Published February 1, 2007
Each year on Jan. 22 they gather to remember, they gather to mourn, they gather to pray, and they gather to hope.
Thousands of Catholics filled the downtown Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to commemorate the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the fateful court case that legalized abortion at any stage of life in the United States in 1973. Since then over 48 million lives have been aborted in the womb.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated the annual Mass for the Unborn, which drew crowds of all ages and races, filling the pews, aisles and church vestibule. Twelve priests of the archdiocese concelebrated the Mass, along with Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue.
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory encouraged those embroiled in the fight for life to continue their good work. He reminded them to be diligent but gentle in their commitment to the unborn. God sent Jesus, the Savior, as an infant, a baby whose cry must be heard.
“For these 34 years that our nation has endured its sorrowful legacy of rejecting and denying the dignity of the gift of human life, we have remained as a voice that would not be silenced or set aside,” he said. “Christ was born quietly—without fanfare … but with an incredible, persistent promise of hope.”
Promoting human life, the archbishop said, must not add to the violence that is at the heart of the culture of death.
Instead, “we must go about our tasks with the same sense of serenity, determination, gentility of spirit and commitment that marked Christ’s own life,” he said. “Our greatest witness is to provide the constant message of respect for all human life.”
Using the words that Jesus spoke to the apostles, “As the Father sent me, so I send you,” the archbishop told the congregation that they should not lose hope in the battle for the unborn.
“The message and the challenge are clear. We cannot give up, we cannot counter violence and hatred with more of the same, but only with the peace that comes from knowing that ‘we shall overcome’ because it is God’s will.”
And though those on the other side of the battle may have thought that those fighting for life would eventually tire, they have “grown disappointed that for these 34 years the otherwise impatient Americans, who often grow weary of and unwilling to patiently endure difficulties, have persisted.”
“We have done so because we know that we have been sent as the Father sent His Son—with a calm and a hope that is unstoppable and patient beyond our meager abilities to continue a struggle that seems so difficult to sustain,” Archbishop Gregory said. “The dedication of those who have been the face of the pro-life movement has forced even those with whom we disagree to admit we are a force with which they must contend.”
Following the homily, Archbishop Gregory invited forward those who lead pro-life groups in their parishes and schools. He asked for blessings upon them and their ministry.
Kelsey Lundsten, Eva Vasquez and Jamie Wochele, the team of high school seniors who lead the pro-life group at Marist School in Atlanta, were among those commissioned by the archbishop.
Though younger than some who are involved in the pro-life movement, the girls believe strongly in reaching their peers through their ministry.
“Now is the time that a lot of girls make mistakes, when they are teens. It’s a crucial point, so we need to spread the word,” Lundsten said.
Wochele said that as they head off to college, it’s a time to make clear their intentions.
“You have to find out what you believe in and what you stand for now, so that you won’t be wavered later in life.”
Lundsten said she was uplifted by the many who attended the Mass and rally for the unborn that followed at the state Capitol.
“It’s empowering. It sends the message that pregnancy is a beautiful thing. Abortion isn’t the only option.”
Following the Mass, the Marist teens joined fellow Catholics and thousands of others of all faiths at the Capitol, where the annual Georgia Right to Life “Together for Life Rally” was held.
Georgia pro-life political leaders stood on the steps of the statehouse and offered their thanks to the crowd for their dedication to the unborn. Archbishop Gregory, as well as Mike Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, addressed the crowd.
Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle spoke of the birth of his son, Jared.
“The love I felt in that moment and the depth I experienced in the connection with him, I remember thinking, ‘if someone came in this room and tried to take him away from me, what would I do?’” he said. “That’s the love we should have for every child.”
Kevin Harris, director of government relations for GRTL, was greeted with cheers after introducing the pro-life members of the government.
“This is the strongest pro-life executive and legislative branch the state of Georgia has ever had,” he said.
As in the Mass, Archbishop Gregory encouraged the crowd to continue its struggle to win hearts and minds.
“We need to maintain our vigilance,” he said, adding that there is strength in the ecumenical fight for life.
“We need to remove the barriers that divide the Christian churches” and work together, he said.
Later, with the trumpet call of taps, the crowd began its annual silent march through the streets of downtown Atlanta.
Loretto Grier Cudjoe Smith and her husband, Johnny, came to the Mass and march from Macon, where they are parishioners at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church. Mrs. Smith held high a sign that stated that 1,452 black children are aborted each day.
“There is a silence in our (African-American) community. People don’t want to deal with it,” she said. “I wanted to represent my people on the streets of Atlanta and show them the truth of what is happening.”
Her husband called himself a “soldier, just trying to win the war for the babies.”
“It’s a horrific thing. And people don’t even realize how it affects us. People worry about gangs and drugs and the Ku Klux Klan. But there is nothing that can compare to (abortion).”
Many mothers brought their children, some in strollers, bundled up against the cold air.
Carol Cuviello, religious activities coordinator at St. Jude the Apostle School in Atlanta, is the mother of four children, and said she brought them even when they were very young.
“I just tried to teach them early that life is not a choice. God gives us life and we cannot play God,” she said. “I have always told them that God will make good come from bad situations.”
Clayton Evans, an eighth-grade student from St. Jude, said it was “really cool” to see so many young people attend the rally.
“It’s great that so many people are willing to come out here,” he said. “It’s good to see that you’re not alone and that other people believe the same thing you do.”
Sister Pat Thompson, RSM, who is active in the post-abortion treatment and healing ministry in the archdiocese, said that as one of eight children, she has been pro-life “since birth.”
Though she is disappointed to commemorate the anniversary of Roe v. Wade each year without a change in the law, she feels confident those in the pro-life movement will be victorious one day.
“I know that the spirit of God is among us and I have deep faith that this is right,” she said. “Eventually the truth will conquer. I believe that.”