Despite temperatures in the mid-teens and winds that made it feel closer to zero, hundreds marched to the state capitol in Augusta on Saturday, January 12, to advocate for the protection of human life from conception to natural death.
“We need to stand up for human life. We need to give a voice to those who don’t have one. The child in the womb is the most vulnerable in our society. They are just as human as any one of us, and that is something that we need to stress and we should be supporting,” said Brendan Fedrizzi, age 17, from Waterboro.
“I wanted to be here to show support for the pro-life movement and to show that young people do care about life,” said Ashley Pezanowski, age 22 from Rockland. "I think it’s important because college-aged kids are oftentimes focusing the other way, so showing that it’s true even for us college age kids is very important.”
The Hands Around the Capitol rally, sponsored by Maine Right to Life, is held annually in mid-January to recognize and mourn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion. It is an opportunity to join in prayer, to learn about the work being done to protect and uphold the dignity of all human life, and to make a public statement to fellow residents, as well as government leaders.
The rally drew hundreds of participants from communities throughout Maine.
“I’m carrying a cane after falling on the ice, and I had to make a choice this morning whether to stay in bed or to support the life moment, and I thought it was more important to support the pro-life movement,” said Ray Sargent, a member of the Knights of Columbus from Sanford.
"People are not taking life into hearts and really seeing the value," said Kristie Lagasse of Windsor, who said she attended to pray, to show support for the pro-life movement, and to set an example for her children. "I think we just have to keep the fight going, keep making people aware."
The Hands Around the Capitol Event began with Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert Deeley at St. Mary of the Assumption Church, located not far from the statehouse. In his homily, the bishop spoke of the need to continue to advocate for the protection of life, while at the same time, modeling to the world God's love and mercy.
"We all come here today convinced of the value of each human life and wanting through our witness to help others to try to come to appreciate and treasure the gift which is life," the bishop said. "It is heartening to know that statistics seem to indicate that the number of abortions in our state is declining, but we continue our advocacy in the hope that we will find a way for all in our society to embrace an ethic which values all human life from conception to natural death."
The bishop said gathering in prayer provides an opportunity to show gratitude for what God has done for us in creating the world.
"I mention this because I think that the denial that creation is according to the plan of God is the real source of our discomfort with the society in which we live. It is the denial of the plan of God that leads to the cheapening of human life," the bishop said. "If the world is not created by God, we as human beings begin to feel that we can mold it to our own notion of truth, including discarding the pieces that don’t fit into our plan. Our faith tells us something different about ourselves and God, but it is a truth that is also embedded in human reason."
The bishop said we were born to live in relationship with one another, but too often, the focus now is on the individual.
"When the individual stands alone, relationship is lost. And when we lose an appreciation of the importance of relationship in our lives, God is lost. God is love. Love requires a relationship. That is the message of the Gospel. If we make the individual concerned only for self, then the attention to God fades. God is not necessary. I know how to care for myself. And the result of the loss of God is the evil we confront in our world today. God’s plan for the world has no value. What is important is my plan for me."
It was a message that resonated with those who attended the Mass and participated in the rally.
"I think that the bishop’s message was wonderful. The focus on self, that I can do this, that I don’t need God is kind of a dangerous one. It’s leading us in the wrong direction," said Dianne Fazio, who traveled form Westbrook to attend. "I don’t think I could have stayed away. When we think of the enormity of that number -- 61 million lives lost in the safest place that you would think that a person could be, in the womb, I couldn't possibly stay away."
“I wanted to come to experience this, pray with other people. We know that prayer is powerful," said Kathleen Hale, from South China. "[I wanted to] show my support for this, let people know that even if they’ve had an abortion there is support and love for them and forgiveness."
Following the Mass, which was concelebrated by Father John Skehan and Father Arokiasamy Santhiyagu, HGN, participants headed to the St. Michael School gymnasium for an hourlong rally that included presentations by the bishop; Teresa McCann-Tumidajski, the executive director of Maine Right to Life; former Congressman Bruce Poliquin; State Senator Stacey Guerin of Glenburn; and representatives from Students for Life of America and the Maine Vitae Society.
Holding octagonal "Stop Abortion Now" signs in gloved hands, participants then marched to the statehouse, encircling part of it, while the capitol bell was rung 46 times, once for each year that has passed since the Roe v. Wade decision. Each time the bell tolled, a red rose was placed on the ground. The rally concluded with a moment of silence for the lives lost to abortion.