ROCHESTER — More than 100 local Catholics, Christians and other pro-life activists recently teamed up with thousands of others in more than 170 cities nationwide to hold vigil outside abortion clinics and pray for an end to abortion. The national 40 Days for Life campaign began at midnight Sept. 24, when participants in the local campaign took up their posts outside Planned Parenthood at 114 University Ave.
"Our goal is for abortion to stop at 114 University Ave.," Jose Rivera, director of the local campaign, told participants at a rally at Church of Our Lady of the Americas Parish the evening before the vigil began.
The 40 Days for Life campaign originally began as a grassroots effort in a Texas community in 2004 and had grown into a national effort by the fall of 2007, Rivera said.
According to statistics from the New York state Department of Health, approximately one out of every four pregnancies in Monroe County ends in abortion, with more than 3,400 abortions taking place in Monroe County alone. More than 2,500 of those abortions were performed at the Planned Parenthood facility on University Avenue, Rivera said.
"That’s the lion’s share of that number, and that’s part of the reason we selected that facility for the vigil," he said.
Local volunteers signed up to fill shifts so there would be at least two people outside the facility at all times of the day and night from Sept. 24 until the campaign’s close on Nov. 2.
As of Sept. 23 a number of the time slots had been filled with volunteers from nearly a dozen diocesan parishes, including more than 80 volunteers from Rivera’s parish, St. Leo in Hilton, and other Christian churches and pro-life organizations.
"We are going to be united with hundreds of thousands of people (nationwide) doing the same thing," Rivera said during the rally.
Two local members of the national Silent No More Awareness Campaign also spoke at the rally. The campaign is a nondenominational organization made up of Christian mothers and fathers who have suffered from abortion, said Kathy Cosgrove, Rochester’s regional campaign coordinator.
"Our first goal is to tell mothers and fathers of aborted babies that they’re not alone … and that help is available and healing is possible," Cosgrove said.
Members aim to educate the public about abortion’s harmful physical, spiritual and emotional consequences by sharing their own personal stories. Cosgrove and fellow member Sandy Arena each shared the stories of their own abortions and the ways they were tormented by their experiences. Cosgrove was 25, divorced and pregnant when she went to Planned Parenthood.
"Basically I was told that my baby was nothing, and that was all I needed to hear. That was my permission slip to abort my baby," she said.
Planned Parenthood staffers didn’t show her an ultrasound, let her listen to her baby’s heartbeat or bond with the baby in any way.
"I really did not realize what was involved until it was too late, when I was on the table. That was when I bonded with my baby, when my baby was being ripped apart inside me," Cosgrove said.
The experience was too much for Cosgrove to take in and bear so she said she "squelched it" but couldn’t escape its effects. Although she married and had two more children, she said grew more and more depressed, eventually spending four years on antipsychotic medications. Her downward spiral only ended, she noted, when she began attending post-abortion healing retreats.
"It was then that I realized only God can heal me. I really was able to experience God’s total forgiveness, acceptance and mercy," she said. "It was then that I was finally able to begin to trust and to begin to be loved and to love. And that is why I’m silent no more."
Local 40 Days for Life campaign volunteers were not silent, either. Six St. Leo parishioners stood outside Planned Parenthood at 11 a.m. the first day of the vigil and prayed the rosary out loud. Their prayers thus far had received only positive greetings — honking horns, waves and an inquiry from an interested pro-lifer, who was given a packet of pro-life information.
Volunteers Sharon Prince and Flora Bishop have been pro-life for some time, but in the past fear had always kept them from praying outside abortion facilities. When they heard about this campaign, however, the Holy Spirit moved them to participate, Bishop said.
The campaign was a family affair for fellow parishioners Kay and Bud Flanagan, who participated with two of their 12 grown children, Mary Lissow and Joan Hough.
"We love babies and we hate abortion," Lissow said. "We really think that the prayer and the fasting and the getting out here will make a difference."
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about the local 40 Days for Life campaign, visit www.40daysforlife.com/rochester.