By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 31, 2008
As churchgoers sang a mournful prayer, a line of youngsters, students in school letter jackets, dads holding the hands of shy toddlers, pregnant moms—some 35 people—marched up the center aisle holding white roses representing the 35 years since abortion was legalized in the United States.
Among them was Chantel Chandonia, 9, as her father, Ron, watched from the pews.
“We are so very grateful that Chantel got the chance at life,” said Chandonia, 60, of Peachtree City, about his daughter whom he and his wife adopted.
“People who are ready to adopt are so eager,” said the retired college professor. The Chandonia family worships at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Atlanta, where he is the leader of the newly formed Life Issues Committee.
An overflow crowd filled the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, lining up against the walls, filling the entryway at the downtown church for the annual Jan. 22 Mass to pray for an end to abortion.
The preparations for the Mass included 1,000 Communion hosts, but even that was not enough so priests and deacons broke the consecrated hosts to ensure everyone received the Eucharist.
“We got lost in the crowd; everybody wanted to receive holy Communion,” said Deacon Herbert Berding, who assisted at the Mass.
Despite the crowds, no one was rushed and the moment seemed filled with prayer, said Mary Boyert, the director of the archdiocesan Pro-Life Office.
“To me, the whole time is very special. People really do want to pray about the issue,” she said.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory told the crowd that the road had been long and the results of their prayers unexpected, but efforts to stop abortion must continue.
“The pro-life movements in the United States of America have kept this moral issue alive for all of us and for that we can never thank you enough. We have no fear that you will cease to continue our noble struggle to remind all of our fellow Americans that abortion remains a heinous crime against the most vulnerable among us—the infant in the womb,” he said.
The archbishop, reflecting in his homily on the New Testament Letter to the Philippians, said people should not grow weary even though many years have passed since the Supreme Court with its Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion.
“We might be tempted to consider that even as the numbers of abortions may have dropped that the conscience of the nation is growing weary of this struggle. It is to you that the Lord addressed this admonition: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid!’ This is a struggle for righteousness and the Lord Himself hears our prayer and supports our efforts,” he said.
Many times during the church’s history, people might have had reason to be discouraged, he said, reminding those filling the pews about the first martyrs who were burned alive or early Christians put to death by lions in public spectacles.
The archbishop said, “This day is a moment for us to take heart and to trust that the Lord’s grace will sustain not only us but all those who seek to change the heart of this nation in regards to the dignity of human life. ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid!’”
He also preached words of consolation to fathers and mothers who had aborted a child.
“May they be healed of the sorrow that comes to those who snuff out the breath of a life of a child within the womb,” he said.
Joining Archbishop Gregory at Mass was Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue and nearly 20 priests and deacons. Most of the clergy wore purple vestments; it is the color the church uses to show penance.
Deacon Berding, who said he has attended this Mass for many years, said it was impressive to see the number of young people and to celebrate the Mass with the archbishop. The deacon works at St. James Mission in Madison.
“Just by going and participating, we make our voices heard in the streets of Atlanta,” said Deacon Berding, who drove 60 miles to attend the events of the day, which included a silent one-mile march through city streets.
During the Mass, the “Procession of Remembrance” marked every year since the Roe v. Wade decision, with one person for each of the 35 years. The people walked up the aisle and placed a rose in front of a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Boyert said the procession put a human face on every life that was lost due to abortion. The walkers were volunteers with lives somehow touched by abortion, either mothers who were encouraged to have abortions or children adopted who could have been killed, she said.
The silent walk up the church’s center aisle made the passage of time since 1973 more personal, instead of just a number of years, she said.
Catholics were asked to do works of penance as part of the observance, including prayers, service to neighbors or voluntary self-denial.
Coming just days after the archdiocese celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Archbishop Gregory reminded the crowd of King’s struggle.
“A very important and famous Atlanta citizen a generation ago urged people to believe that ‘We Shall Overcome’—and so we shall, and so we shall,” he said.