lord.”
As those who attended a pre-rally Mass at the Catholic Center joined those already waiting on the sidewalk at Ilus Davis Park, Bishop Johnston took note of two Latin words inscribed in stone on the federal courthouse — “Lex” and “Pax”; “Law” and “Peace.”
He recalled the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail, explaining why, as a follower of Christ, he was compelled to stand against unjust laws.
“An unjust law does not square with eternal law, and a just law does,” Bishop Johnston said. “Any law that does not uphold the human person is unjust.”
While speaker after speaker, both Protestant and Catholic, denounced abortion and called on the nation and its leaders to come to their senses, some speakers took another tact and called for healing, especially outreach to women thinking that abortion is the only choice, and women suffering from a past abortion.
Teresa Hoeppner, head of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph’s Project Rachel, told a story of a woman who found such healing through Project Rachel.
“God reached down and helped me out of the muck and mire my life had become,” the woman told Hoeppner.
Robert Zornes of Mother’s Refuge, a shelter for young women in a crisis pregnancy, told the story of a young woman who came to them for a place to live in order to save money to have an abortion.
The young woman kept attending classes, “but she really wasn’t into it,” Zornes said.
But time passed.
“She never saved enough money to have an abortion,” Zornes said. And when she gave birth, she told Zornes this: “How can we not believe in a loving God after witnessing the miracle of birth?”
Deacon Justin McMenamy, a long-time pro-life activist and volunteer, urged the crowd to do whatever they can, however they can, to help women who are expecting a child. It is an act of faith, he said.
“People of faith know there is a God and know there is a method to creation,” he said.
“No matter how little we do, we are there in this important witness that lets people know there is help. They just need to find it,” Deacon McMenamy said.
Teresa O’Donnell of Rachel’s Vineyard, a companion program to Project Rachel that offers prayerful retreats to women who have had abortions, cautioned the pro-lifers not to demonize women who chose abortion. That increases their suffering, she said.
“We need to reach out with compassion,” O’Donnell said. “We need to pray for all who are suffering from abortion that they may come to God’s healing.”
Kathy Edwards of Rachel’s House spoke of a young woman who came to one of the crisis pregnancy centers in 1998.
“Because of Rachel’s House, she gave life to her child,” she said.
But that’s not all. The young woman then began going to Bible study with Edwards. She eventually met and married Edwards’ son.
“And now, that child is now my grandchild,” Edwards said.
At the Catholic Center Mass before the rally, Father Sean McCaffery, pastor of St. John Francis Regis Parish, stressed the importance of marriage and family as part of God’s plan for the creation of new life.
“God created man and woman to leave their families to become one,” he said. “They give everything of their lives. They share everything. They are open to new life.
“It is so powerful that it co-creates with God. What a great gift that is,” Father McCaffery said.
The culture today is in denial of that gift, he said.
“It is so beautiful” to give life as God intended, Father McCaffery said.
“When parents have a child, it calls them forth to live for that child, to feed them, to clothe them, to provide for them,” he said.
“I ask that we pray for mothers and fathers who are contemplating abortion today, to see the beauty of life,” he said.
The right to life is the most fundamental of all human rights, Father McCaffery said.
“You take away life, you have no liberty and no pursuit of happiness,” he said. “We are praying for the opportunity for souls to be born.”
The congregation at Mass this year filled the Chapel of Ephesus at the Catholic Center, but this year did not spill out into the first-floor lobby. Their numbers included students from Rockhurst University, and their chaplain, Jesuit Father Chris Schroeder, who concelebrated the Mass with Father McCaffery.
The Rockhurst students said they had planned to travel to Washington D.C. for the annual March for Life, but cancelled when a historic blizzard was forecast for the nation’s capital.
“We’re here because we are not in D.C.,” said Virginia Vanegas, bluntly. “I was given life, so we are speaking for those unborn to be given the same opportunity.”
“It’s worth it,” said Rockhurst student Kellie Eklund, as she prepared to enter the January cold.
“The whole nation should know and become aware, and we can’t be silent,” she said.