By George P. Matysek Jr., Catholic News Service
BALTIMORE (CNS) — As Jim Havens stood on a Howard Street sidewalk in front of a Planned Parenthood facility in downtown Baltimore Nov. 14, a man on a parked dirt bike across the street repeatedly revved his engine in an attempt to interrupt and drown out Havens’ pro-life message.
Undeterred, the speaker told a gathering of nearly 100 men from across the country that the pro-life movement will not be silenced.
“By God’s grace, we’re saying yes to be here — to stand up for the least of these who are being murdered by the thousands every day (through abortion),” Havens said. “The forces of evil don’t want that message out. They want to hide it — call it Planned Parenthood, call it health care. This is evil.”
The Baltimore Planned Parenthood facility, adorned with rainbow flags, is located right next to a pro-life pregnancy resource center known as Options@328. It was the starting point of a two-mile walking pilgrimage to the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, where the U.S. bishops were holding their fall meeting Nov. 14-17.
The pilgrimage and rally, which Havens’ helped organize, was known as the National Men’s March to Abolish Abortion and Rally for Personhood. It was the second year the grassroots event has been held during the bishops’ annual fall meeting in Baltimore. This year’s gathering attracted a noticeably smaller crowd than last year’s inaugural effort.
Havens urged men to repent for any role they may have played in promoting abortion and for not standing up against abortion. He said they must resolve to do more so that a day will come when abortion is “illegal in law and unthinkable in culture, so that nobody would even consider it.”
Frank Cassidy, from Helotes, Texas, was among those who said he has repented for his role in abortion. More than three decades ago, he agreed with a medical recommendation to end the life of his unborn son, who was diagnosed with physical and mental disabilities.
“We need to heal,” said Cassidy, who encouraged men to turn to the sacrament of reconciliation.
John White participated in the pilgrimage with his 4-year-old adopted son, Ambrose Dominic White. Holding dangling rosaries, the father and son from Fort Denaud, Florida, prayed with other participants as they passed Baltimore landmarks, including the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
At the time the march passed the basilica, the bishops were inside celebrating Mass.
“Ambrose could have been one of those statistics, but a brave, brave birth mother chose life,” White told the Catholic Review, news outlet of the Baltimore Archdiocese.
In the wake of this year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion across the country, White said men are called to be responsible for their actions.
“They have the obligation to raise their children,” he said.
During their walk to the hotel, some participants carried pro-life flags and graphic images. The men were confronted by a handful of people who shouted expletives at them and made obscene gestures, with one telling them to “get out of our city.”
At the rally outside the hotel, Alan Keyes, a former presidential candidate and Maryland senatorial candidate, asserted that tolerance for abortion will lead to other forms of killing. He said the bishops are not doing enough to oppose abortion, a sentiment echoed by other speakers.
Havens praised San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone for denying Communion to U.S. Speaker of the House and Baltimore native Nancy Pelosi. He distributed signs emblazoned with the message, “Enforce Canon 915,” a section of church law that he believes requires the denial of Communion to Catholic politicians who support legal abortion.
The canon says “those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy Communion.”
Last year, Pope Francis called abortion “homicide,” but also said he has never denied Communion to anyone. He has encouraged what he calls a more pastoral approach.
Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Texas, and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph L. Coffey of the U.S. Archdiocese for U.S. Military Services, together led the joyful mysteries of the rosary at the rally outside the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront at the conclusion of the National Men’s March.
Bishop Strickland said there is no debate that life begins at the moment of conception.
“Science tells us and our faith tells us,” said Bishop Strickland, noting that life must be protected from conception until natural death. “The world doesn’t want to hear that truth, but we have to pray for a change of heart of the highest leaders of this land. We need to work for elected officials who support life.”
Bishop Coffey encouraged men not to give up.
“Never give in to despair,” he said. “We know who has the final victory. That’s Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We have the final victory, but we have to keep fighting these fights along the way.”
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Matysek is managing editor of the Catholic Review, news outlet of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.