July 1, 2022

‘God’s love’ and a priest’s calm prevail in tense moments at pro-life prayer gathering at the Indiana Statehouse

Pro-life youths and young adults stand behind Father Rick Nagel as he offers a prayer of thanksgiving for the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision during a June 25 prayer gathering on the grounds of the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. A small group of pro-choice protestors shouted as Father Nagel offered his comments and a blessing to both the protestors and the 200 pro-life supporters at the gathering. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Pro-life youths and young adults stand behind Father Rick Nagel as he offers a prayer of thanksgiving for the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision during a June 25 prayer gathering on the grounds of the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. A small group of pro-choice protestors shouted as Father Nagel offered his comments and a blessing to both the protestors and the 200 pro-life supporters at the gathering. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Father Rick Nagel admitted his heart was pounding in that moment.

He had been quickly called upon to give a final blessing during a June 25 prayer gathering on the grounds of the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis, a prayer gathering that had suddenly turned so tense and confrontational that it drew the presence of at least five Indiana State Police officers.

For most of the nearly hour-long, morning prayer gathering—sponsored by Right to Life of Indianapolis, Indiana Family Institute and Students for Life of America—about 200 pro-life supporters had come together in response to the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision to end national legalized abortion. They had come together to pray “for protection for the preborn, for pregnant moms, for our state leaders and for all those affected by abortion,” according to the gathering’s organizers.

At the same time, in a different part of the state capitol grounds, thousands of people had assembled to protest the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. (See all our coverage of the Dobbs decision)

For the most part, the prayer gathering and the protest rally kept their distance from each other until a group of about 15 or so protestors disrupted the prayer gathering, some of them weaving through it with their protest signs while others tried to shout down some of the prayer gathering’s speakers.

Amid that tense situation, the microphone was passed to Father Nagel, the pastor of nearby St. John the Evangelist Parish.

As some pro-choice advocates continued to yell, a line of pro-life youths and young adults stood behind Father Nagel as he began, “Thank you all for being here today. We love everybody who’s on this lawn. Every single person—we love all of you. So, thank you for being here. Thank you for expressing your opinions. And thank you for praying.

“For all of you who have prayed today in thanksgiving to the Lord, we thank you for your courage for being here today. My parents were great warriors in the front end of this in 1973, so I’m blessed because I had parents who taught me about the dignity of all human life, made in the image of God.”

As a few protestors continued shouting, Father Nagel also continued, “So we thank God for parents and grandparents and all the faithful who have been on the front line, who have peacefully and prayerfully marched for life for nearly 50 years now. Thank you for all the courage for all these years.”

As the shouting from the small group of protestors grew louder, Father Nagel prayed, “Lord, bless us as we continue to seek to defend the dignity of all human life. Bless all of my brothers and sisters who gather here today, some who feel differently, who believe differently than we do. We love them, we care for them, we bless them this day in your name.

“We ask that we have hearts that reflect you, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, at this time. That we may be peaceful and prayerful in moving forward as a people that can really reflect the goodness, the beauty and truth of you in our lives, in this community, in the state of Indiana and across the nation. And may Almighty God bless you all in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Let us go in peace. Thanks be to God.”

The blessing from Father Nagel received a roar of applause and cheers from the people who came for the prayer gathering, which ended without any physical confrontations.

Before the tense situation, the gathering had been marked with an air of peace and quiet thanksgiving for the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the United States. The gathering had also been marked by prayers from leaders of churches and organizations who have long been involved in the pro-life movement in Indianapolis. Yet, perhaps most powerful of all was the presence of many young people in the crowd.

“I’m just so proud to be part of the pro-life generation, and that our country is finally acknowledging how much abortion hurts women,” said 20-year-old Larisa Tuttle, a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Carmel, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese. “Women deserve so much more than abortion.”

At 16, Maria Thomas is a member of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis and the co-president and co-founder of a right to life group at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis.

Holding a sign that noted, “Pray for Life and Love,” she said, “I think it’s really important for young women to be here to break the stereotype that it’s only all white men. Pro-life people are a very diverse group of all ages. It’s been amazing meeting people from a number of different schools and so many different backgrounds and experiences. If you believe in equal human rights, you should be supporting the pro-life moment.”

Maria invited her friends, Rebekah and Benjamin Wortinger, to the prayer gathering. They have been married eight months, and the members of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Indianapolis are expecting their first child in two months.

Rebekah held a sign showing a picture of a baby with the message, “Wanted? You bet!”

“I’m glad our baby will be born in a post Roe v. Wade generation,” said Rebekah, who is 18. “But there’s still a lot of work to be done so that other babies get a chance for life.”

Benjamin, who is 20, added, “We believe children are a gift from God. Everywhere in the Bible it says children are a blessing from God always. We’re just glad to experience this as another example of how God loves us.”

Father Nagel shared his emphasis on God’s love later as the prayer gathering came to a challenging close. After he gave the final blessing and a calmer atmosphere returned to the area, Father Nagel stood in the shadow of a large tree and talked about one of the most important points he wanted to convey in that tense moment.

“I just felt a real sense of making sure to tell people that God loves them. Sometimes people don’t know that—people who are so angry, so hurt, so broken—that there’s a God who loves them, too. There’s no reason to be combative. You want to speak the truth with charity. That’s all we can do these days. We have to love people through it.” †

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