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Under the glorious rays of a warm sun and a clear blue sky, the 2004 Respect Life Walk to Aid Mothers and Children took place on Oct. 3. An estimated 2,000 supporters of pro-life organizations gathered to walk and to strengthen each other in celebrating Respect Life Sunday. The walk, a five kilometer circular route around the Boston Common, was sponsored by Massachusetts Citizens For Life (MCFL), the state affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee.
At the registration tent stood Stephen Fielding, the Director of Development for MCFL.
"It's the 18th year of the Respect Life Walk. This is my sixth year. I'm managing today with the assistance of the Walk committee," he said. This is the MCFL's single largest fundraiser, we benefit 47 organizations, so 75 percent of the money made today goes directly to those organizations."
During a rally held before the walk Master of Ceremonies Don Feder, formerly of the Boston Herald, introduced several speakers including former mayor of Boston and U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Raymond L. Flynn.
The sun shone brightly and warmly onto the field where a small crowd was slowly but surely growing in numbers.
The invocation for the rally was delivered by the Rev. Richard Brondyke, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Fort Square, Quincy.
"He [Rev. Brondyke] and his parishioners are outstanding supporters of the pro-life movement," Feder told the assembled crowd.
In his invocation Rev. Brondyke prayed, “Oh Lord, thank you for the privilege of standing side-by-side with brothers and sisters who are from different places and different denominations yet united together in our common love for you and for our care for the unborn.”
As the din of pro-abortion rights protestors located across the street from the rally rose and fell with the beeping of car horns, he continued, “For so many today, our authority is vested in what we think, somehow vested in ourselves. Or there are others who suggest that prevailing cultural opinion is that which ought to guide us. Or slogans that are so commonly put forth ‘a woman’s right to choose,’ whatever that means.”
Following the invocation, a written statement from Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley was read to the crowd.
"Sadly, I am unable to be with you at the annual Respect Life Walk to Aid Mothers and Children because of unavoidable conflicts," read the letter. "Please know that you are in my heart and that my prayers are with you for the success of this important interfaith fundraising effort to help women faced with crisis pregnancies."
"Your personal witness and financial commitment to these efforts are an indispensable part of our call to build what our Holy Father so eloquently describes as 'a culture of life and a civilization of love,'" the archbishop said.
Next, MCFL President Peg Whitbread addressed the gathering.
"I want to welcome you here and thank you for coming. As I listen to the people on the corner, my heart absolutely breaks. I can truly understand what Christ meant when He said 'They don't understand what they do,'" she said.
Feder then introduced Flynn, the former mayor and ambassador and president of Catholic Citizenship, an organization working in cooperation with the Massachusetts Catholic Conference to encourage lay Catholics to become more informed, active citizens. Catholic Citizenship has helped organize voter registration drives in parishes across the archdiocese, so that lay Catholics can work to build a stronger and more caring nation for the common good, said Feder.
In his address, Flynn spoke about the importance of the upcoming election.
"We're really at a moral and political crossroads here in our nation." Flynn said. The American voter will determine the direction of the country on Nov. 2, he said.
Speaking for the Friends of the Unborn, one of the groups that benefits form the walk, Marilyn Birnie presented some “courageous women who chose life in the most difficult circumstances” on stage with her.
"We helped them because you supported us. We have true homes for pregnant women. They're with us until they find a home of their own. We have two homes and 19 beds. God Bless you all."
Before the walk through the streets of the Back Bay got underway, Father David Mullen of St. Brendan’s in Bellingham said a prayer. Father Mullen has been involved with MCFL since 1973. He advised participants on how to deal with the counter-protestors.
"When you go by, I don't want you to indicate anything with your finger. I don't want you to turn your back on them. I don't want you to grimace, and I don't want you to stick out your tongue. I want you to say 'God loves you.' For a moment it might drive them crazy, but it might just drive them to grace," Father Mullen said.
As the participants began their walk they were met with the fevered chanting of the abortion-rights advocates.
Melanie Zurek, executive director of the Abortion Access Project in Cambridge, spoke about the counter-protest, which, she said, is in its 10th year.
"In this country, we have access to the best health care in the world, and it should not be compromised by politicians and church officials who want to make our decisions for us," Zurek said.
As the walkers began to make their way back to the Common, the co-founder and past president of MCFL, Roy Scarpato told of the beginnings of MCFL, and the man he said was the inspiration behind the organization: the late Dr. Joseph R. Stanton.
"He was like a lion, even though polio caused difficulty in walking," said Scar-pato.
If not for Dr. Stanton, he said, the MCFL would not have been started. “This was designed as a grassroots organization, especially after Roe vs. Wade.”
We are largely Catholic, but not exclusively,” said Scarpato.
Current MCFL President Peg Whitbread said that the planning for the event takes almost a whole year. “We have a great walk committee. The weekly meetings started in January, and permit planning began last fall. So much is involved, and it is great to see so many, such a large group show up today. I always say that this is in God’s hands — everyone needs to do their bit and do it well, and leave the rest to God. As I saw the group stretched out all the way down Commonwealth Ave., I knew we did our bit well.”
Indeed, the MCFL Respect Life Walk to Aid Mothers and Children proved once again that the first Sunday of October is like no other.