A Night 4 Life speakers call for pro-life prayer, witness, and action

QUINCY -- After a yearlong postponement due to the pandemic, hundreds of pro-life supporters from around the region were once again able to gather for the second-ever Night 4 Life at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Quincy on June 17.

First held in 2019 with the support of the Flatley Foundation, the prayerful pro-life celebration is hosted by the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth and the Men of Divine Mercy prayer group.

The event's two keynote speakers were former Patriots player Benjamin Watson and former Planned Parenthood manager turned pro-life advocate Abby Johnson. Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley and Quincy mayor Thomas Koch also shared remarks. Mother Olga Yaqob, founder and superior of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth, emceed the event.

Many clergy and women religious were in attendance, and representatives of local pro-life organizations provided information about their resources to those entering the stadium.

The Night 4 Life program began with the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and praying the joyful mysteries of the rosary. Then, Cardinal O'Malley addressed the assembly.

He thanked Mayor Koch, who is a member of the Men of Divine Mercy prayer group, for his courage and witness to the value of life. The cardinal spoke of Catholic politicians who, in contrast, do not stand up for their principles, often saying they cannot impose their faith on other people.

"But life is a precious gift. Life is not just us imposing our Catholic faith on someone, but defending an innocent human being whose life is being threatened. It's a matter of human rights. And we all need to have the courage to defend human rights, especially when humanity is most vulnerable," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He spoke about his experiences meeting notable pro-life individuals, including March for Life founder Nellie Gray. He recalled how, at the time of the first march, the media thought the pro-lifers would die off. Instead, the movement has continued and grown stronger.

"We have a mission that Christ has entrusted to us, to spread the Gospel, and particularly the gospel of life," Cardinal O'Malley said.

Benjamin Watson, the first keynote speaker that night, is no stranger to Massachusetts: he lived in Quincy from 2004 to 2009 while playing for the New England Patriots. He met Mother Olga a few years ago while serving as executive producer of "Divided Hearts of America," a documentary about the history of abortion in the United States.

Addressing the Night 4 Life, Watson said it was "important that we are here," standing not only for the unborn but also for mothers, fathers, and communities.

"Our communities, our nation, our neighborhoods are only as strong as our families. And so it's vitally important that we be people who support the family," he said.

He talked about the Civil War movie "Glory," which tells the story of the all-Black 54th Massachusetts Regiment. They volunteered to attack Fort Wagner in South Carolina, knowing they would face heavy casualties. When the flag-bearer was shot, Sgt. William Carney picked up the flag and urged them onward. The fort was not taken that day but two months later, and Sgt. Carney became the first Black U.S. soldier to receive the medal of honor.

Watson said that those attending the Night 4 Life were doing "much the same thing," battling for human rights and the recognition of personhood.

"We are standard bearers. We are waving the flag. We may not win today, we may not win tomorrow, but your acts of bravery are necessary when we talk about creating a culture of life," he said.

Invoking numerous football images, Watson spoke about the importance of perseverance, fortitude, focus, and cooperation. He said one instruction that stuck with him from his time in the Patriots was, "Do your job." This, he said, means to use the abilities God has given you, and that there need not be rivalry between people pursuing a shared goal.

"We get there faster when we get there together," Watson said.

He also spoke about his family -- he and his wife have seven living children and have experienced two miscarriages -- and about the role of mothers and fathers.

Borrowing imagery from Psalm 127:3-4, he said, "I like to think of our children as arrows to pierce a culture, going to a place that we may never see."

He closed by sharing the story of Irena Sendler, a Polish mother who smuggled Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi occupation. She placed them in adoptive homes and kept their names and information buried in jars, which she retrieved after the war.

Watson challenged everyone present to consider, "What are the names that are buried in the jars in your backyard? My hope is that they are many, and that someday you will be able to read so many of these children because of the work that we did and you did during your time on this earth."

Between the keynotes, singer Mark Carey and the worship band performed "Unplanned," a song by Matthew West from the movie of the same title based on Abby Johnson's memoir. The movie tells the story of her journey from Planned Parenthood employee to pro-life activist. Taking the podium at the Night 4 Life, Johnson shared some of her experiences that are not in the movie.

She began by talking about the adoption of her son Jude. His birth mother became pregnant through "a violent incident," and many said abortion in that case would be an understandable exception to the pro-life position.

"She very bravely said to them, 'It's either a baby all the time, or it's a baby none of the time, and God doesn't make mistakes,'" Johnson said.

Jude's birth mother tried to make an adoption plan for him, but two prospective families changed their minds, the first concern being that he might have a hearing impairment like hers, and the second that he was biracial.

When Johnson heard about their situation through a Facebook group, she immediately offered to adopt the baby. At the time, Johnson and her husband, a stay-at-home dad, already had several young children, the youngest being six months old at the time.

Johnson reflected on how much rejection Jude experienced, first because of the way he was conceived, then because of a possible disability, and then because of the color of his skin.

"So much rejection before he was even born. But his mother chose life, over and over again. And God chose him and said, 'You are mine,'" Johnson said.

In the U.S., Johnson said, a million abortions are performed every year, 2,500 take place each day, and one in four women will have an abortion before the age of 45.

"I recognize, when I look at those statistics, that truly any child who is born today is a miracle," Johnson said.

She warned of the danger of legal abortions and how the abortion industry targets the vulnerable, the ignorant, and the fearful. She also spoke about the power of fear and shame, the two great motivators of women seeking abortions.

Johnson also shared the story of the priest who was recently assigned to her parish. When he was a student at Texas AandM, he frequently came to pray outside the abortion clinic where Johnson worked. Although she was not aware of it at the time, she later learned that prayer volunteers took names of clinic workers to pray for over the course of a year, and he was given her name.

That year, 2009, was the same year that Johnson began to have doubts about her career at Planned Parenthood. Looking back now, she thinks the future priest's prayers helped in her conversion process.

"God tells us that our prayers do not return void. Our work for him does not return void," she said.

Johnson also spoke about the pivotal moment in her journey, the day she was asked to assist in an ultrasound-guided abortion of a 13-week fetus. She said that the worst part was not seeing the child fight and lose its life, but rather "knowing that when I had the opportunity to intervene on behalf of this innocent child, I just stood there, and I did nothing."

She urged those listening to be bold and to sacrifice their time, talent and treasure.

"These children are worth it. These women are worth it," Johnson said.

Mayor Koch spoke briefly at the end of the Night 4 Life. He described how his parents demonstrated their pro-life principles in their political activities. Addressing those gathered in the stadium, he said that they need to continue bringing the issue of life into the public square.

"We are the apostles of our time. We need to be that light of hope, and we need to bring that message in our workplace, in the public square, in our social environments," Mayor Koch said.

Videos of the Night 4 Life will be made available at www.night4life.com.