Says “saddest day on calendar,” Jan. 22, brings out best in many

Photo Caption: Father Geoff Horton leads prayer Wednesday for one of several busloads of pilgrims from the Diocese of Peoria making their way to Washington, D.C. for the Jan. 22 March for Life.

By: By Tom Dermody

The “saddest day on the American calendar” — the Jan. 22 anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions legalizing abortion — is also a day that brings out the best in many, the co-founder of 40 Days for Life told about 150 people who gathered in Peoria for the annual Sanctity of Human Life Rally.

“Despite 42 years of legalized abortion, we are still gathering to stand up for the most basic and beautiful right we have, the right to life,” said Shawn Carney, a Catholic from Texas who in 2004 helped plan a 40-day campaign of prayer, fasting, and public witness outside an abortion facility in College Station.

To the organizers’ surprise, pro-lifers in other cities began asking for information on the 40 Days experience. Three years later, Carney and David Bereit launched 40 Days for Life as a nationally coordinated effort.
Campaigns have since taken place in 559 cities in 27 countries, mobilizing hundreds of thousands of people — including hundreds in the Diocese of Peoria through efforts in Peoria, Champaign, Ottawa, and the Quad Cities.

“When you look at what is going on at the local level, it gives great hope that abortion will end one day in America,” Carney told the crowd at Riverside Community Church in downtown Peoria. The annual rally, sponsored by Central Illinois Right to Life, also featured updates from several local pro-life leaders. (Editor’s note: Photos from the event have been posted to The Catholic Post’s site on Facebook.)

Carney pointed out that in 2013, 87 abortion facilities closed in the United States — a record since the 1973 court decisions. Last year, the figure was 79.

“Since 1991, more than half of all abortion facilities in America have closed,” he said. Meanwhile, the number of pro-life pregnancy resource centers has tripled, to the point that women’s resource centers outnumber abortion providers 5-to-1 nationally.

But Carney repeatedly characterized pro-life work as difficult, humbling, and a test of our faith.

“This issue is so big it forces us to humble ourselves to trust God to end abortion,” said Carney. While some may opt for easier, though necessary, support such as writing checks or casting votes, defeating abortion will take people willing to pray, fast, and treat those seeking or providing abortions as “our own flesh and blood.”

“God could end (abortion) tomorrow, but he wants to use us, test our faith, and come back to him as a nation,” said Carney, a married father of five who recently launched a new pro-life television series “being HUMAN” on EWTN. “Tonight you’ve made a decision to be a witness of hope in your circles.”

He encouraged prayer a) that the next anniversary will be the last anniversary of legal abortion, and b) for a broken heart for ourselves and our nation, “because God can’t deal with a proud heart that says everything is fine.”

Among the local speakers at the rally was Sondra McEnroe, a board member of Central Illinois Right to Life, who urged people to “try being embarrassing” in their pro-life support. Wear a pro-life pin, put a decal on your car bumper, and start conversations on the difficult topic, said McEnroe, who answers the group’s crisis hotline number, (309) 645-8000.

“Life wins in Peoria. Death does not have the final word,” said Christine Dennis, president of the Women’s Care Center, located next to Peoria’s abortion facility.
She described the establishment of the center in 2013, its role in “saving 50 babies we know of for certain,” and called the growth of the local 40 Days campaign in the past eight years “unbelievable.”

The ecumenical gathering featured special music from members of Providence Church in Morton, whose pastor, James McDonald, served as master of ceremonies. Legislative updates were given by pro-life attorney Paul Brodersen; Nancy Hays reported on the outreach of Peoria Rescue Ministries and Esther House; and John Creath of Central Illinois Right to Life thanked all for their activity noting “it’s so much easier not to do anything.” The closing prayer was offered by John King, pastor of Riverside Community Church.

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