January 29, 2016

Evening Vigil for Life reflects ‘darkness’ and the call to be light

Deacon Michael Braun, director of the archdiocesan Secretariat of Pastoral Ministries, leads a eucharistic procession during the Vigil for Life at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Jan. 21. Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin carries the Blessed Sacrament at the back of the procession. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Deacon Michael Braun, director of the archdiocesan Secretariat of Pastoral Ministries, leads a eucharistic procession during the Vigil for Life at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Jan. 21. Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin carries the Blessed Sacrament at the back of the procession. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Pro-life advocate Maria Hernandez did not travel to Washington for the March for Life this year as she has for the three past years. She may be one of the few who did not cite the weather as the reason.

Addressing the participants of the Vigil for Life, she explained her absence from the march.

“This year, I am blessed to be seven months pregnant with my fifth baby,” she said. “But I still wanted to be part of this important event, so I was very surprised and excited when I received the call inviting me to share my story with all of you on this important day.”

Hernandez, a member of St. Ann Parish in Indianapolis, was one of three speakers at the archdiocesan Vigil for Life held at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on the evening of Jan. 21, the night before the 43rd anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court decisions legalizing abortion. (See a gallery of photos from the event here)

This is the second year for the vigil, an event the archdiocese hopes to make annual, according to Deacon Michael Braun, director of the archdiocesan Secretariat of Pastoral Ministries.

“It’s important [to offer this vigil] because on Jan. 22, many people can’t participate in the local solemn observance of Roe v. Wade,” he explained. “This gives them an opportunity to pray the night before.”

About 250 people participated in the event, many of them lining up for the sacrament of reconciliation while praise and worship music resounded in the cathedral.

Hernandez presented the first witness. She spoke of her own unwanted pregnancy, and how her choice to have her baby changed her life.

“Because I did that, God has blessed me in so many ways,” she said. “Because of my little girl [Sara], I met my wonderful husband Daniel, who legally adopted her. If Sara didn’t exist, my family would not exist either. Abortion destroys lives, families and entire generations!”

Hernandez chose to have her baby despite being far from her home in Mexico, despite being in a dead-end relationship, and despite feeling lonely and angry with God.

“[Sara] helped me understand how big and pure is the love that God has for us, his children, regardless of our mistakes. …

“If you have messed up big time, like I did, you have a treasure in your hands. You have the power of your testimony. You have the power to save others from making huge mistakes. Don’t be afraid to share your stories. God can turn our mess into a message!”

Debbie Miller, the next speaker, used her “mess” to create Healing Hidden Hurts, a ministry that provides counseling to lead those “affected by abortion to reconciliation, restoration, and peace of mind and heart.”

She shared how, married and having two children, she came to have an abortion at the age of 23. Her husband had been out of work for months. When she told him she was expecting their third child, he worried that they could not afford another baby. She was told to get an abortion, or he would leave.

“I told myself it was one of those hard things in life, that I had to put it behind and move on,” Miller said.

Moving on from the abortion did not prove so simple. Her suffering increased over the course of the next 10 years.

“Immediately afterward, I experienced a deep sadness, then inappropriate, exploding anger, followed by emotional numbing, an inability to express sadness or joy. Toward the end [of the 10 years] I was crying, sobbing for no reason, along with intense emotional pain, which led to impulses to commit suicide.”

The thoughts of suicide scared Miller. She returned to Mass, then participated in a Christ Renews His Parish weekend that led to her reversion back to Catholicism and her relationship with God. She went to confession, had her civil marriage blessed and again started to receive the Eucharist.

“It was only by the grace of God and our commitment that [my husband and I] remained married,” she said. “A few years ago, my husband was baptized and entered the Church. Recently, we celebrated 44 years of marriage.”

She started Healing Hidden Hurts in 1999 “to be the woman that I had searched for when I needed help to heal from my abortion pain. In addition to the divine touch of the sacraments, sometimes we need the human touch from another woman—someone to listen, cry with us or hold us.”

The need for such a ministry as a result of the culture of death meshed with Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin’s reflection on darkness and light.

“It’s fitting that we meet in vigil, after the sun goes down,” he said. “We gather conscious of a darkness that is produced not by the setting of the sun, but by the eclipse of an ethic that recognizes all life as a gift from God. …

“How much darkness has been created by the decisions of the Supreme Court that were published on Jan. 22, 1973? How much has this darkness brutalized the American soul? When has it been acceptable for highly trained and idealistic people who are sworn to heal, to speak about selling body parts of little ones while sipping wine and eating a salad?” he asked, referring to the release of secretly taped videos in 2015 allegedly exposing Planned Parenthood of selling fetal remains.

The battle against the culture of death is not an easy one, the archbishop said.

“Changing hearts is always the hardest part,” he admitted. “Hearts that are hardened are the hardest to change. But we must never tire of clarifying the misunderstanding and shedding light where there is myth and confusion, demonstrating empathy and compassion and a deeper vision. Our task is to present the truth with civility, empathy and clarity.”

Archbishop Tobin reminded those present that they “are [God’s] people, called out of darkness into his own wonderful light. In the darkness of this vigil, in the darkness of our world, we witness together the vulnerability of God who is hopelessly in love with his creation.”

He concluded his talk by addressing Christ in the Blessed Sacrament on the altar before him.

“Lord Jesus, present here in the Holy Eucharist, you are the light of the world. No darkness can overcome you.”

Archbishop Tobin then began a eucharistic procession along the aisles of the cathedral before concluding the vigil.

Many of those present at the vigil were youths whose trips to the March for Life in Washington were cancelled due to the impending snowstorm. Students from Marian University, Roncalli High School and some West Deanery parish schools—all in Indianapolis—and even from high schools in the Lafayette Diocese, cited cancelled trips yet a desire to pray in union with those in Washington as their reason for coming to the vigil.

“I’m glad there’s something to do to be in solidarity with everyone tonight,” said Olivia Kalscheur of Marian University.

Madeline Smith, a 16-year-old home-schooled student and a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis, agreed.

“It’s not as big [as the March for Life], but it’s still great to be connected,” she said.

David Love, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis who was received into the full communion of the Church in 2013, felt that coming to the vigil was “the same thing as going to D.C. in heart.”

Love has never attended the March for Life, but is drawn to the Catholic Church’s active stance in support of the sanctity of life.

“Being pro-life just wasn’t a focus [of my former faith tradition],” he said. “You knew abortions were bad, but it wasn’t a major topic.

“I’m glad we have this opportunity for those of us not able to take off work and travel, to link our hearts with those who are there [in Washington].” †

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