At pro-life movie ’40’ screening, director offers message of hope

By: Story and photo by Tom Dermody

Caption: John Morales, director and producer of the pro-life documentary ’40,’ poses with students from St. John Paul II Newman Center at Illinois State University who were among about 100 persons viewing a screening of the film Jan. 11 at the Family Resources Center in Peoria.


John Morales has seen many playing fields in a 20-year sports television and radio career. But his latest project — directing, producing, and promoting the motivational documentary “40” — has made the Glenview resident a key player in the pro-life field.

“This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” Morales, a former television reporter and anchor for Fox Sports Net Chicago, said after showing his new film Jan. 11 to a crowd of about 100 at the Family Resources Center in Peoria. “I’ve catapulted myself onto the (pro-life) front lines.”

Morales has devoted three years to creating and promoting “40,” which makes its television debut next Wednesday on EWTN.

The film gives voice to both sides of the debate as it examines the effects of abortion on individuals and our nation 40 years after the U.S. Supreme Court decisions. It frames abortion as the most important human and civil rights issue of our time.

For Morales, however, the project is personal.

Morales confided to his Peoria audience that he is “post-abortive,” explaining that in his past he helped procure an abortion for a woman pregnant with his child. “It was the worst mistake I ever made in my life,” he said.

He is also an adoptive father. Joining him in Peoria were his wife, Cindy, and son Joseph Dominic, whom the couple adopted as an infant several years ago. Morales called his son “my motivation for making the film,” saying “he put a face to this issue.”

Morales gave credit to many who assisted in the “40” project, beginning with God.

“I’ve often said the real director is the Holy Spirit,” said Morales, explaining that the idea for the documentary came to him in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in a chapel of the Women’s Center of Greater Chicagoland. That was in the summer of 2011.

Drawing from his professional experience — which includes co-producing and writing “Champions of Faith: Baseball Edition,” showcasing the intersection of sports and faith in Major League Baseball — Morales went to work on “40.” He teamed with photojournalist Rob Kaczmark and Chicago-based Spirit Juice Studios for filming that took place chiefly at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., in 2012 and 2013.

Dozens of familiar faces in the pro-life movement appear throughout “40,” including Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood abortion clinic director; David Bereit, national director of 40 Days for Life; Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life; Vicki Thorn of Project Rachel; and Lila Rose, president of Live Action.

The struggle, Morales said, was finding representatives from the pro-choice side to speak on camera. Repeated requests to Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion Rights Action League, and the National Organization for Women went unanswered.

“None responded,” said Morales. “Every single one closed their door to us.”

So Morales and his crew went to public pro-choice rallies to conduct interviews, and those arguments are represented in the film. In fact, they are prominent in the opening.

Nearly 80 percent of those speaking in the documentary are women, said Morales. The film is narrated by actress Jennifer Cadena.

Cecilia Sone, associate director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria — which brought the film to Peoria — called the documentary “most powerful” and an excellent resource for parishes and pro-life groups. The film offers subtitles in Spanish, and Sunday’s viewing included a sizeable Hispanic contingent.

Offering prayers before and after the screening was Sister Ana Pia Cordua, SCTJM, executive director of Catholic Charities. She prayed that we may be “witnesses of life and love” and “speak the truth when it needs to be told.”

Morales ended his presentation by pointing to several reasons for hope as the nation moves to the 42nd anniversary of the court decisions next week.

“I believe the tide is turning,” said Morales, citing favorable polling, the enaction of pro-life laws, the closing of many abortion clinics, and fact that “science is unquestionably on our side today” as ultrasounds provide clearer windows into the womb.

“The pro-life movement is bigger, younger, better organized and more media oriented than ever before,” said Morales. He predicted today’s young generation — so evident at the March for Life as well as the Peoria screening — will be the generation that ends abortion.

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