By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published February 2, 2012
Echoing the Gospel reading from St. Mark, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said Jan. 23 that the United States is a “kingdom divided against itself” regarding the life issue, and “if a kingdom is divided against itself that kingdom cannot stand.”
“We are a nation that was born while proclaiming life to be among the greatest and most enduring of all human rights,” the archbishop said, referring to the Declaration of Independence and its “inalienable human rights” of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
But “we have apparently begun to withdraw from that hallowed assertion” since Jan. 22, 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws restricting abortion, he said in his homily at the annual Mass for the Unborn.
“At that moment we became a kingdom divided against itself—by pitting life against liberty and making it subordinate to an individual’s pursuit of happiness,” Archbishop Gregory said.
“A nation divided against itself places freedom of choice before even life itself, but there will be no freedom of choice or any other rights for those who are never permitted even to be born,” he said.
“The Declaration of Independence which listed three inalienable rights has now been twisted and forced to endorse only one, and one that can never be exercised without the first of those inalienable rights, that of life itself,” he said.
“We pray this morning for a restoration of the values that made ours a truly great nation, which made us a people known throughout the world for the defense of all of the great rights documented in those lofty written principles of our sovereignty,” Archbishop Gregory said.
“We need to heal the divisions that have so diminished us as a people and as a society for these past 39 years so that we can cease being a kingdom divided against itself and become once more a kingdom of peace, a kingdom of integrity, a kingdom of unity, and a kingdom of righteousness,” he said.
The archbishop was the principal celebrant of the Mass, held at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Atlanta and sponsored by the Respect Life Ministry of the archdiocese. More than a dozen priests concelebrated the Mass, attended by an overflow crowd of people. Those who could not be seated in the church watched a live feed of the Mass in a room below. A rosary was recited before the Mass.
Later, a canopy of colorful umbrellas shielded the pro-life contingent as they gathered on the steps of the Georgia Capitol to hear speakers at the Together for Life Memorial event, sponsored by Georgia Right to Life, and took part in a silent pro-life march through downtown Atlanta.
Archbishop Gregory also commissioned local pro-life leaders at the Mass, men and women who work in parishes year round to advance respect for life.
“In a very special way, we call forth this morning each of you who work in the archdiocesan Respect Life Ministry, to dedicate and rededicate yourselves in following the Lord of life in leadership and in service. We invite you to publicly dedicate yourselves to this special work and ministry of creating a ‘Culture of Life,’” Archbishop Gregory said.
“Lord, help us to perform deeds of mercy and acts of love on behalf of human life wherever it is threatened and spread the message of hope and healing,” the leaders prayed in response.
“Being led in prayer by our shepherd, Archbishop Gregory, helped us all rededicate ourselves to the task of bringing a culture of life to our community,” Mary Boyert, archdiocesan Respect Life Ministry director, said later. “We realize that without prayer, nothing can be accomplished, and with prayer, miracles can happen.”
Among those at the Mass were middle school students from St. Joseph School in Marietta, who serve on the school’s Spiritual Life Council. Some were attending the Mass for the Unborn and march for the first time. Three parents brought the group after the students asked to come.
“It is important to strengthen their faith,” said parent Erika Lumpert. “We need to teach them respect for life” and “show them we are all together.”
Her daughter, Michaela, a seventh-grader, described the Mass as “awesome” and expressed her excitement at participating in the day’s events.
“Being here at the Mass was so cool,” said Catie San Nicholas, 12. “It is amazing and a lot of fun,” she said.
After the Mass, they went to the steps of the Capitol on the chilly, wet day to stand in solidarity with other pro-life supporters and local legislators. The keynote speaker, Dr. Freda Bush, a Mississippi obstetrician for the past 25 years, encouraged them to continue the fight for life throughout the year and not just on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. She said there is a dire need for advances in the pro-life cause and encouraged all segments of the movement to coordinate their efforts to maximize their effectiveness.
“Every year since 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that a baby could be legally aborted, people have been gathering like this around Jan. 22, to either celebrate or mourn that decision. We here today gather to mourn,” said Bush.
“We have a lot of work to do,” she continued. “When you are in a war, you need all hands on deck, with all tactics and strategies. … We in the pro-life community need to be coordinating our efforts together and use our various strategies in this fight for life.”
As the rain subsided and the sun peeked through the clouds, thousands took to the streets, silently marching through downtown Atlanta holding pro-life signs and banners as members of the Atlanta police department served as escorts. Somber trumpeters were positioned throughout the route to set an appropriate tone for the march.
“It was a deeply spiritual experience, joining together with hundreds of other Catholics from across the Archdiocese of Atlanta, with one common concern: protecting the smallest, most vulnerable members of the human family, the innocent unborn child,” Boyert commented later. “In addition, our hearts were heavy for the mothers and fathers who have been spiritually, emotionally and physically wounded by abortion.”