By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published January 31, 2013
ATLANTA—Commemorating four decades since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in the landmark cases Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton in 1973, Catholics gathered Jan. 22 for the annual Mass for the Unborn at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to rededicate themselves to the cause of defending human life from the time of conception.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, who presided at the Mass, spoke about the importance of the pro-life movement and reminded the large crowd of the work still to be done. The 40th anniversary has special significance and is an appropriate time to reflect and remember that 55 million lives ended in abortion over these years, he said.
“Forty is repeatedly identified with a time of trial and suffering in God’s Word, and today, we Americans mark a similar time of trial and suffering that has endured for 40 years as we commemorate with profound sorrow the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States that 40 years ago permitted the slaughter of innocent lives within the womb,” he said.
“Many folks might suggest that 40 years is a very long time to lobby for life, an entire generation seeking to remind the conscience of our nation of life’s inalienable dignity, to be the voice of reason in an oftentimes perverse environment. But 40 years is only the beginning of a struggle that must prevail, no matter how lengthy the time may be, until as a nation we remember that life in each and every moment is a sacred trust that comes from God himself,” Archbishop Gregory said.
He said that allowing abortions to continue to occur over the last 40 years has made the United States “a more violent nation” and “the assault on life within the womb has had its residual and lasting impact upon our nation’s moral fiber.”
“We have lived and continue to live in a desert of carnage that has been depicted as an abundant land of freedom of choice,” he said, adding, “Every desert can produce its mirages and false images.”
He said justifying taking life in the womb creates an acceptance of violence against other groups, such as the weak, those with physical and mental impairments, and those in prison.
The Mass included a procession of remembrance. People born in the years 1973 to 2013 processed to the altar carrying white and red roses in memory of the more than 1 million children killed by abortion every year. The white roses signified innocence and red roses are the universal symbol of the pro-life movement.
The crowded Shrine had standing room only. Many viewed the Mass on closed-circuit television in an overflow room. People of all ages came, from older couples to young families and a large number of students from Catholic schools. Lauren Lesso, school counselor at St. Jude the Apostle School in Atlanta, said it is important for youngsters to learn about ways they can support life.
“It is good for them to know that this is what people do,” she said. “They don’t just hear about it, they get to experience it firsthand.”
Kasey Ketner, a 13-year-old St. Jude student, felt the Mass was espcially powerful.
“If people who wanted to have an abortion heard the Mass, they may have changed their mind,” she said.
“It’s crazy that this has been going on for 40 years,” added her friend, Lauren Piper, 14, another student at the school.
At the end of Mass, Mary Boyert, who leads the archdiocesan Respect Life Ministry, announced that the Archdiocese of Atlanta has donated $40,000 to the Archbishop John F. Donoghue Fund for Life, to support various pro-life activities in the archdiocese. The Catholic Foundation of North Georgia started the fund in memory of the late archbishop, who was very dedicated to the pro-life movement.
Following Mass, Catholics joined other pro-life supporters on the steps of the Georgia Capitol for a memorial service and a silent March for Life. Legislators who have sponsored pro-life measures attended, as well as other representatives of the movement, including Dr. Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., former state representative Doug McKillip, author of fetal pain legislation adopted in Georgia in 2012, and members of Georgia Right to Life, the group that sponsored the memorial service.
“Here we are, the people who are called by your name,” said King during the opening prayer. “Father, please hear from heaven, forgive our sins, heal our land, and deliver us from abortion. … We are here 40 years. We’ve been marching and believing and we still are.”
Bundled up in coats, hats and scarves, hundreds of people huddled together on the steps of the Capitol and Washington Street below as they prayed together and listened to the speakers.
Archbishop Gregory also addressed the crowd in an ecumenical tone, calling for all people to continue the ever-important mission of protecting the sanctity of life.
Individuals holding signs from each year since the legalization of abortion in 1973 look on as two women hold a sign depicting the total number of abortion deaths over the last 40 years.
“Is there anything more fundamental that unites Christians than the common life that we have, than the gift of life,” the archbishop asked the crowd. “It unites not only Christians of varied religious traditions, it unites all men and women everywhere: those who are Christian, those who belong to other religions and those who profess no particular religious faith.”
“Life is the great bearer of unity,” he continued. “And so as we pause, once again, on the 40th anniversary of the awful decision that chose to disregard the great unifying fact that life has for all men and women, let our hearts and minds be reunited and reinvigorated to work for the restoration of our national moral fiber.”
The crowd then walked through downtown streets, marching in silence behind a banner that said “Together for Life” in remembrance of the lives lost to abortion since 1973. Many held individual signs, which read “40 Years Too Many,” “Stop Abortion Now,” and “Abortion Hurt Me,” among others. While many were saddened to reflect on 40 years of abortion, others were encouraged to see so many people joining the movement.
It is crucial not to become disheartened, Archbishop Gregory said in his Mass homily.
“I am certain that the people on Noah’s ark on occasion must have wondered just how long will it rain,” he said. “The Israelites in the desert must at times have felt that they might never reach the Promised Land and even Jesus must have felt the bitterness of his desert loneliness.”
“But they all endured their time of trial and so must we, until that moment when our witness to life is seen for what it really is: a vision of God’s plan for each one of us—that we live each moment of our existence as the gift that it is, from beginning to natural end,” he said. “Forty years is a long time, but the message that we have carried for these 40 years is itself timeless and well worth the struggle and the efforts that 40 years has brought us.”