Mass, rally and march mark Respect Life Sunday

SOUTH END -- Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley celebrated the Oct. 7 Respect Life Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and then led more than 5,000 marchers in the annual Respect Life Walk to Aid Mothers and Children through the Boston Common and around the Boston Public Gardens.

“In January 1973, our Supreme Court removed all legal protection for human beings before birth,” the cardinal said in his homily.

The results of that decision have been horrific beyond the 45 million unborn children, he said. Millions of women have been so traumatized by abortion that they have spent years grieving. Millions of men are filled with such regret that they would not protect life. “Fathers, who rather than protect their own child, think their only obligation is to pay for the abortion,” he said.

In seminary, the cardinal said he enjoyed studying Plato, but the philosopher’s error was that he believed that reason only was enough for people to reach the truth.

Faith and reason are not exclusive to each other, but complement each other, he said. “We need the light of faith to light our path.”

In the ongoing debate over abortion, Catholics need to be on the side of the mothers and the children and reach out to abortion rights supporters to warn them that they are in darkness.

The Mass brought together members of the pro-life community throughout the archdiocese. One of the groups at the Mass was Friends of the Unborn, a Quincy-based program supporting expectant mothers in difficult situations.

Started 23 years ago, the program owns two homes in the city with a total of 19 beds, said Marilyn M. Birnie, the director.

“Mothers come to us when they are six months pregnant, or earlier, and can stay with us up to one year after the baby is born,” she said. “We have saved 1,800 babies since we started.”

In addition to a strong emphasis on a faith-based lifestyle and Bible study, the program provides the mother with classes in nutrition, parenting and computer literacy, she said. One house has six beds and the other has 13, but the mothers and children take the classes together.

At the Boston Common rally before the march, one of the mothers helped by Friends of the Unborn spoke with Birnie about the program. The young mother said to the crowd that she was on her way to have an abortion when she was approached by a pro-life volunteer who told her if she kept her child she would get help. “Now, I am going to have a good life with my baby,” she said.

The rally and walk were sponsored by Massachusetts Citizens for Life Charitable Trust, which raises money from registration fees and pledges for sponsored walkers. MCFL’s new president, Dr. Mildred Jefferson, one of the stalwarts of the state and national fight to save the unborn, emceed the rally with Dr. John R. Diggs, who is a member of the Physicians Consortium, a group of pro-life doctors.

Jefferson told the crowd she was dedicating herself to bringing the state’s pro-life movement back to its previous strength and fire. She was also heartened by the large number of past presidents of MCFL and other past officers and leaders who attended the rally with their children and grandchildren.

“History will judge the seriousness of the pro-life movement in Massachusetts when it judges the seriousness of this movement’s largest constituent element, the Catholic community,” C.J. Doyle said, the leader of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts. “It is a culture of betrayal in our own Church.”

Doyle said the pro-life movement cannot fight a two-front war facing the abortion rights supporters on one side and institutions and political leaders that claim to be Catholic and ought to be pro-life on the other. “This corruption in our own ranks saps financial and political support for the defense of truth.”

The keynote speaker, David Bereit, spoke about the measurable success he has been a part of both nationally and in Texas, after Planned Parenthood announced plans to build an abortion clinic there in 1998.

Bereit said he helped to start and build a local coalition that rallied 60 churches and thousands of people together for life and slashed the number of abortions in the area by more than 40 percent. The centerpiece of the program is “40 Days for Life,” an annual observance, this year from Sept. 26 to Nov. 4, which includes prayer meetings, protests and door-to-door campaigning, he said.

One constant of the pro-life march is the counter protest by abortion rights supporters. Last year in the terrible rain, there were 20-30 counter-demonstrators, who held signs and chanted slogans as the marchers took the left turn from Charles Street onto Beacon Street.

This year, there were barely 10. The same group of counter protesters, organized by a local socialist party, lined up along the side of a paved walk leading to the rally point with signs. To their surprise, the counter-demonstrators were outnumbered by pro-life high school and college students on the opposite side of the walk. The pro-lifers held their own signs or ran off and returned with bumper stickers and from time to time joined in serenading the protesters with songs of praise.