What the world needs is not more teachers, but witnesses to the gift of life, said Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski at his first major pro-life event in St. Louis.
The archbishop was one of several speakers at the annual March on the Arch, organized by Coalition for Life St. Louis. The March 6 event drew about 600 registered attendees, with marchers departing at intervals on a modified 1.5-mile prayer walk that started outside Planned Parenthood St. Louis, the last abortion facility in Missouri. This year, the march did not end at the Gateway Arch because of pandemic-related modifications to the route.
“What really unites us and brings us here together is the faith that we have in a God who gives to us life. And God who gives to us life calls us to be witnesses to life,” Archbishop Rozanski said. Pope Paul VI once said that the world needs more witnesses, not teachers. “It easy to teach with our words,” the archbishop said. “It is much more difficult to witness with our lives. By that, we show that we truly have taken the Gospel message that Jesus brings to us into our hearts and that we live that Gospel message.”
“To participate in the birth of a child is to participate in the very creative nature that God has given to us — a great privilege,” Archbishop Rozanski said. “When we all realize that great privilege, abortion can no longer be a choice.”
Other speakers throughout the day included Bishop Michael McGovern, who was installed as leader of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill., in July; Steve Rupp, president of Missouri Right to Life; Hope Miller of Crusaders for Life; Reagan Barklage of Students for Life; and President Matthew Harrison of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
Rupp noted Missouri Right to Life’s work with other organizations to help pass state legislation to restrict abortions — including a ban on telemedicine abortions and Missouri’s 72-hour waiting period. The state has gone from a peak of about 21,000 abortions in 1980 to somewhere around 50 abortions roughly in the last year, Rupp said.
“But we’re not finished,” he said. “The sign on the other side of (Planned Parenthood’s) wall says, ‘we’re still here.’ And they are still here. Here’s what they’re sticking around for: They’re hoping that with what’s happened in Washington, D.C., and Congress and the Senate and the White House, they’re going to make a real strong comeback. They’re lobbying for your dollars to be able to help them make that comeback — and not just through the dollars, but wiping out state laws all across the country.”
Taking off his Missouri Right to Life hat for a moment, Rupp personally called on the crowd to sincerely pray daily for a conversion of heart in President Joe Biden, who is a supporter of abortion rights. One of his first acts in office was to rescind the Mexico City Policy, a ban on U.S. government funding for foreign nonprofits that perform or promote abortions.
“We should be praying for people,” Rupp said. “It is hard sometimes because the Devil wants to fill our heart with hate. If we hate Joe Biden, or we hate anybody that’s pro-abortion, the Devil wins, and we lose. We want to replace that hate with love … We should want nothing but eternal happiness for him.
“Imagine this: imagine him knowing every day you’re praying specifically for him, touching his heart, and he wakes up one day — a year from now? — and says ‘Lord, I want to protect the sanctity of life. Tell me what to do.’ That would shake the timbers of this nation.”
Coalition for Life continues to maintain a presence outside of Planned Parenthood St. Louis, even as abortions there have dwindled in recent months, said executive director Brian Westbrook. The
organization also has been focusing its efforts in Fairview Heights, Ill., where a Planned Parenthood facility was opened in October 2019. Coalition for Life’s 40 Days for Life spring campaign is taking place outside of both facilities, Westbrook noted.
“We have to be there in front of that abortion facility, just as much as we are here” at the Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis, he said. “Our consistent presence here in St. Louis is unwavering because we’re not done here, but we have to realize the majority of women who were coming to this location are now going to Fairview Heights.”
Westbrook said the organization’s largest area of growth has been its Women’s Care Connect program, which provides individualized care and support to anyone facing an unplanned pregnancy. Services include free pregnancy testing, limited obstetric ultrasound, and a personalized care plan and referrals to other resources. More than 700 women were served through the program last year.
The effort “was built out of a feeling that we need to do more for these women that we turn around in front of the abortion facility — how do we do a little more for them?” Westbrook said. “We continued to see more and more women that could be served. The greatest group we have in our office now are abortion-determined women who are actively seeking an abortion, and we want to focus on those women in particular.”
Diana Wagner of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in St. Louis attended the march with her sister, Karen May. Wagner recently restarted the Respect Life Committee at Our Lady of Sorrows. “Last year, kind of about this time, I kind of felt a nudge from God,” Wagner said. “We came to this last year and were blown away by the young people, and that really encouraged us.”
May, who has volunteered at a pregnancy care center in High Ridge, said she wanted to “support the movement in and around St. Louis.”
Carrie Boser of Columbia, Illinois, attended with her daughter Mary Boser, who is president of Saints for Life at Maryville University, under the auspices of Students for Life.
“I believe we can empower women best by showing them that they do not have to choose abortion,” Mary Boser said. “Life is the empowered choice. Empowered women empower women to choose life. There is a better choice than saying you have to kill your baby to be successful.”