Pro-life ecumenical vigil in Urbana points to hope in a challenging year
URBANA — In the midst of a pandemic, and on the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decisions that have led to a “staggering” amount of death and loss through abortion, the Champaign-Urbana pro-life community turned to God and one another to find hope.
“In the past year we’ve had so many unexpected things happen, so many changes to our way of life, and sometimes that makes it very hard to have hope,” said Erin Paris, a member of Holy Cross Parish in Champaign, at the start of the Community Ecumenical Memorial Prayer Vigil.
The annual event, sponsored Jan. 22 by eight area churches and hosted by St. Patrick Parish in Urbana, had a different look from past years. Several of the church leaders and even the featured speaker joined virtually, their images projected high on a sanctuary wall. A traditional candlelight procession was modified so that instead of all in attendance carrying individual roses forward as the yearly victims of abortion are remembered, three young women from the same family processed with vases of roses. While about 100 people were present, this year dozens of others followed from home via a livestreamed broadcast.
“We pray you will hear a message of hope, not only for the issue of life, but for life in general,” said Paris, who serves on the event’s planning committee. “God has not forgotten the lives lost to and forever affected by abortion,” she added. “And God was also not caught off guard by 2020. He has not forgotten the lives lost through the last year or any of us as we’ve lived through it.”
EIGHT CHURCHES REPRESENTED
The vigil featured representatives of the churches sharing a series of hoped-based Scripture readings, followed by prayer for those lost to abortion, for those involved to find forgiveness and healing, and for the work on behalf of the unborn and “all innocent children of God whose lives are threatened.”
Participating churches included host St. Patrick as well as Holy Cross, Champaign; the Community Evangelical Free Church of Mahomet; First Wesleyan Church of Urbana; Meadowbrook Community Church; Monticello Church of the Nazarene; Three Hierarchs Greek Orthodox Church; and Windsor Road Christian Church.
“It’s wonderful that you have come out for this occasion to be together as a family to pray for an end to abortion and for the inherent dignity of the human person,” said Father Anthony Co, pastor of St. Patrick Parish, in welcoming remarks. He prayed to “the God who makes the impossible, possible” for perseverance and strength for the pro-life community.
“Don’t let us give in to discouragement or doubt any of your wonderful promises,” prayed Father Co.
“WE NEED TO PERSEVERE”
Encouragement was also given during an emotional keynote presentation by Rebecca Kiessling, a family law attorney from Michigan who was conceived in rape and almost aborted before being adopted. She is now an international pro-life and adoption speaker.
“Don’t relent, don’t quit, don’t stop,” she urged the group in a pre-recorded message. “It’s not just about overturning Roe v. Wade because this battle is going to continue on and we need to persevere, because every life matters. The culture of death isn’t going to stop with a new Supreme Court.”
Kiessling said her birthmother backed out of a planned abortion because at the time it was illegal.
“I literally owe my birth to a law that protected me four years prior to Roe v. Wade,” she said. “I wasn’t ‘lucky.’ I was protected.”
Finding hope, however, was especially difficult for Kiessling in 2020, which she called “the worst year of my life.” She lost two adopted sons, ages 20 and 18, to an accidental drug overdose.
“Their lives mattered,” she said through tears, also mentioning a special needs daughter who died 33 days after birth years ago. “They were absolutely precious. Every child deserves the opportunity to live and to experience love like my children did. Even though their lives were short, they were well loved.”
During the “sobering” rose procession, a bell tolled as the yearly amount of lives lost to abortion since 1973 were projected — a total of more than 62 million. Each year’s figure was followed by the message “May they rest in peace.”
Paris offered a final word of encouragement and hope.
“Thank you for your heart for the unborn,” she told the group. “God hears prayers and we’ll never know the true impact that standing together here and around the world has had.” She pointed to more than a dozen pro-life resources and area groups whose contact information was printed on the back of the evening’s program.
Opening and closing hymns were sung by Crystal McCullough of Meadowbrook Community Church, accompanied by Hannah Freeman-Choi of St. Patrick Parish.