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The nation may have turned to Washington on Jan. 27 to hear the message of tens of thousands of pro‑life advocates participating in the 44th March for Life, but not all in support of the effort could be present to lend their voice.
Nearly 300 Catholics in central and southern Indiana who could not travel to Washington to participate in the march came to SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis to celebrate a Vigil for Life on Jan. 25. The event was sponsored by the archdiocesan Secretariat of Pastoral Ministries.
“It was a wonderful team effort of several different offices, and that is one of the reasons that makes it a great event,” said Scott Williams, archdiocesan coordinator for youth ministry.”
He described the Vigil for Life as a “wonderful event that [brings] people of multiple age groups, cultures and backgrounds together for a common reason to pray for life and to celebrate life.”
The two-hour program included music, an opportunity for the sacrament of reconciliation, eucharistic adoration, a reflection and a talk by Ennie Hickman of Adore Ministries, a national organization of lay missionaries who provide Catholic outreach, formation and pastoral care.
“Every time I open up my browser, every time I open up the newspaper, every time I open Twitter, once or twice a day I’m hit with more news that saddens my spirit or makes me worried about the environment in which I’m raising my children,” said Hickman, a father of seven.
“I look at the infanticide that has been going on in our country for the last 40 years. But as anxious as I am, God’s not up in heaven wringing his hands saying, ‘Oh no! What will happen?’ … He will accomplish his will.”
And it is the role of Catholic Christians to help bring about that will, he said, noting that “our job is to be the Church. Our job is to follow [Christ].”
Hickman listed three characteristics of the Church that are important to modern times: the Church follows Christ, welcomes sinners and has the gift of the Holy Spirit.
To the first point, Hickman cautioned against not taking action to follow Christ.
He likened this tendency to telling his son to take out the trash.
“He comes back 30 minutes later and he says, ‘Dad. I memorized what you said.’ That wouldn’t fly.
“What if he came back 30 minutes after that and said, ‘Dad, I memorized what you said, and now I can say it in Greek! And I have this idea—I’m going to invite my friends over once a week, and we’re going to sit around a table, and we’re going to look at what you said and really think about what the world might look like if I took out the trash.’ ”
Hickman again used his children in an example to demonstrate the necessity of actively following Christ.
“If my kids were to play ‘Follow the Leader’ and the leader says ‘flap your wings,’ it wouldn’t fly if one of them went off to the side and said, ‘I’m flapping my wings—in my heart. I’m totally following, I’m just doing it in my heart.’ That doesn’t work.”
The second important characteristic Hickman addressed was the role of the Church as a place for sinners.
“This is not a museum for soon-to-be-canonized saints,” he said. “As the pope points out, it’s a field hospital. The best place for a sinner is the Church. It’s here that we find what we need. It’s here that we find mercy and grace and forgiveness. God doesn’t just not give up on us—he gives us gifts.”
And that point, he said, leads to the third characteristic—the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church.
“God sent us the Holy Spirit,” said Hickman. “He continues to help. If we want to create a better society, then we must accept the gift of the Holy Spirit into our lives—not just figuratively, not just in confirmation, but understanding that any action that the Church exhibits in the world is propelled by the Holy Spirit.”
He pointed to the weakness of the Apostles as proof of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the Church.
“The early Church, they were not smart—they were fishermen! Jesus went to the least, to the margins, to the people that weren’t too smart, because he knew they would be more willing to let the Spirit be the one to move them. Peter became the first pope, he converted thousands, his shadow healed people—not because he was great, but because he was receptive to the Spirit.”
Hickman closed his talk with words of encouragement.
“If you feel like there’s no way you can do anything, remember [Christ] said, ‘I’m going to make my home in you.’
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. … Jesus wants to take it a step further: ‘It’s not me and you—it’s me in you!’ ”
Hickman’s talk was followed by eucharistic adoration, which included a reflection and procession. Both were led by Father John Hollowell, pastor of Annunciation Parish in Brazil and St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle.
“In the Old Testament, people would bring offerings of animals to the priest to offer up as sacrifice,” he explained in his reflection. “As part of that ritual, the priests would wash themselves, don their robes, grab the various instruments they would use for the sacrifice, then they would go before God to offer sacrifices on the altar.”
In the New Testament, he said, “Jesus is now the perfect priest who, unlike the Old Testament, is now offering the perfect sacrifice—himself. … The Mass is a re-presentation of that, the perfect priest offering up to the Father the perfect victim, himself.”
He compared this perfect sacrifice to the evil that takes place at abortion centers.
“At an abortion facility, an abortion ‘doctor’ washes his hands, dons his robes, grabs his instruments and goes to a steel altar where a pregnant woman lays with her perfect child,” he said.
“Evil is perversion of that which is good. The greater the good that is perverted, the greater the evil.”
Father Hollowell closed his reflection with a challenge.
“The saying goes that without the priest, there is no Eucharist,” he said. “I believe there are a lot of you sitting here tonight who Christ is calling to be priests. I invite you to allow him to work through your hands, and bring the Eucharist to a world so desperately needing it.”
Father Hollowell attended last year’s Vigil for Life when “we bailed on our trip [to Washington] because of the storms,” he said in an interview with The Criterion. “As soon as I was here, I was like, ‘This [vigil] needs to grow and keep happening.’ It was just beautiful. …
“It’s prayer. It’s adoration, beautiful music, and to hear some reflections—it’s a great combination. And not everyone can travel out to D.C. We’re all called in different ways to stand up for life. This seems like an awesome way to do that.”
Cathi Wahnsiedler of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis was grateful to be “involved indirectly in the March for Life,” said. “Since we can’t be in Washington at the march, we wanted to be focused on it here.”
Katie Maples and Beth Clark, both members of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, came with their parish’s young adult group to participate.
“We saw that this [vigil] was on our Wednesday meeting night,” said Maples. “We’re very pro-life and wanted to be involved.”
The same was true of members of a men’s group at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, who chose to attend the vigil in place of their regular meeting.
“I’m looking for a prayerful atmosphere,” said Kevin Ellenberger, a member of the group. “Around this issue, there’s a lot of yelling. I think it’s best we don’t yell, that we pray instead.”
Emily Taylor, 15, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis, invited to the vigil members of the pro-life group she started at Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis.
“Usually we have 10-12 [people] at meetings. I sent an e-mail out to the group inviting them tonight,” she said, noting that the group, being in a public school, has “to be very careful to present ourselves as a pro-life club, not an anti-abortion club.”
Emily was pleased to see Birthline volunteers in the narthex at the vigil, and people coming to the vigil with donations for Birthline. The Herron pro-life club she leads held a drive for the archdiocesan ministry providing material assistance to pregnant women and mothers of infants.
Shayna Tews, who entered into the full communion of the Church at the Easter Vigil last year at Annunciation Parish, brought her five children to the vigil, two of whom were altar servers for the event.
“I think it’s fascinating how the Catholic Church really steps up to the plate where life is concerned, where these lives who don’t have a voice suddenly get that voice on a powerful stage—a voice coming from a priest standing right next to the Blessed Sacrament,” she said. “It’s just a powerful witness to the sanctity of human life and the dignity of human life, and I’m so thankful that the Catholic Church is willing to take a stand on it and to pass that voice on.” †