By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published January 29, 2009
Men and women of all ages, races and beliefs formed one voice affirming the sanctity of life during the Together for Life memorial walk in downtown Atlanta on Thursday, Jan. 22.
Thousands took silently to the streets, questioning by their presence the system that has made unrestricted abortion legal in the United States for 36 years. Often subjected to the curious looks of people on city sidewalks, the pro-life marchers continued on their somber way, making their voices heard only through signs they held high. The signs proclaimed: “Defend life,” “abortion hurts women” and “a person is a person no matter how small.”
But before they set out on their silent march, the thousands gathered near the Georgia Capitol and were quite vocal at a memorial remembering the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
On the Capitol steps and flooding into the street, they took up almost an entire block as they listened to politicians, church and community leaders, including Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, speaking about the dangers of abortion and the need to come together to put an end to this injustice.
“This is a blessed day,” said Daniel Becker, president of Georgia Right to Life, at the beginning of the memorial sponsored by the nonprofit organization, which works to restore respect and legal protection for human life from conception to natural death.
Dr. Alveda King, niece of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., also addressed the crowd. She expressed her belief that there should be a unified effort to end all disrespect for life and said this gathering was an important step.
“No one deserves to lose their life to abortion,” she said. “Everyone should be allowed to live.”
Speaking at the Capitol, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory welcomed and thanked all those who planned the events and took part in them, but directly addressed young people in the crowd, calling them the “hope for the future.”
“If it is to succeed, it must be passed on to another generation,” the archbishop said of the pro-life movement.
He encouraged everyone to continue the fight and said they will not give up until all life is respected, a comment that drew loud applause.
Earlier that morning, Catholics gathered in prayer at a Mass for the Unborn, sponsored by the archdiocesan Pro-Life Office, at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where Archbishop Gregory was the principal celebrant and homilist.
Recalling the feast of Christmas, he said Mary and Joseph were not unlike young people “who today might find themselves expecting a baby and yet without the means to provide for the child.”
“Nonetheless, this Child is the very promise of hope for all ages,” Archbishop Gregory said.
The prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of this special child, he continued, but also “had the courage to proclaim that life is a gift even under the most unusual circumstances.”
“The horror that we have endured during the past nearly four decades is that our nation—and too many other nations have forgotten that life is a gift—one that we receive from the hand of God.”
“Human life is precious even when it may be unexpected or even the result of painful decisions,” the archbishop said. “Human life is given to us not for experimentation or spare parts but as a treasure that reflects the image of God in which each life is cast.”
“As we offer the Eucharist this day, let us continue to pray for a renewal of our ability to respect, reverence, and receive each life as the gift that it is,” he continued. “Not just within the womb but in each moment of its existence.”
Just as the life of Jesus was precious even when he was disfigured and rejected in his Passion, so “is every child’s life sacred even when we cannot see its value or recognize its dignity,” he concluded.
As he spoke, the church was filled to capacity and many more participated in the basement of the Shrine watching on a live feed.
“I haven’t ever seen it this crowded,” a man said as he squeezed through the basement crowd to find his place.
A special moment during the Mass came after the archbishop’s homily, when he asked all the leaders of parish pro-life or respect life committees to step forward for a blessing.
“My sisters and brothers in Christ, we have gathered here this morning to give praise and to thank God for the precious gift of life, which he has given to all of us,” Archbishop Gregory began.
“In a very special way we call forth this morning each of you who work with and in the archdiocesan pro-life ministry, to dedicate and rededicate yourselves in following the Lord of life in leadership and peace,” he said. “We invite you to publicly dedicate yourselves to this special work and ministry of creating and sustaining a ‘culture of life.’”
The leaders then spoke in one voice, affirming to the archbishop and their fellow Catholics that they are devoted to the ministry and will continue to speak out for those who have no voice.
For many parents, the Mass for the Unborn and the Together for Life memorial service are great opportunities for their children to become involved. Since many of the Catholic schools offer excused absences for the event, several parents took advantage of that by bringing their children along.
Kris Anderson brought her 12-year-old daughter, Sydney, and three other seventh-graders from Pinecrest Academy in Cumming. This is the third year she has brought a group to the gathering and she hopes to continue it in the future.
“It’s important for them to really appreciate life and to learn about the devastation of abortion, physically, mentally and spiritually,” Anderson said.
She also felt it was important for her daughter to participate in the activities with the larger Catholic community.
One Catholic group focused on using pictures to spread the message of the horror of abortion. The group held large pictures of aborted children, often causing passers-by to stop and take a closer look.
“Without pictures, abortion is just a word to most people,” said Bob Babecka, who led the group. “The truth is the most effective weapon in combating abortion.”
“There are two things you see with these pictures. One, it is a human being. And two, they died a horrible death,” said Babecka.
As the march continued down Martin Luther King Drive, the distant sound of a trumpet could be heard. The marchers then turned onto Central Avenue and could see a young man playing “Taps” on his trumpet. The trumpeter was one of several positioned throughout the route, highlighting the somber tone of the memorial walk.
The marchers eventually made it back to the Capitol where they continued the discussion with family and friends before heading home.
Mary Boyert, director of the archdiocesan Pro-Life Office, said that the Mass for the Unborn is vital for Catholics working in pro-life ministry, as a point of renewal.
“It is essential that we come together as a Catholic community to pray,” said Boyert. “Our only true source of strength is prayer and the Eucharist.”
“Personally, I feel very blessed that I was able to be a part of this,” she said.