Margie Breen of the Chicago Archdiocese MCs the opening ceremonies [Photo by Corrina Gura]
For the third year in a row, Chicago’s 40 Days for Life campaign kicked off with a candlelight vigil outside Albany Medical-Surgical Center on Chicago’s northwest side, a wonderful beginning to this special period of prayer and fasting for an end to abortion.
Singles for Family and Life led the group in a hymn service arranged by Lou Coson, which included both contemporary pieces and old favorites like the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Then Fr. Stephen Lesniewski, an active sidewalk counselor who has saved many babies over the years, led us in prayer. Halfway through, Father Steve knelt down on the cement, leading the Chaplet of Divine Mercy as the 100 participants took their candles and placed them all around the perimeter of the clinic.
Clinic “Defense” Backfires
In early October the League received an email that a group of pro-abortion activists were planning to “defend” Albany that Saturday from the 40 Days campaign. Shortly after I arrived that morning, the police appeared. I walked around the corner to investigate and overheard a woman—who turned out to be one of the “defenders”—say to her friend, “They’re supposed to stand 1,000 feet away from the entrance, aren’t they? I called the police on them.”
The woman was referring to the Chicago Bubble Zone, passed in November 2009, which applies within 50 feet of a clinic entrance, not 1,000. I conferred with the sidewalk counselors standing by the door and they said a police officer had said something that sounded like he agreed with the 1,000-foot bubble before walking into the clinic. But when he came out, he only reminded pro-lifers not to block the entrances.
The attempt to “defend” the clinic was a ludicrous failure. Not only were most of the 40 Days for Life group merely sitting on the parkway praying in prayer and not interacting with clients, but the “clinic defense” action seems only to drive clients away, likely because they don’t want to get in the middle of what appears to be an ongoing conflict.
Greek Orthodox Involvement
Pro-lifers pray at Albany Medical Surgical Center [Photo by Corrina Gura]
On a Thursday morning about midway through the 40 days, a young Greek Orthodox Christian named Andrew showed up. He had found out about 40 Days from an Orthodox priest out in Virginia, Fr. Demitri Carellas. Fr. Carellas had been a pastor in Chicago in the early 1970’s and regularly came out to pray at an abortion clinic, where he met Joe Scheidler. They became good friends and Joe spoke at Father’s church. “Father Jim,” as Joe called him, moved to the east coast and now travels the country giving retreats. In an e-mail blast he recommended getting involved in 40 Days, and Andrew took his advice, hunting down the Chicago location at the 40 Days website.
The following Thursday Andrew joined the vigil again, and learned about an incident that had just happened a few minutes before. A woman drove up and told a prayer warrior that she had come to Albany for an abortion 22 years before. A sidewalk counselor had intervened on that day and she changed her mind. Now that daughter was about to present her with her first grandchild.
That story helped inspire Andrew to continue praying and counseling weekly at Albany. He has recognized that he has a responsibility to pray for and love both the women who think abortion is the answer and their endangered unborn babies.
A Lovely Closing Ceremony
Two dedicated volunteers, Rich and Judith, organized a lovely closing ceremony. Another volunteer, Barb, invited her priest, Fr. Paul Kalchik, who led us in the Rosary beside the clinic. The vigil closed with Benediction in front of the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel of the pregnancy center just down the street from Albany.
The entire vigil went very smoothly, with the day captains really doing a great job to cover all the hours. But the real success of the vigil will be shown in how many of those who participated make a resolution—like Andrew did—to join the ongoing, year-round effort to save babies through prayer and compassionate counseling at Albany abortion center.