PROVIDENCE — Local pro-life advocates standing vigil at Planned Parenthood last Monday received a visit from national pro-life speaker and 40 Days for Life founder David Bereit as part of the 40 Days for Life United bus tour. The bus tour, which began on September 27 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., is a part of a larger campaign of prayer, vigil and fasting for an end to abortion taking place this month in cities throughout the United States.
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“We began where abortion began, but then we wanted to take this tour where abortion will end, on the streets and the sidewalks of American cities,” Bereit told the crowd gathered outside Planned Parenthood on October 3.
40 Days for Life began as an effort to reduce abortions in Bereit’s town of Bryan/College Station, Texas, in 2004, and quickly grew into a national movement of peaceful protest against abortion. In Rhode Island, the campaign is co-sponsored by local organizations, including the diocesan Office of Life and Family Ministry and Rhode Island Right to Life. Volunteers stand vigil outside the state’s two abortion facilities, Planned Parenthood in Providence and the Women’s Medical Center in Cranston, offering prayers and making themselves available to anyone who wishes to talk.
This year, Bereit and his team plan to visit all 50 states during the 40-day campaign – 48 of those states by bus – to share their pro-life message and support the local campaigns occurring simultaneously around the country.
“If we’re going to take this crazy stance of asking people to come out and stand for life, the least we can do is come here and stand with you,” said Bereit.
Approximately 75 people gathered for the Providence rally, a brief but energizing stop on a full day that also included stops in Cranston, along with Norwich and Danbury, Conn. While some of those present were attending their first pro-life event, the sidewalk outside the abortion clinic was familiar ground for others, as many of those in attendance volunteer for weekly prayer shifts during the 40 Days campaign.
“We are excited to see what God will continue to do as people are coming out and celebrating life, even in the pouring rain as we’ve seen over the past few days,” said Bereit, referencing the heavy rain showers that failed to keep volunteers away during events in Maine and Vermont earlier in the week. “You never know the difference that you can make simply by being there in prayer and being present.”
Bereit reassured volunteers that their presence made an impact on those who visit and work at the abortion clinic, sharing the story of Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood director who resigned from her Texas clinic after years of interacting with pro-life activists.
“Of all the cultural challenges we face, the one front [where] we are seeing victory after victory is the pro-life cause,” he said.
For local advocates who participate regularly in prayer vigils outside abortion facilities, the visit from Bereit and national campaign organizers was an empowering reminder of the similar efforts taking place around the country. Jim Martish, a parishioner at St. Bernard Church, Wickford, who prays regularly at the Women’s Medical Center in Cranston with his wife, Jean, said he was happy to see so many people at the event.
“It has to do with protection of life,” he said. “The children don’t have a voice and we’re their voice.”
Christine Deacutis, a parishioner at St. Francis de Sales Parish, North Kingstown, said she has great respect for the 40 Days for Life campaign and was very happy to meet Bereit.
“I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I like it because it’s the most peaceful and most successful program in pro-life that there is,” she said.
Following the speech, Bereit told Rhode Island Catholic he felt it was especially important to travel the country spreading the pro-life message this year due to the upcoming elections.
“We felt that with everything that’s at stake in America right now, it was more important than ever to pray for America,” he said.
Bereit also shared his joy at seeing so many volunteers present at a local campaign stop, many of whom received the call to gather from different organizations coordinating their efforts to further the pro-life cause.
“It gives me great hope because I realize, kind of like the Body of Christ, we’re made up of different parts and it makes a great impact,” he said.
Carol Owens, coordinator of the diocesan Office of Life and Family Ministry, said she was happy to welcome Bereit to Rhode Island.
“It’s very inspiring. He is the one that founded 40 Days for Life so to have him come in person is very motivating,” she said.
Owens also extended a reminder that though 40 Days for Life is an important time for prayer and fasting, opportunities to support the pro-life movement continue throughout the year.
“They have pulled out all the stops to get motivated to encourage more people to participate,” she said. “And you know it doesn’t end after 40 Days. 40 Days is just a way of getting people involved, but the idea is to get people doing things after the 40 Days.”
Following the event in Providence, the 40 Days for Life United tour bus continued on to the Women’s Medical Center in Cranston for a brief vigil stop attended by about 25 people.
As of press time on Tuesday, local 40 Days for Life campaigns around the country had reported 166 lives saved due to the efforts of activists standing vigil outside abortion centers since the campaign’s start. 40 Days for Life continues until November 6.