By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — Throughout the year, Iowa City-area residents pray in front of the Emma Goldman Clinic, which provides abortions. But during the 40 Days for Life campaign, this prayer vigil ministry takes on a new level of urgency. For 40 days in the spring and again in the fall, participants take round-the-clock shifts to pray for the unborn, for women and their partners facing an unplanned pregnancy, for those working in the abortion industry, for those working at pro-life facilities and others impacted by abortion.
It’s a campaign that has passionate support in Iowa City, observes Sheryl Schwager, executive director of Johnson County Right to Life (JCTRL). “Iowa City has the tragic distinction of being home to three locations where abortions are performed: Emma Goldman Clinic, University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics and Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortions in the country. There are many passionate pro-life advocates who are dedicated to overcoming this plethora of death in our community and fostering a culture of life.”
For the fall campaign which continues through Nov. 5, people who have been involved with past 40 Days for Life campaigns wrote testimonies about their passion for participating. They are being published in JCTRL’s 40 Days for Life promotional materials. Some of the testimonies are shared here.
Fr. Rudolph Juarez, pastor, St. Patrick Parish — Iowa City
“When I was in junior high school, I participated in a picket line because of the grape boycott sponsored by the Farm Workers Union. I remember the insults hurled at me. That experience steeled in me the conviction that it is important to stand up for what you believe no matter what price you have to pay. Some have given their lives: the martyrs did, soldiers have — and all because of their ideals.
“While praying before an abortion clinic is not a protest, it certainly puts you on the vulnerable end of things. When I pray before the clinic it is about ‘presence’ not ‘protest.’ And indeed the presence of which I speak is the interior abiding of God in me, and the simple statement my physical body is making near the sidewalk — of mindfulness and prayer for all to see.
“I participate in 40 Days for Life because I can. I participate because the most vulnerable don’t have a voice. I participate because maybe something will click in the heart and mind of someone about to terminate an innocent life. I participate because there it is humbling to lose myself in an action that is the presence of good in this community and the world.”
Mary Anderson, St. Wenceslaus Parish, Iowa City
Among other reasons for participating in 40 Days for Life, “I hope to start conversations about things like what a person is, how our rights are defined, what alternatives to abortion exist for an unexpected pregnancy.”
Gary Sieren, St. Wenceslaus Parish, Iowa City
“I pray on the sidewalk as a public witness in defense of the unborn and for mothers who are facing a very difficult set of circumstances. I pray that mothers, considering an abortion, will recognize my presence as loving outreach for their welfare and that they will choose life and spare themselves of a lifelong torment of having aborted their child.”
David Fetzer, St. Wenceslaus Parish, Iowa City
“My reasons for praying for the last several years in front of Emma Goldman Clinic in the fall and spring on cold mornings is because of all the kindness God has showered upon me by giving me a beautiful loving mother and father who loved me every bit as much as my seven siblings.
“I typically say nothing to those walking into the clinic because I am praying for them. My prayers begging God to intercede into their life are way more powerful than my verbal words that may easily be misspoken or misconstrued. I am often moved to tears as I witness pregnant mothers carrying their precious child through the door of no return. I truly feel I need to be there for these women. I ask God to touch their heart and give their precious baby the same opportunity they received from their parents … the same opportunity my parents gave me: life.
Do I get honked at? Yes. Do I get mocked? Yes. Do I have other things to do? Yes. Do I ask my employer for time off to do this each week? Yes. Is it scary? A little a first … but I have an amazing guardian angel who has saved me from many things worse than a car honking or someone’s opinion. Are we not followers of Christ? Did he not teach us in Mathew’s Gospel: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Patty Benzing, St. Mary Parish, Solon
“I pray on the sidewalk because my peaceful, prayerful presence is a visible testament to the pro-life movement. I can’t be pro-life but ‘silent’. Many people in our society are easily swayed from their beliefs by what they perceive to be the majority. By taking a public stance for Life, I am encouraging others to hold fast to their pro-life beliefs.”
Jacob and Ellen Poliskey, St. Wenceslaus Parish, Iowa City
“We pray outside of the Emma Goldman clinic because it’s important to fight against the culture of death with both serious prayer and being present as a witness to the sanctity of life. We can’t wait to pray there this year and show off our own little miracle and testament to the beauty of life—Gabriel!”
Mark Onken, St. Wenceslaus Parish, Iowa City
“As a Catholic and as a Knight of Columbus, I feel it is my duty to come to the aid of the weak and the helpless, to give a voice to the voiceless. I pray for the unborn lives lost, but I also pray for the young women who are so scared and helpless that they feel like they have no other place to turn. It may not seem like much, but I feel that, with God’s help, anything is possible.”
Mike Leuck, Newman Catholic Student Center, Iowa City
“My reason for praying in front of the Emma Goldman clinic is simple – I pray to stop the killing of innocent life.”