Participants from Bucks, Montgomery and Chester Counties prepare for annual pro-life campaign

By Lou Baldwin
Special to the CS&T

It’s called 40 Days for Life. It’s a movement that combines prayerful fasting, witnessing and community outreach, all with the goal of ending abortion. It began five years ago in Texas with witness before a few abortion-providing sites, and now the twice-yearly event (spring and fall) has daily witness at abortion sites throughout the U.S., Canada and even Denmark.

“There will be campaigns in at least 212 communities,” said 40 Days for Life founder and national president David Bereit. “Last fall’s campaign was conducted in 177 cities. This shows that support for the pro-life message is spreading and that 40 Days for Life continues to have an international impact.”

“It’s a very powerful witness and a peaceful coming together for prayer and action for the cause of life,” said Susan Vadas, director of the archdiocesan Respect Life Office.

Why 40 days? It was chosen by the movement because of the importance of this period of time, both in Scripture and in Christian practice. Scripture tells us it rained for 40 days and nights during the great flood; Moses spent 40 days and nights on the mountain when he received the Ten Commandments from God; Jesus spent 40 days in the desert preparing for his ministry; and of course the great feast of Easter is preceded by 40 days of prayer and fasting.

Within the Philadelphia Archdiocese, peaceful witness is being conducted at seven different abortion sites. Typically it involves groups from various parishes or organizations that agree to participate on a particular day or days.

“It’s going very well,” said Veronica Kull, an area organizer for the group and a member of St. Hilary of Poitiers Parish, Rydal, who witnesses at Planned Parenthood in Warminster.

Kull has also contacted other denominations because “40 Days for Life is a rallying point for all in the Catholic Church and our separated brethren to move together and pray to the Lord for an end to abortion,” she said. “This is my third year doing this. I want to see the end to child-killing in this country. This is a full-time calling for me, an apostolate,” she said.

Marie Detrinidad of St. Aloysius Parish, Pottstown, is a relative newcomer to the movement. Although she is from Southwest Texas, she first heard about 40 Days for Life through a church bulletin in Tulsa, Okla., she saw while she and her husband were driving east because of his military relocation. When they arrived in the area last year, she connected with a group from St. Eleanor Parish, Collegeville, that witnessed at Planned Parenthood in that town. Afterward, she discovered there was also a Planned Parenthood in Pottstown where abortions are performed, and she organized a group to witness there.

“I do this for a lot of reasons; to save lives and because I’m post-abortive myself,” she said. “About 25 years ago I had an abortion and I don’t want any other woman to go through what I’ve gone through.”

Paulette Matthews of St. Thomas More Parish, South Coventry, is a movement leader in Chester County, where witness is done near Planned Parenthood in West Chester.

“There are about 17 parishes involved and we still have openings,” she said. “Our parish will be there Oct. 21. We do this from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.; usually two people at a time.”

The most rewarding part of the witness is when a young woman stops, listens to them and decides not to have an abortion, Matthews said.

“We’ve found most really don’t want to have an abortion. They have a problem and need support. If you can fill their need, they will keep the baby,” she said.

Among those praying the rosary by Planned Parenthood in Warminster last week were Kate and Bill Lawlor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Richboro.

“Our parish participates every year,” Kate Lawlor said. “This is our third year. We respect life and are against abortion. We pray for those who go there, we pray for an end to abortion, and if the opportunity presents itself, we hope to be able to stop someone from having an abortion.”

Another abortion site visited by 40 Days participants was Bryn Mawr Hospital, where abortions are also performed. According to Jim Schneller, a member of St. Katherine of Siena Parish, Wayne, 12 parishes participate. Area pro-life advocates also witness there year-round two days a week.

“We think abortion is a fulcrum issue about the future of the country,” Schneller said. “It affects the morality of the country.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.