Spring-like weather greeted the nearly 1,700 Catholics who arrived in downtown Little Rock from across the diocese Jan. 17 for the annual Mass for Life at the Statehouse Convention Center and the March for Life, which followed.
Couples and families were joined by Catholic youth participating in the annual Weekend Extravaganza at the Mass. Afterwards, they walked from the convention center to the starting point for the march only a block away from the Cathedral of St. Andrew. There they joined several thousand others from different faith groups.
"This is the second year we have participated," said Ignacio Alvarez, a member of St. Edward Church in Little Rock. "We brought all our children, four, so they can learn that we have to respect life. As Catholics we have the responsibility to tell others what life signifies and defend life."
Judy Timmerman, a member of St. Jude Church in Jacksonville, said she always attends the Mass for Life. She said before she joined the Catholic Church, she was pro-choice but then had a conversion experience.
"We believe in the sanctity of life, and that life begins at conception," she said. "So many people don't seem to understand that. And I had someone close to me who has had several abortions."
Alex Glennon, a member of St. Raphael Church in Springdale and a junior at Rogers High School, said she attended the Mass for Life and March for Life for the first time in 2009.
"I hope to be able to change peoples' minds on abortion to where they don't make the decision of killing," she said.
Glennon said she and her father had talked someone they knew out of considering an abortion and to put the baby up for adoption instead.
"A child should not pay for people's mistakes," she said.
"It is important to be here because my wife had an abortion in 1990," said Jose Galvan, a member of St. Edward Church in Texarkana. "I hope everyone tries to hold on to their children because there is no other life than what God gives us. God gives us life, God takes it away from us when he wants. Never stop loving your children."
During the Mass, more than 100 people lined up to take red roses to the altar during the offertory in memory of children who died. The Book of Innocents was presented by Ashley and Jared Hess, members of St. Peter Church in Wynne who lost a child to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in 2008.
In his homily at the Mass, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor spoke about the culture of life and the culture of death. Bishop Taylor recalled that while he was in high school, a girl who, because she was pregnant and not married, went to Kansas, stayed with an aunt and gave her baby up for adoption. Others also went to Kansas, but to get abortions. A year later the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion.
"Prior to 1973 we lived in a country that protected children with laws prohibiting abortion -- giving people legal incentives to do the right thing, despite whatever predicament they were in," the bishop said. "But now our laws give people incentives to do the wrong thing. Most of those who get abortions do not intend murder, they are just scared and it is easy to be seduced into thinking that since it is legal it cannot be all that bad. But it is. Every abortion leaves one dead and one wounded: both are victims. The child is dead and the mother has been violated, scarred for life."
The bishop also urged people to do what they can to make sure that the health care reform excludes government or employer-mandated funding for abortion and include conscience protection for health care providers, plans and employers.
"Genuine health care reform must be affordable and must protect the life, dignity, conscience and health of all, especially the poor and vulnerable -- including immigrants," he said. "And I very much encourage you to contact our legislators and let them know that your support depends on the bill not advancing a pro-abortion agenda in any way."
After Mass, marchers, estimated by some at between 4,000 and 5,000, walked up Capitol Avenue to the steps of the state capitol, and the rally began.
Three women shared their personal stories on abortion and how they were healed.
The Rev. Pat Odom, pastor of the Marysville and Dumas United Methodist churches, spoke about the need for healing after an abortion and how she achieved it through Project Rachel, the post-abortion ministry of the Diocese of Little Rock.
"God took away my shame," she said. "He used a process that began shortly after the birth of my first child."
She spoke about the thrill of holding her first child in her arms, but she had terminated two untimely pregnancies before the child was born.
"Project Rachel is for Catholics, for non-Catholics and even for those who don't yet believe in the Creator of all God's children," she said.
Printed with permission from the Arkansas Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Little Rock.