Next month across the world, in 56 nations and 816 cities, people will prayerfully stand vigil and pray for every human’s right to life, from the moment of conception.
Many Alaskans have been involved with the international 40 Days for Life campaign since it began in 2007. It now includes both a fall and spring vigil — each lasting six weeks.
“I try to carve out one hour each of those 12 weeks to go and pray for the babies, their parents, and the employees inside,” said Mary Kemper, a local Anchorage volunteer from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church.
Next month in Anchorage, Alaskans are invited to join in peaceful prayer outside the local Planned Parenthood abortion clinic on 4001 East Lake Otis Parkway. Those who cannot make it to the abortion clinic are encouraged to pray and fast.
Both prayer vigils run from March 6 through April 14.
“We usually vigil from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days per week,” said Pat Martin, the coordinator of Anchorage’s 40 Days for Life event. “40 Days For Life has always been a combined effort of all Christians who call on Christ as Lord and Savior. Denominational and theological differences need not separate us as we provide a visible witness to our city that abortion must end and we call on the Lord to save lives and end abortion.”
Two main events will launch and conclude the 40 Days for Life vigil. The kickoff is March 6 from 12-7 p.m. Then, on April 14 participants will hold a candlelight vigil from 6 p.m. to midnight.
Keeping a prayerful presence outside Planned Parenthood often elicits responses from both sides of the issue.
“Most interactions are civil,” said Jan McCoy, a volunteer and coordinator of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s pro-life ministry. “The sidewalks are on a busy street for cars, not so much for pedestrians. You have the occasional nasty call, gesture or blast from a driver or passenger, but most honks are friendly and gestures are thumbs-up or ‘God bless you’s.’ Of course most cars and pedestrians just drive or walk by, and you just hope they have now noticed that this is where Anchorage babies are killed and mothers are damaged for life and that somebody still thinks that this is not acceptable.”
“Praying out in public for an end to abortion is never comfortable,” said Mary Kemper, a mother of five in Anchorage. “It’s usually cold, and it’s always noisy because of the traffic; then there’s the discomfort of people honking or yelling in anger. Usually we hold a sign, and so what people see is ‘protester,’ not a person praying.”
Despite challenges, the experience is also a source of joy to many participants.
“We have had grandmothers and grandfathers stop to show us a grandchild or a photo of a grandchild whom they believe was saved from abortion because the child’s mother saw someone praying outside of the abortion facility,” McCoy said. “For some, it is enough to be reminded that abortion is wrong for the child and for themselves.”
Kemper urged Alaskans to consider joining the prayer vigil if they want to do something “concrete” about the problem of abortion.
“On the surface it looks like a waste of time; can’t we just pray at home? Some pro-life people wonder if it might even be counterproductive to pray out in public with signs,” she said. “But if we replace ‘unborn children and their mothers’ with, say, ‘2-year-old children and their mothers,’ how can we drive by day after day, year after year, knowing that children are being killed right in our city, and their mothers are being offered a lie instead of support? How can we not publicly and communally beg God for help in finding solutions for these families that don’t involve killing their children?”
While immediate results may not be obvious, McCoy challenged Alaskans to just come — “just pray.”
“You will never know in this life how many babies you may have saved from abortion, how many mothers you have saved from life-long regret, or how many employees will have realized they were in the wrong profession,” she said.
Both individuals and movements are involved in the 40 Days for Life prayer vigil. For example, the St. Catherine of Siena Chapter for Catholics United in Faith plans to fill all the prayer time slots on Wednesday, March 20 in Anchorage. Catholic Men for Life also join the efforts, in addition to many Anchorage area churches.
Perhaps the most difficult part is making a time commitment amid busy weekly schedules.
“It’s always easier to stay home or stay in the regular routine,” McCoy observed. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a busy life unless they are just physically unable to get out on their own.”
“Thankfully, I have a few friends who also want to make that commitment, and that makes it so much easier to actually go do it,” Kemper noted. “Another way I’m involved is in bringing our youth group to pray. I haven’t done that in a few years, but when I do, lots of teens participate! They want to do something about abortion, and they are not afraid of the discomfort, especially when they are with other young people.”
“Babies in the womb are dying. They need our help and protection,” said Barbara Johnson, local participant and advocate. “That’s why many people participate in the beautiful, prayerful, peaceful 40 Days for Life vigils. Is God asking you to move?”