Words inspired by German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe boomed back off the marble and granite inside the Missouri State Capitol.
“Nothing should be more highly prized than the value of each life and each day!” Gunther F. Skaletz roared to more than 1,000 marchers at a rally following the ninth annual Midwest March for Life.
Mr. Skaletz, 92, a survivor of one of the Nazis’ deadliest World War II prison camps, is a member of Our Lady of the Lake parish in Lake Ozark.
“Nothing is impossible with God!” he reminded the marchers, echoing the words of the angel at the moment of Jesus’ Incarnation (Luke 1:37).
It was the Feast of the Presentation, 40 days after Christmas.
Marchers had just finished making a loop through downtown Jefferson City in a display of loving solidarity with society’s most vulnerable people, the unborn. The theme for the march was “Always Vigilant.”
Led by a cross carried by priests, an honor guard of Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus and several groups carrying banners, the people marched past symbols of the three branches of state government — the Capitol, the Governor’s Mansion and the Supreme Court.
There were chants, cheers, prayers, hymns and lively banter throughout the assembly.
At a pre-march rally outside St. Peter Church and a post-march rally in the Capitol, passionate speakers urged participants to get active in combatting legalized abortion and the societal mentality that allows abortion-on-demand to dictate policy in many parts of the country.
“What we’re doing today is not political,” Father Paul Clark, moderator for pro-life ministry in the Jefferson City diocese, emphasized. “At its heart, it’s about love and it’s about life.”
Zina Hackworth, founder of “More Rebellious Members,” a pro-life outreach to African American pastors, noted that the pro-life cause is ultimately a battle between forces that are not of this earth.
“Therefore, we do not see the pro-abortion people as our enemies,” she said. “They are people who just don’t know Who the Lord really is. And we need to show them Who He is.”
Mary Lovee Varni, program manager of the St. Louis archdiocese’s Respect Life Apostolate, said the theologically diverse assembly of marchers was standing united in truth and knowledge of what is right and wrong.
“And it is wrong for so many people from my generation — our generation — to be missing,” she said. “Every life gone because of abortion is one too many.”
She led the marchers in a forceful litany of “Not on my watch!” in response to efforts to dehumanize the human person and advance the cause of abortion and euthanasia.
“I am embracing St. Paul’s challenge like never before to watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, and be strong,” she said.
ThriVe St. Louis, a full-service pro-life women’s health service provider, offered tours of two of its mobile ultrasound units that are deployed near places women seek abortions.
A child from St. Andrew School in Tipton held a sign that said, “She’s a child, not a choice.”
“And a very beautiful child you are!” Sister Mary Ruth Wand told her.
“I bet every person here was a beautiful child,” the girl responded.
Fr. Clark read a letter from Bishop W. Shawn McKnight, and blessed the cross.
In the letter, Bishop McKnight blessed and thanked everyone for their work to rescue souls from the scourge of abortion.
“Please continue to be ‘always vigilant’ in your mission to save lives of the un-born, to rescue mothers from the horrors of abortion, to pray for the conversion of abortion workers and all who do not understand what abortion is doing to our nation,” he wrote.
“Amazing prayer warriors”
Kristan Hawkins, president and founder of Students for Life America, was the keynote speaker for the rally in the Capitol.
“I’m here to ask you to do something difficult,” she told marchers from throughout Missouri and neighboring states. “I’m here to ask you to do something that’s going to take courage, that’s going to take resolve.
“I’m here to ask you to finish what you started: Remain vigilant and finish making Missouri the first abortion-free state!”
She pointed to the success the local 40 Days for Life campaign has had in shutting down the abortion business at Planned Parenthood in Columbia, through consistent prayer and public witness on the sidewalk outside the facility.
“You have some amazing prayer warriors here in Missouri,” she said. “Kathy Forck and her 40 Days for Life team in Columbia are known across the nation for what they have accomplished in Columbia.”
Taking back the culture
Mrs. Hawkins and several other young adults founded Students for Life 12 years ago.
“We decided to embark on this mission to go right where the abortion industry is targeting, right where they take their predatory business cycle and trap young people,” she said.
They realized that they could work to get pro-life laws and policies passed, but unless they could win over young people, all the gains would eventually be lost.
“So we decided to go and shape the culture right where it’s formed, right on our nation’s campuses,” she said.
Poll numbers, the plummeting number of abortions and the youthful exuberance of the national March for Life all show that people under 25 are becoming increasingly more pro-life, she said.
“We truly are the pro-life generation,” she said. “We now have the momentum, because young people drive the culture; young people transform the culture.”
However, the work is far from completed. The nation is more divided than it has been in decades, and many have become complacent after 46 years of legalized abortion.
“You’re fooling yourself if you believe this $1 billion abortion industry is going to go away quietly,” she added.
That’s bad news for people who don’t like controversy.
“It’s only going to get worse until we get to that day when no more children are killed, where no more men and women are wounded, until abortion is abolished in our land,” she said.
Standing in the gap
Also at the rally, the march’s organizer, Kathy Forck, presented the 2018 Life Runners Chapter of the Year Award to the nine Jefferson City area chapters.
Life Runners team members give witness by walking or running, while wearing blue jerseys emblazoned with “Remember the Unborn.”
Mrs. Forck also presented Team P.L.A.Y.’s 2018 Champion for Life Award to John Ryan of St. Louis.
A husband, father of six and grandfather of 11 has been active in the pro-life movement since 1974 and has been arrested and jailed numerous times for giving witness outside abortion clinics.
Mr. Ryan accepted the award on behalf of everyone who “stands in the gap,” praying and ministering on the seemingly hopeless sidewalks.
“Many have survived the unthinkable because of their efforts,” he said.
Mr. Ryan made an impassioned plea for people to stand on the front lines outside abortion clinics, framing his words with those of Jesus in Matthew 25:
“Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these the least of these, you did not do for Me.”
“No war has ever been won by surrendering the front lines to the enemy,” he noted.
A married couple from the Silent No More organization shared the story of the decades of heartbreak they experienced after having an abortion as teenagers in 1976.
They finally encountered Christ and His healing forgiveness while attending a Rachael’s Vineyard retreat.
Now, they tell their story in order to invite others who have been harmed by abortion to seek healing.
Mark Sarafino, the event’s master of ceremonies, urged everyone present to spend the rest of the day discovering what role God wants them to take in the struggle to end abortion.
“Voice of truth”
In St. Peter parish’s Selinger Hospitality Centre, representatives from a panoply of life-affirming organizations and ministries answered questions, handed out information and signed up volunteers.
Mrs. Hawkins gave an afternoon presentation to young people about what they could do to advance the cause of life among their peers by standing up to ridicule and misinformation.
At the closing Mass, Father Joseph S. Corel, pastor of St. Andrew parish in Holts Summit and moderator for prison ministry in the diocese, gave heartfelt thanks to God for the gift of human life.
“While we have reason to be sad and angry for the reason we gather today for this Midwest March for Life, we place that anger and sadness at the foot of the cross and ask the Lord to transform it into graces that gives us more energy to fight this battle for life,” said Fr. Corel.
“We are the voice of truth and life,” he stated. “We are the light in a dark world; we are the light that gives hope to men and women.
“We never lose hope,” he said. “Jesus has overcome sin and death and because of that, we bring joy, peace, mercy and love.