“Cultural transformation doesn’t begin in Washington, Hollywood, or Wall Street, it begins with each one of us,” observes the founder of 40 Days for Life, Shawn Carney. Could any of us doubt the need for cultural transformation at this time? For Catholics, “cultural transformation,” proclaiming the kingdom of God and the culture of life, is a dynamic of our faith. It is a dynamic that is sometimes neglected, and Lent providentially offers us the chance to reclaim and reinvigorate. The 40 Days for Life prayer vigil to bring an end to abortion coincides with Lent precisely for the conversion of hearts and minds, in obedience to God’s request that we turn to him in humility, prayer, fasting, and repentance, in union with Christ. By praying publicly for an appreciation of the sanctity of life and an end to abortion, we bring God’s message of mercy, grace, and forgiveness to the world. It is clear from the overwhelmingly positive responses to our vigils on Main Street in Bridgeport and Danbury, that praying openly in public touches a need in many people and is well appreciated. The occasional negative response is also a reminder that our prayers are effective!
The results of the national, and international 40 Days for Life efforts speak for themselves: to date, 16,742 babies saved from abortion, 196 abortion workers have quit and embraced Christ in their lives and 104 abortion centers have closed (including Summit in Bridgeport, after four years of prayer vigils at that site). Of note, the two founders of 40 Days for Life, Shawn Carney and David Bereit, originally Evangelical Protestants, have both converted to the Catholic faith as a result of their work devoted to the sanctity of life, and they are not the only ones within this movement of prayer and sacrifice who have experienced conversion.
A new 40 Days for Life campaign in Bridgeport was first launched in Lent of 2019, after learning that an abortion facility had opened within the Commerce Park medical complex on upper Main Street. So far, the Bridgeport campaign has gathered Catholics from 14 area parishes and Protestants from two local churches, of all ages and backgrounds, to witness to God’s gift of life, and pray the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet. Our prayer intentions request that God touch the hearts of those affected by abortion in any way, that He shower His mercy upon them and that He intervene to save the lives of unborn babies threatened by abortion. We do not know who among the cars entering Commerce Park might be considering abortion, but we do know that the sight of the image of Our Blessed Mother, (we display an image of Our Lady Of Guadalupe), the sight of people caring enough to stand outside to pray, and the sight and sound of the Rosary, cannot fail to be effective.
The Danbury campaign has been going on for about five years, with participation from seven churches in the greater Danbury area, including nearby parts of Westchester county. The new leader, Chloe Hermann, fresh from Christendom College, is hopeful that there will be more participation this Lent, and especially that the pastors in Danbury will recognize the importance of this Pro-life prayer effort.
What does it take to participate in 40 Days for Life? First, let’s dispel some myths: the 40 Days for Life prayer vigil is NOT political and it is not a protest. It is a positive and peaceful outreach for the salvation of souls.
All that is required is a simple willingness to exercise the basic theological virtues: faith in the power of prayer; hope in God’s abundant mercy and love for the truth and for our neighbors. Praying on the street, however humbling, is not as frightening as some might think: we always pray in groups of two or more, and the prayer rallies, held twice per week in Bridgeport, bring out groups as large as thirty people. Most people stay for one hour at a time, some stay longer, some less; any amount of time in prayer is important. We are particularly blessed by those pastors who have taken time in their busy schedules and stepped out of their comfort zones, to lead us in public prayer and grateful for the seminarians who have stopped by spontaneously to pray with us. The presence of priests at the prayer vigil is a great encouragement to the faithful, a sign that Christ is active in the world, and underscores the unity of Christ’s shepherds with the flock.
Each of the troubled women who enter an abortion center in Bridgeport and Danbury and each of the babies they carry in their wombs is our neighbor; we demonstrate our love for each of these neighbors through this work of mercy in prayer. Participation in the 40 Days for Life prayer vigil is a simple act of obedience to God’s commandments, and as we know, “the greatest of these is Love” (1 Cor. 13:13).
Opening prayer rally for the Bridgeport 40 Days for Life will be at 3 pm on Ash Wednesday, February 26, at 4697 Main Street, Bridgeport.
(For more information about the 40 Days for Life this Lent, and to sign up, go to www.40daysforlife.com or contact local coordinators: Chloe Hermann: 40DFLDanbury@gmail.com, or Lenore Opalak: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
By Dr. Lenore Opalak