By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 25, 2018 | En Español
ATLANTA—The arrival of Tony Maturo’s daughter at 2 pounds, 13 ounces, with six weeks spent in the neonatal intensive care unit, inspired his work and affection for the Respect Life ministry.
“After the previous two miscarriages—and the circumstances in which our daughter was born—I witnessed firsthand and fully understood that life is both a miracle and a gift from God,” Maturo said in an email.
From such a fragile size, she graduated from high school in 2017, he said.
The 51-year-old, a member of the Knights of Columbus, is filled with passion on the issue and marched in Washington, D.C. on Friday, Jan. 19, for the sixth time at the national March for Life. His efforts as ministry leader at St. Michael Church, Gainesville, helped some 50 people take the nine-hour bus ride to the nation’s capital and meet 17 others who traveled on their own.
To be among thousands of like-minded people at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is an exhilarating experience, said the longtime ministry leader.
Maturo is one of the many faithful who work on behalf of the unborn and mothers to reduce abortions in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
He said leaving Washington is always a time of hope for the future from being around so many young people marching, chanting and praying for life.
“The excitement created by the large crowd turns a sad day into a celebration of life,” he said.
Respect Life leaders visit clinics where abortions are performed. They hold signs and pray. They organize clothing drives for baby items for families in need. They assist families who are considering opening their homes to foster children.
More than 30 women and men, Respect Life leaders at the parish level, were invited during the annual Mass for the Unborn at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, in front of hundreds of people in the pews to recommit themselves to another year of ministry.
On the Jan. 22 anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Catholics in the Atlanta Archdiocese lent their voices to call for greater respect for life. Hundreds prayed together at the Cathedral of Christ the King, led by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, on the anniversary. And after Mass, the Stand for Life vigil was held along Peachtree Road in Buckhead, with students and adults holding signs.
Archbishop Gregory, joined by eight priests, celebrated the Mass. Several deacons assisted at the morning Mass.
Among the hundreds of worshippers were students in school sweater vests who filled the wooden pews.
Archbishop Gregory commended the many young people at the Mass.
“These youngsters represent those who most recently left the womb and yet they still cling to a reverence for human life that has too frequently escaped the hearts of an earlier generation,” he said.
Archbishop Gregory said “contempt for life within the womb” spawns a disregard for God’s gifts of life, from imposing the death penalty on inmates and “misguided xenophobia” against immigrants to taking the life of the critically ill.
“We have become people who not only fail to respect life within the womb but life after birth,” he said.
He said scientific knowledge has revealed what had been hidden, noting that “infants in the womb can smile, move about, react to touch.” But increased knowledge has not made society better appreciate the preciousness of life in the womb, he said.
“God chooses us in love before we ever draw our first breath,” he said, adding that life in the womb is the start of God’s plan for each woman and man.
The archbishop called on the congregation to “cherish and protect all life, especially human life that is threatened, defenseless or fragile.”
Abortion rates falling
Pro-life supporters gathered across the country this year days after a new analysis reported falling abortion rates. On a national scale, abortion rates are the lowest since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.
The report by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports legalized abortion, puts the rate at 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women between ages 15-44 in 2014. That’s the lowest recorded rate since the Roe decision.
In Georgia, the rate of abortions declined 7 percent in the state between 2011 and 2014, from 16.8 to 15.7 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age, according to the Guttmacher Institute. In 2014, there were 33,000 abortions in the state.
Parishes hearing from women
At St. Brigid Church, the Respect Life ministry recently hosted an event called “The Rest of the Story” where women shared about an unplanned pregnancy and how it shaped their lives.
Among the speakers were a post-abortion witness, a rape victim who made an adoption plan for her child and later met her daughter, and a woman with an unplanned pregnancy who decided to be a parent.
“These witnesses were so life affirming and we wish that every woman facing an unplanned pregnancy could hear these stories and make an informed decision,” said Cathy Schneider, a 52-year-old stay-at-home wife and mother. Schneider has been involved in the ministry for 15 years. She is the current chairperson of the Respect Life ministry at St. Brigid.
Schneider has a wide vision for the ministry including both prayer and action. She has also befriended a prisoner on Georgia’s death row with letter writing.
“I am very active in trying to bring dignity to the life of these men and pray continually for the families of the victims,” she said.
And on Fridays, she can be found praying outside a clinic where abortions take place.
“Being present matters at these abortion clinics. We have to show women they have options and people do love and care for them and will walk this journey with them,” said Schneider. “We give everyone a baby shower who chooses life, and we try to see what their needs are and help them.”