Local News Archive
Print Issue: January 30, 1997
Pro-Life Mass Renews Dedicated Crowd
BY THEA JARVIS
ATLANTA--While threatening rain clouds held off and unseasonably warm winter weather prevailed, an estimated crowd of over 1,000 people poured into the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to celebrate the eighth annual Mass for the Unborn Jan. 22.
School-age children with excused absences, businessmen and women on morning break, parents and grandparents, babies and preschoolers filled the historic downtown Atlanta church to its limits, making this year's gathering the largest ever, according to Peggy Sinanian, director of the archdiocesan Pro-Life Office which sponsored the event.
In the Shrine vestibule, a St. Thomas Aquinas parishioner and father of six, Rich Dittus held fast to his seven-month-old son Anthony, while his three-year-old son Paul crunched a green apple at his feet.
"This was important to do," said Dittus, who took off from work to attend the Mass. His wife Kathleen, who home schools their children, was inside the church with the rest of the family and a large group of homeschoolers scheduled to present the offertory gifts.
Huddled nearby, St. Pius X High School students and St. Ann parishioners Susan Weber and Chris Balint were undaunted by the tight quarters and crush of eager churchgoers.
"A lot of people at school are pro-life," said Weber, a senior whose life issues class with Father Richard Lopez has influenced her views. "Most (students) are genuine about it."
The enthusiasm and reverence of the congregation reflected Weber's sentiments. Warm greetings and spirited hugs were exchanged as people recognized old friends and parishioners. The liturgy itself, preceded for the first time by a communal rosary, moved along smoothly despite the large numbers and random flashes from media cameras.
"The unborn have life," said St. Jude's parishioner and Catholic convert Ron Speights. Dressed in a dark business suit, Speights said he took time from work to attend the liturgy because "the Mass is a focus for Catholic life."
In his homily, Archbishop John F. Donoghue warned against complacency and a "them and us" mentality among pro-lifers. A deeply rooted soul-sickness is the reason for this country's moral paralysis, Archbishop Donoghue said. Like the paralytic in the Gospel read earlier in the Mass, the nation is bound by sin. Those who respect life "must think about our own sins and confess that we are not without guilt in this matter."
Pro-life supporters may not murder children or cast the elderly into the street, the archbishop continued. They may not condone bombing and physical violence.
Yet "it is very difficult for us not to hate those who do" and a challenge not to harbor uncharitable thoughts about "people we often think of as ?the enemy,'" he said.
"Let us dismiss from our hearts all notions of ?them and us,' all accusations and imprecations, all evil thoughts and vengeful desires," the archbishop urged. "And let us also abandon the notion that because we are enthusiastic, because we rally once a year, that our problems will go away in time."
"Rather let us remember the wisdom of Christ, who taught that sickness of the soul is a thousand times worse than sickness in the body, and let us pray for our souls, and for the souls of all men and women in this country," the archbishop said. "Let us pray that through the redemption of individuals, and the conversion of sinners, the sins of this nation might be washed away."
Archbishop Donoghue was joined by priests of the archdiocese who concelebrated the Mass and Deacons Ben Gross and Gary Womack, who assisted at the altar. Cantor Mary Rogers led the congregation in song accompanied by organist Alan Brown and trumpeter Greg Holland.
In addition to the priests who concelebrated the Mass, others, like Father David Dye and Father Tom Hennessy, rushed to the church from other commitments and joined the congregation.
"It seems like we're not making headway politically, but we're making headway with individuals," Father Dye said of the pro-life effort. A former Episcopal priest, he has been coming to the annual Mass since he joined the Catholic Church in 1988.
Father Dye, who heads Mary Our Queen Mission in Peachtree Corners, said his son, David, was at the Shrine with other Marist students while his daughter, Gabrielle, a Georgetown University student, planned to take part in the March for Life in Washington, D.C.
"It's nice to know they weren't forced to do that" and were genuinely interested in participating, Father Dye said.
Father Balappa Selvaraj, who is pursuing an advanced counseling degree at Georgia State University, had an exam earlier in the morning, but managed to join fellow worshipers at the rear of the church.
"I was free," said an ebullient Father Selvaraj, whose busy schedule included a retreat with St. Thomas More eighth-graders in Cullman, Ala., following the Mass.
Hand-lettered banners, brought to display during a noon rally and silent march through city streets, were the order of the day. Some proclaimed proudly that the bearer was "Pro-Woman, Pro-Child, Pro-Life" or a "Feminist for Life." Others announced that "The Natural Choice Is Life." A colorful T-shirt bore the suggestion "Give Life a Chance."
As the congregation exited the Shrine and walked slowly toward the Capitol, a small group of pro-choice advocates jeered from a street corner. Capitol Avenue was sealed off for the rally and mounted police and foot patrolmen kept peace as the pro-life crowd grew to an estimated 2,400.
Sponsored by Georgia Right to Life, a statewide, non-denominational public service group, the rally at the Capitol included inspirational music, prayer and a variety of speakers.
A brief statement was read on behalf of Sandra Cano, plaintiff in the Doe vs. Bolton case which, with its companion suit Roe vs. Wade, was the impetus for the Jan. 22, 1973 Supreme Court ruling recognizing abortion as a constitutional right.
"I am against abortion. I never had an abortion," Cano, standing beside the speaker, had written. "The entire case was based on fraud. If you're seeking an abortion, please get help."
Archbishop Donoghue, who had traded liturgical vestments for a warm overcoat, addressed the crowd with an impassioned protest against "an unjust law" that fails to protect unborn lives and threatens to tear the country apart.
The archbishop referred to bombings and violence directed at abortion proponents as "abhorrent to us and to all civilized peoples."
"Let us resolve never to capitulate to our weaker natures," he said. "Let us mark this infamous anniversary...by turning it to our good purpose, by resolving never to tire in our efforts to promote just and proper laws...that protect all life and liberty."
The archbishop invited the assembly to pray with him for strength and endurance.
"One day people will look back and wonder in amazement how the citizens of this country ever sank to such a low point," he said. "And they will wonder with equal amazement how the God of truth brought them back to their senses."
The crowd held its collective breath as registered nurse Brenda Pratt Schafer recounted her conversion to a pro-life philosophy, cataloguing the grisly steps involved in partial-birth abortions she witnessed three years ago.
Mary Ann McNeil, a St. Jude's parishioner and social worker who has offered post-abortion counseling to women over the past nine years, listened to rally speakers from a spot across the street from the Capitol. McNeil's two children sat on the sidewalk beside her, leaning against Central Presbyterian's strong iron fence as they ate their bag lunches.
"I came because it's important," said Patrick McNeil, an eighth-grader at St. Jude's School who was flanked by a row of classmates.
His sister Celeste, a St. Jude's sixth-grader, agreed that honoring the rights of the unborn was a matter of concern. Quoting from the popular Dr. Seuss book, "Horton Hears a Who," she remarked with conviction, "A person's a person no matter how small."