020940daysLast fall, Ottawa saw hundreds of pro-lifers of all denominations rise up and head to the streets to participate in the Canadian debut of the 40 Days for Life  campaign. The campaign, developed by American pro-life activist David Bereit is a 40-day vigil of prayer and fasting for an end to abortion.

Over 750 participants in the Ottawa region filled up 960 hours of silent vigil in front of the Morgentaler abortuary in downtown Ottawa from Sept. 23 – Nov. 2, in union with 179 other 40 Days for Life vigils across the United States.

“We were blown away by the zeal of the 40 Days participants,” said Nicole Campbell, the Campaign Life Coalition organizer. “People were so thirsty for the opportunity to put their pro-life title into action.”

According to Campbell, over three-quarters of the 40 Days for Life participants had never been involved in any on-site pro-life activism.

“The approach is not only successful, but simple. The fall campaign saw 614 mothers decide to keep their babies. Christians believe that prayer changes things. It says this over and over in Scripture, so if we want to see change, we best get praying.”

While the 40 Days for Life campaign lasted just under six weeks, many Ottawa participants would not relent. In fact, dozens of participants committed to continuing after the campaign the “prayerful presence” in front of the Morgentaler abortuary on the three days of the week when abortions are committed.

The next 40 Days for Life campaign runs from Feb. 23 through April 5, with the Canadian component of the campaign being spearheaded by Campaign Life Coalition in several major Canadian cities including Ottawa, Winnipeg, Montreal and Toronto.

“We feel that the time is ripe for Canadians to participate in a widespread campaign effort like 40 days for Life, especially since this year marks the 40th year since the omnibus bill that effectively decriminalized abortion here in Canada,” remarked Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition.

The 40 Days for Life Campaign promotional material outlines the biblical value of the number 40: Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days in the desert; Noah spent 40 days in the ark while the earth was renewed and the Isrealites spent 40 years in the desert before they were delivered into the promised land.

According to Hughes,  Canada has been in the desert for 40 years and it is for this reason that this year’s National March for Life theme will be: “Exodus: A Future Without Abortion.”

Pro-life leaders are predicting that 40 Days for Life will act as a springboard from which more long-term efforts are born. In cities throughout the United States, 40 Days for Life is giving birth not only to hundreds of babies who were in danger of abortion, but also to hundreds of new advocates for the unborn and for their mothers.

Several of the “newborn” activists who are still riding the wave from the Ottawa 40 Days for Life campaign made a trip to New York for a weekend of training in December with Monsignor Philip Reilly, a Brooklyn priest who is referred to as “the father of sidewalk counselling.”

“The problem with 40 Days for Life, if it can even be called a problem, is that it is only 40 days long,” said Monsignor Reilly, who founded the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants in 1989 as a sustainable pro-life presence in front of New York’s abortion facilities. The 40 Days for Life organizers second this point, and have begun looking towards more long-term initiatives; especially following the overwhelming success and mobilization of more than 76,000 people throughout the United States and Canada during the fall 2008 campaign.

Reilly and the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants in New York City have been using the “prayerful presence” approach in front of abortuaries faithfully for over 20 years and have now expanded all over the world.

“When the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants began praying and counselling outside of the (abortion facilities) in New York, there were about 43 (such clinics). Now, there are 20. That speaks volumes for the power of prayer and commitment,” Reilly said with a smile.

“I was struck by the simplicity of the whole approach,” said Sue Atkinson, an Ottawa 40 Days for Life participant and side walk counsellor trainee. “It all boils down to love and prayer. We are pro-life because we love and for no other reason.”

When training sidewalk counsellors, Reilly emphasizes that one is not present at an abortuary merely to “save babies,” but that primarily, one must recognize that they are “at the foot of the Cross” and to be in prayer like Mary and John.

The Helpers maintain that if babies are saved, it is wonderful, but that they are present primarily to love the women. “Those who have abortions are surprised and grateful when the Helpers are still loving as they come back out,” explained Reilly.

“What do (people) have to see in the people present outside the abortion mill, Golgotha?” Reilly asked. “They have to see Christ. The only thing that will move people to leave the culture of death is to meet real Christians, to meet Christ.”