Weekend 4 Life celebrates life, calls for action

QUINCY -- Known in past years as the "Night 4 Life," the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth and Men of Divine Mercy Prayer Group organized a slightly different event this year. Billed as "A Weekend 4 Life," it included two events: a Mass with Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley on Sept. 30, and a prayerful gathering at the Marriott Boston Quincy on Oct. 1.

The first Night 4 Life was held in 2019, and the second took place in 2021. Intended to be a celebration of life, the program features guest speakers, eucharistic adoration, and prayer for the protection of human life. This year was the first time the event was held in an indoor venue, rather than the Veterans Memorial Stadium previously used, due to a forecast of rain.

The weekend kicked off on Sept. 30 with the Mass 4 Life at Sacred Heart Church in Quincy, where Cardinal O'Malley served as the principal celebrant.

In his homily, the cardinal spoke about the story of "The Emperor's New Clothes" by Hans Christian Andersen. In this story, the king's subjects go along with the pretense of the new clothes to avoid seeming stupid or obstinate, and only one of them, a child, dares to speak the truth about what he sees.

"The voice of the Church is like that child who declares before the world that the new clothes are a lie, a humbug, a deception. The Church, with the candor of a child, must call out the uncomfortable truth: Abortion is wrong," Cardinal O'Malley said.

He called the Gospel of Life "the centerpiece of the Church's social teaching."

"Human rights without the right to life are the king's new clothes. It's a fraud. It's an exercise in self-deception," Cardinal O'Malley said.

Throughout his remarks, he emphasized the need to support women facing difficult pregnancies and to change hearts about abortion through love, prayer, mercy, community, and solidarity.

The following day, attendees gathered in the main ballroom of the Quincy Marriott for the afternoon program while exhibitors from various pro-life groups ran informational booths outside.

The event was emceed by Mother Olga Yaqob, the foundress of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth. Brandon Fitts and Mark Carey led the group in praise and worship music.

It began with the exhibition of the Blessed Sacrament, which remained exposed on the stage throughout the afternoon, and the recitation of the rosary.

The first speaker was Claire Culwell, an abortion survivor from Texas, who shared her testimony of faith and forgiveness after learning that she was the survivor of an abortion that successfully killed her twin in the womb. She said that when she heard the news that Roe v. Wade had been overturned, her first thought was that her twin must be rejoicing in heaven.

Culwell and her sister were separately adopted. When she was 20, Culwell's family met her sister's birth mother. Seeing them together made Culwell decide to seek out her own birth mother.

"I had thought about her before, but I hadn't really humanized her and realized what a gift she was to me, that she had done the same thing as my sister's birth mother. She had given me my family, but not just that, she had given me my life, and she deserved to hear thank you," Culwell said.

Her adoption agency located her birth mother, and they were able to meet the following year. At their second meeting, Culwell gave her a gift and a card in which she wrote, "Thank you for choosing life." Those words triggered the most unexpected confession from her birth mother, who finally told her the true story.

Culwell's birth mother had been 13 when she became pregnant and underwent a late-term D and E abortion. Later, her doctors realized she had been carrying twins, and only one had been successfully aborted. A doctor's examination determined that it would be too dangerous for the young mother to abort the second twin at that point. Instead, she stayed at an adoption home and gave birth to Culwell, who suffered medical problems as an infant.

She shared her story with some pro-life sidewalk counselors outside Planned Parenthood in her community. She suggested that they use her testimony, but they urged her to tell it herself. She first spoke at a small Catholic youth group and found that it enabled her listeners to "humanize the unborn child."

"I believe, 100 percent, that God gave me my story for such a time as this, so that you could know the face and the name and the story of the aborted baby, but also so you could know the face and the name and the story of a woman like my birth mother who is desperately looking for someone like you to stand in the gap for her, to tell her that she is worth it, that she is worthy of walking alongside of," Culwell said.

She admitted that she had never let the reality of abortion sink into her mind and heart until she learned of its impact on her.

"Today, I'm asking you: What would it take for all of us to let that reality sink into our hearts and into our minds, and sink in so much that it moves us to action?" she asked the audience.

The other featured speaker was Katie Shaw, a 37-year-old woman from Indianapolis who has Down syndrome. Shaw shared that she works full-time, participates in sports and book clubs, and contributes to society.

"There has been much to rejoice about this year with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. But as we all know, now is not the time to become apathetic," she said.

She noted that there are waiting lists for babies with Down syndrome to be adopted, yet over 80 percent of babies with Down syndrome are aborted.

"It makes me very sad to think of all the friends I do have that might not be here if their parents did not believe that equality starts in the womb. It makes me sad to think of all the friends and family members that I've missed because they were aborted," Shaw said.

She urged everyone to "remain motivated and persevere for all those who are counting on us to protect them and help them fulfill God's plan for them to have a wonderful life."

In addition to the main speakers, there were also brief video messages from Cardinal O'Malley, who was unable to be there due to a previous commitment, and Jason Scott Jones, a pro-life filmmaker who was a speaker at the first Night 4 Life.

Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, a member of the Men of Divine Mercy Prayer Group, was also present and shared remarks. He thanked the Flatley Foundation for sponsoring the event, which was inspired by a trip to Medjugorje a few years earlier.

Mother Olga also spoke about the importance of ministering to parents who have lost children to miscarriage or stillbirth. The Daughters of Mary of Nazareth have accompanied many families through that experience, and dedicated a patio memorial to the memory of miscarried and stillborn children. They presented a slideshow of some of these children after the speaking program.

Catherine Roman, vice-president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, said she thought the event was "absolutely beautiful."

"I am touched by all of the speakers, the beautiful music, the witness to life," she said.

She said she thinks pro-life people are "craving" opportunities to come together.

"Night 4 Life is a wonderful event, and I can't wait to come next year," Roman said.