This fall begins the fifth annual campaign of what organizers are calling “the largest and longest co-ordinated pro-life mobilization in history” – 40 Days for Life. The campaign consists of a three-point program: prayer and fasting, constant vigil outside select abortuaries and community outreach aimed at educating the public and raising awareness.
40 Days for Life began five years ago as an isolated event in Texas, organized by a local pro-life group, but proved to be so successful that it has since spread to over 50 cities in Canada, the United States, Ireland and Australia, engaging an estimated 200,000 participants. It was brought to Canada by Campaign Life Coalition in the fall of 2008 in Ottawa and Halifax, before spreading to Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Edmonton earlier this year.
As the name suggests, the campaign spans a 40-day period, this year starting on Sept. 23 and ending Nov. 1. Organizers took their inspiration for this event from the common biblical theme of 40 days as a period of renewal, quoting the Old Testament passage, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
In an interview with The Interim, Canadian national co-ordinator Nicole Campbell called 40 Days for Life “the most successful pro-life initiative in the history of the pro-life movement.” Her enthusiasm is backed by the recorded successes of the campaign, proudly displayed on its website: 1,561 confirmed unborn lives have been saved, 18 abortion workers have quit their jobs, three abortion facilities have permanently shut down and numerous others have been forced to scale back their hours as a result of a drop in clientele. Of course, the full impact will never be known or recorded in numbers.
However, in Campbell’s eyes, the biggest success is that it has caused people to go “from being personally pro-life to being publically pro-life.” As she put it bluntly, “Being personally pro-life does not end abortion and, in fact, if we don’t do anything, then we’re part of the problem.”
She also points out the positive effect the campaign has on Christian unity. “It is a non-denominational event, so it’s very unifying for members of different churches to come together in what we agree on.” Christian leaders of various affiliations are endorsing the event, including Lou Engle, president of The Call, Fr. Frank Pavone, president of U.S. Priests for Life, and Dr. Sonny Foraker, president of Pastors for Life.
Campbell attributes the success of the campaign to the power of prayer and fasting. “40 Days for Life starts where it’s supposed to start, which is with God, and only He can really do something about this.” As well, said Campbell, the campaign’s power lies in the fact that it is “a mission of love … it really changes hearts and minds, because it is based on love and because people see us praying and not holding (protest) signs or being aggressive.”
Eight cities in Canada are participating this year, including a second Toronto location in Scarborough, Fredericton and Kitchener. They join established 40 Days for Life locations in Halifax, Montreal, North York (Toronto), Ottawa and Winnipeg.
The Interim spoke to the co-ordinator of the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge location, Jack Fonseca, about his experience with the campaign. “It is really a revolutionary movement that we haven’t seen for many years,” he said, echoing Campbell’s sentiment, “and it’s really got the potential to change a lot of hearts and minds, which we’ve seen with the results since 2005.”
Fonseca continued: “We really feel that the combination of prayer and fasting is something that the Lord’s going to accept and pour his graces down on our community.”
The biggest initial challenge to bringing 40 Days for Life to a new location, Fonseca said, was getting a leadership team together to help organize the event in his area. That having been settled, the next challenge is to get enough prayer volunteers to fill the nearly 1,000 hours of vigil planned to take place in front of Freeport Hospital in Kitchener, where approximately 20 abortions are done each week.
As of mid-August, 170 people from seven churches had already signed up, but with the schedule aiming for an hour per person, there is an urgent need to fill the remaining time periods to ensure the 24/7, 40-day vigil is kept. As a particularly effective method of recruitment, Fonseca recommends people have their church, prayer group or Bible study “adopt a day” by pledging to fill a 24-hour period. “It is a great way to witness to one’s Christian faith,” he said.
“The thing that I find really encouraging is that probably at least half of the people signing up, willing to take prayer hours, have never done anything pro-life, never been to a pro-life rally or done anything (of that kind) and have never even heard of Campaign Life Coalition.”
Campbell posed a question potential participants may be thinking themselves: “Why bother?” In answer, she drew upon the wisdom of Helpers of God’s Precious Infants founder Msgr. Philip Reilly. She said, “I’d use Monsignor Reilly’s little analogy about the match. He said we’re just little matches outside of these places and sometimes we think our time out there is useless, like ‘Why bother? Why is this important?’ But he said we have to remember that in our culture, every moment is midnight and our little light shines so bright and impacts the darkness more than we’ll ever know and can you imagine not being there at all? It would be totally consumed in darkness. So never, ever question why you’re out there. It is so important.”