Power of prayer evidenced at annual Vigil for Life
Angi Castle and Prissila Burgos often witness the cross.
As sidewalk counselors with a regular Saturday morning shift outside a Bellevue abortion clinic, they see a lot of pain and suffering. They encounter women and families in difficult situations who feel like they’ve run out of options and can’t bring a baby to birth. They see women who continue into the clinic, despite Burgos and Castle trying to persuade them otherwise, despite their offers of help, support, prayers and love.
But the sidewalk counselors, both members of St. Matthew Parish in Bellevue, also have seen the victory of the cross.
On the morning of Sept. 14 – the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross – the two women gave witness to Christ’s victory over death and the power that his sacrifice brings to prayer.
The prayers of people at the nearby Vigil for Life were with them that morning, Castle and Burgos said, when they encountered a couple going to the Bellevue clinic for an abortion, and the women persuaded the parents to reconsider.
The couple already had three children, ages 8, 6 and 2, and couldn’t afford another, they told Castle and Burgos. The women offered the couple everything they could, referring them to alternative, pro-life health services nearby and to other resources. Both even offered to adopt the baby.
“When we stand out here, we don’t just say it,” Castle said. “We mean it.”
Burgos held the mother’s hand and told her of the loss of her own baby, Fatima, when she was just 5 days old, and how two years later Burgos still longs to hold the baby every day. She said she told the mother that she would long for her baby in the same way if she decided on an abortion.
The couple politely listened, the sidewalk counselors said, and the father thanked them but said they would probably go through with the abortion.
The counselors gave the couple a card with information for contacting Essential Pregnancy Services and told them they’d be praying for them.
And others who learned of the encounter were praying, too, across the street at nearby St. Mary Church, where about 300 people gathered for the annual Vigil for Life Mass with Archbishop George J. Lucas.
The counselors were relieved that the couple drove away from the clinic, but still sad that they would likely return, Burgos said.
Meanwhile at Mass, Archbishop Lucas was also feeling sad – and frustrated, he said during his homily.
“I have to confess I’m tired of coming here every year,” the archbishop told the congregation at St. Mary. It was the 11th time he had presided at the annual vigil since becoming archbishop.
“I’m tired of living in a country and state where it’s possible to kill a child in the womb,” he said. “I’m tired of it. I’m impatient for another type of society.”
He compared his impatience to the grumbling and impatience of the Israelites in the desert, after they had been freed from the Egyptians but before they entered the Promised Land.
The first reading at the Mass touched on that story.
God had freed the Jews and fed them every day, but they were focused on what they wanted, “forgetting the mighty works of God,” Archbishop Lucas said.
“We make good plans and have good ideas,” he said, but the Lord’s providence “works in ways we wouldn’t expect.”
The two sidewalk counselors across the street were about to experience that.
‘HERE TO HELP’
They had planned to walk over to St. Mary for the Mass but decided to wait, feeling that the Holy Spirit was prompting them to stay, Castle said.
Soon another vehicle pulled up to the abortion clinic, with another couple inside, she said.
A woman rushed frantically inside, but they were able to wave over her husband, Burgos said. Soon the wife exited the abortion clinic and joined them.
They asked the counselors if they had seen another couple there earlier in the morning. Castle and Burgos told them yes, and that they had talked to them. The wives were cousins.
“We’re here to help,” said the second couple, who had seven children and had overcome financial difficulties of their own. Now they had the resources to help their relatives, they said.
That couple then left the clinic to find the pregnant mother and her husband, to offer that help and hopefully prevent the abortion, Castle said.
The exchange with the second couple seemed to be a sign from God, Burgos said, that he had answered their prayers and everything would be OK for the family in crisis. God seemed to be saying, “I’m in control,” she said.
Sidewalk counselors witness a lot of unhappiness, and things don’t always turn out as they would like, Castle said. So she welcomed that morning’s happy news.
And the two shared what had happened with those at the reception that followed the vigil, which also included a rosary procession to the abortion clinic and back, and Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at the church.
At the reception, the women were handed a microphone so everyone could hear the good news, which was greeted with applause.
And Archbishop Lucas’ earlier homily – about the cross, God’s mysterious providence and his mighty works – rang true.
“Jesus is not dead,” Archbishop Lucas had said. “That’s why we can celebrate the Exaltation of the Cross. He’s alive and he continues to conquer evil with the power of God. And we get to be a part of that.”
“We want to abolish it (abortion) right away,” the archbishop said. “But mostly we want to be part of God’s plan.”
Seeking the Lord’s will and advocating for innocent human life isn’t always the popular thing to do, said Ashley Kokesh, 15, a sophomore at Papillion-La Vista South High School. She participated in the vigil with her twin sister, Liz, and their cousin, Petra Mahowald, also 15 and a sophomore at St. Barnabas Academy in Omaha. They are all part of a local LIFE Runners chapter, which helped coordinate the vigil.
“Most people at school don’t think like us,” Ashley said. That includes “standing up for what you believe in and doing what’s best,” Liz said.
Petra said she felt called to be at the vigil, to be a witness for others.
Abortion, though entrenched in the culture, is not insurmountable for Jesus, who came to save people from sin, the archbishop had said in his homily.
“He’s not afraid of our sins,” he said. “He can transform them.”
Archbishop Lucas prayed for the pro-life congregation “that we don’t grumble or become tired” and that “the mighty power of God will be manifested … in his time and in his way.”