40 Days for Life opens Wednesday in Peoria, Champaign

By: By Tom Dermody

Participants in the “40 Days for Life” campaign to end abortion that opens Sept. 22 in Peoria, Champaign, and around the U.S. were challenged to be “sentinels of hope” to their communities during a prayerful kickoff event on the banks of the Illinois River on Sunday evening.

“We are here because we have hope,” said Father Nathan Cromly, a member of the Princeville-based Community of St. John and one of six speakers at the ecumenical rally that drew more than 100 persons to East Peoria’s RiverFront Park.

“We get so scared about the anti-life culture as if it had the last word,” said Father Nathan. But God is the ultimate victor, he said, pointing to the “rock solid” good news that Christ overcame sin and death on the cross.

He challenged those taking part in the campaign of prayer, fasting, and around-the-clock peaceful vigil at Peoria’s abortion facility to “transform that place into a sign of glory and victory.”

To accomplish that, participants were encouraged to spread the word about “40 Days for Life,” which has grown into an international movement since it began in Texas in 2004. More information about the campaign, which runs through Oct. 31, is found online at www.40daysforlife.com.

While the campaign’s elements of prayer and fasting are important, “if you are able to come to the (clinic) sidewalk, please do so,” said Karen Guth, a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Peoria and coordinator of the Peoria campaign.

She especially challenged priests and pastors to spend at least one hour in prayer outside the National Health Services abortion facility at 7405 N. University St. in Peoria during the next 40 days and to “bring some parishioners.”

The Champaign vigil, meanwhile, will take place outside Planned Parenthood of East Central Illinois, 302 E. Stoughton.

“We want to be as if we are Christ on that sidewalk,” said Guth, calling the vigil a “loving, peaceful presence.”

With the skyline of Peoria in the background, Guth encouraged participants to show the community “God’s mercy and forgiveness” — especially to those struggling with a decision about an abortion, whether before or after the fact.

“We know that when people are present (at the abortion facility), lives are saved,” said Guth, pointing out that national “40 Days for Life” organizers have documented cases of 2,800 babies born because their mothers changed their minds about abortion as a result of the campaign.

Also offering words of hope Sunday night was Father Michael Driscoll, a chaplain at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria.

He said the pro-life community should find hope in knowing they’ve helped to “hold the line” on expansion of the culture of death into other areas of society. “What only God can see is what we’ve stopped from happening by cooperating with his love and grace,” said Father Driscoll.

Quoting the parable from the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus says what we do for the least of his people, we do for him, Father Driscoll said Jesus was once an unborn child and that today’s believers can add the phrase “When I was a frightened and confused young woman, you gave me hope” to Jesus’ list of examples.

“God has called us to be here to do something for the next 40 days,” said Father Driscoll. “That means we’re part of a big plan,” he added, saying God will grant the grace to make the effort a success.

Serving as master of ceremonies for the outdoor rally was Christian recording artist Rachel West Kramer, who performed several songs. Noting the presence of leaders and members of several faith communities, she said “It’s great to be the Body of Christ” acting with “one heart, one voice, and one mind to seek God and turn to him.”

Also speaking was:

— Dan Learned, executive director of Youth for Christ, who told of his personal journey from “anger to compassion to hope” regarding the abortion issue. Learned suggested the phrase “right to life” be changed to “responsibility to life” to emphasize the need to love and risk on behalf of the cause.

— Rachel Clark, the married mother of four daughters, who emotionally shared the impact of her own teen pregnancy several years ago. While she lost the child in miscarriage, Clark recalled the fear, shock, depression and spiritual suffering she experienced during and long after the pregnancy. She is now active in the pro-life movement to let young women in similar circumstances know “I’ve been there and I know what you’re feeling. Please let me help you.”

Meanwhile, Knights of Columbus councils throughout the state were encouraged to take part in “40 Days for Life,” especially on Oct. 11 and 12, which the Illinois State Council has declared “Knights of Columbus Day.

“If several councils work together at a clinic, we should be able to have a prayer group present during the 24-hour period, especially during the night and early morning hours,” said Larry and Marge Theriault, right to life chaircouple.

Those wishing to pledge prayer, fasting or a time of presence at the clinic are encouraged to call Guth at (309) 453-7493 or e-mail her at godshelperkaren@gmail.com. For information about the Champaign activities, e-mail Ross Johnson at 40days@prolifeillinois.com.

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