by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — As a junior at Hayden High School here last year, Grace Evans boarded a bus and traveled more than 1,100 miles to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life.
This year, though, coronavirus and security concerns have required the annual event to go virtual.
So, when Evans was given the chance to participate in the annual Ignite Rally and Respect Life Mass in Topeka, she was thrilled.
Evans was just one of some 250 grade school, high school and college students from across the state to attend this year’s events on Jan. 21, both of which were sponsored by the archdiocesan pro-life office. Held annually to commemorate the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions that legalized abortion nationwide on Jan. 22, 1973, this year’s events were made available by livestream for anyone unable to attend in person.
The Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and concelebrated by Bishop John Brungardt of the Diocese of Dodge City, Bishop Carl Kemme of the Diocese of Wichita and Bishop Jerry Vincke of the Diocese of Salina, along with priests from the various dioceses.
In his homily, Bishop Kemme discussed the preeminence of life and the importance of a strong prayer life in order to engage in spiritual battle for the sanctity of life.
“Life is God’s first gift to us. It’s also the gift upon which all the other gifts depend,” he said.
Prayer together was essential, he continued, “so that we will not grow weary in this Herculean struggle to fight for the life of the unborn, for the newborn and for those whose lives are vulnerable.”
“None of us has the strength on our own to do what the Lord asks of us — to complete our mission,” said Bishop Kemme. “But with the Lord at our side, we have strength from above.”
The weapons Christians can draw on in this spiritual battle, he said, are prayer, adoration, the rosary and fasting.
“These are our weapons as Christians as they have been for the saints throughout the centuries,” said Bishop Kemme.
“Even if it seems doubtful and uncertain, we go forth nevertheless,” he said in conclusion. “We must go forth to fight this good fight against evil in our world, knowing that God is at our side, and with him near us and within us, we will accomplish great things.”
During the rally, Shawn Carney, president and CEO of 40 Days for Life, shared his journey to his life’s work. He was an eighth grader, he said, when he first heard the testimony of a former abortion worker at a church in Tyler, Texas.
That one speech changed his life. He went on with others, years later, to found 40 Days for Life, a grassroots pro-life organization now in 960 cities in 64 countries. It allows him to witness to the power of God’s love and mercy.
Take, for example, the story of two pro-life leaders in Manassas, Virginia, he said. They bought the property next door to an abortion clinic and started a pregnancy resource center.
The clinic and the pregnancy center shared one wall — the very wall of the room where abortions were performed regularly. So, the leaders decided to pray more deliberately.
“They got permission to put a [eucharistic] adoration chapel in that back room,” Carney said.
Then one day, a group of women gathered in the pregnancy center to sing the Divine Mercy chaplet, not knowing what effect, if any, they were having on the clinic.
They didn’t have to wait long for their answer. The abortionist came out of the clinic, trembling, asking to see a priest.
“He never did another abortion, and that facility was forced to close and ended up becoming a location for Catholic Charities,” Carney said.
Carney encouraged everyone to “make a resolution to help save a life in 2021.”
That statement definitely impacted Evans.
“It makes me want to go get involved in the community and go and make a difference,” she said. “I don’t know how yet. He’s (Carney) one person. Imagine if we all did something.”