The simple acts of listening to the Lord, prayer and fasting are what catapulted a small pro-life ministry to one of the largest global movements dedicated to bringing an end to abortion. It also led to David Bereit’s personal faith conversion, leading him into the Catholic Church.
Bereit, who co-founded the global 40 Days for Life movement, shared his personal story of becoming Catholic and how he led 40 Days for Life through its first decade, which has grown to close to one million participants in more than 63 countries and hundreds of cities.
Bereit, who recently stepped away from his role as CEO of 40 Days for Life to plan a new ministry project to be announced soon, was the keynote speaker at the 44th annual archdiocesan Respect Life Convention Oct. 18 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Clayton. The daylong convention, a day of renewal for those involved in pro-life efforts, was livestreamed to an estimated 350 people, with an additional 100 attending the event in person.
It’s been amazing “to see what God is doing, because we say yes, step by step, even as we wrestle with God,” Bereit said. “My message to you today … are two words: begin and continue. In your pro-life effort, begin if you’ve never been involved. In your faith, begin if you are not living with God first in your life. But if you’ve been on this journey, begin anew. And then continue. Continue as we grow in faith, as we grow in discernment, as we grow in our vocation, as we grow in mission. Grow in this work and continue pressing forward until that day when abortion does come to an end.”
Bereit left his job in the pharmaceutical industry to lead a small ministry called Coalition for Life in College Station, Texas, to counter a new abortion facility that had opened nearby in Bryan. He co-founded 40 Days for Life, with the inaugural campaign in 2004, focusing on fasting, prayer in front of the abortion clinic and community outreach. It eventually became a national effort in 2007.
In describing the early challenges of Coalition for Life and the start of 40 Days, Bereit noted that the group spent time in prayer, listening to where God was calling the ministry. “We did something we should have done years earlier: we prayed. For one hour, around the table and just said ‘God what do you want us to do?’ During that prayer the first thing that started to percolate in our hearts … was we needed to pray and fast. We said why don’t we pray and fast for 40 days and invite our community to do the same?”
Through the efforts of 40 Days for Life, Bereit said more than 17,000 mothers have been moved by God to “change their minds and choose life because of you here in St. Louis, Fairview Heights (Illinois) and other places.” More than 200 abortion workers also have left the industry, he said.
Bereit also shared how God moved him to enter the Catholic Church in 2018. He saw through the example of his Catholic wife of 28 years, Margaret; the work of countless Catholics involved in 40 Days for Life; and a ultimately, a conversation with a friend, who encouraged him to seek the Lord’s answer in eucharistic adoration.
While on a cross-country drive several years ago, Bereit talked on the the phone with Brian Westbrook, executive director of Coalition for Life St. Louis and local 40 Days campaign, who urged him to ask God: “What do you want me to do?” In adoration, “the entire hour I got a sense of peace around the word ‘begin,’” Bereit said. He came home from that trip and found a blurb in a church bulletin on RCIA.
Days before he was to enter the Church, Bereit returned to adoration, this time hearing the Lord saying, “continue.”
“I realized this is not the end of the journey, this is merely the end of one chapter, of turning the page to the next chapter on a lifelong journey of faith,” he said. A lifelong relationship with God, he said, is not a destination; it’s a journey.
Similarly, our pro-life efforts should be a journey, Bereit said. He credited the work being done in Missouri, and the archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate, which became the first diocese in the United States to form a pro-life apostolate in 1973.
“All around the country … people are looking to one place for hope right now more than any other,” he said. “They’re saying, ‘How do I end abortion? Show me.’ And where do I point them? To the Show-Me State. Because what has been happening here in Missouri is unprecedented. Groups are working together like nowhere else in the country. … You are not only saving lives, you are impacting souls, and you are literally changing the entire world.”
Sheri Petruso, executive director of Birthright St. Charles, was the recipient of the Cardinal John J. Carberry Award. The award is presented annually at the Respect Life Convention to an individual or group who has made a significant contribution to the pro-life cause. Petruso was recognized for her efforts with Birthright, which provides free, professional counseling and other support services to women facing an unplanned pregnancy. She also was commended for the extra measures she took in keeping Birthright’s offices open during the health pandemic.
Receiving the Friend of Life Award were Jeff Stoll and Bob Ellis, two respect life volunteers who were recognized for proclaiming the Gospel of life in their daily lives. Stoll, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Florissant, is involved with his parish’s respect life committee, has served on the Respect Life Apostolate’s advisory board and is a regular participant in the March for Life, serving as a bus captain. Ellis, a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville, is involved with his parish’s respect life committee, and is involved in the areas of education and public policy. He organizes a group to attend the Show-Me Life Pro-Life Action Day in Jefferson City, Mo. As a member of the Knights of Columbus, he collects and delivers red roses to elected officials at the U.S. Capitol.
Sister Peter Marie Tran, FSGM, was recognized as the winner of the annual Respect Life Apostolate’s Pro-Life Video Challenge. Sister Peter Marie produced a video highlighting the ministry at Mother of Good Counsel Home. The skilled nursing facility is operated by her religious community, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George. The winning entry received a $500 prize.