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BOSTON — About 2,000 Massachusetts residents showed their support for life by participating in the annual Respect Life Walk to Aid Mothers and Children on Oct. 2, but many Catholics who marched began Respect Life Sunday earlier in the day by praying the rosary and celebrating Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.
"One child makes a difference. One life can make a difference," Archbishop Seán P. O'Malley said in his homily. "We must love and respect life from the moment of conception to natural death."
The archbishop stressed that the pro-life movement is not just about changing laws but about showing compassion and giving support to women facing crisis pregnancies.
"It is often economic stress that leads people to abort their babies. Oftentimes, great psychological harm is done to a woman who aborts a child. There is always grave spiritual damage done to everyone involved in abortion," he said.
After the Mass, Marianne Luthin, director of the archdiocesan Pro-Life Office, thanked Catholics from the 96 parishes and organizations that sponsor “baby showers” to benefit mothers who choose to keep their babies. Those who came to the cathedral were acknowledged with a rosary for their service. With their help, the archdiocese is able to provide women with food, clothing, health care, housing and support, Luthin said.
"Every month more than 100 women in crisis pregnancies receive a wide range of services from our archdiocesan crisis pregnancy center, Pregnancy Help," she added.
Most of those who attended the Mass headed to the Boston Common for the 19th annual Respect Life Walk, sponsored by Massachusetts Citizens for Life. People of all ages rallied on the Boston Common before the march, and donated money they solicited from sponsors. The walk acts as a fundraiser for 47 organizations that provide women facing crisis pregnancies with counseling, housing, medical care, and material as well as financial aid, he said.
Peg Whitbread, president of MCFL, addressed the crowd, urging them to support women and to take their pro-life views to the ballot box.
"We can replace those who favor a culture of death with ones that support a culture of life," she said.
The archbishop also spoke, stressing the importance of the right to life.
"We want to reach out in love and understanding and invite people to see that our mission is to defend human life. That is not imposing our religion on anybody. The foundational documents of democracy in our country say that 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' are what it's all about," he said. "The first inalienable right is that of life, and if that is diminished, all other rights are put at risk."
Featured speaker Gary Cangemi, creator of the pro-life comic strip “Umbert the Unborn” about a baby in the womb, brought an “e-mail” from the comic strip’s title character.
"I'm very lucky," the message read. "I have two parents who love me and want me. I heard them say I was a gift from God. I'm glad my parents believe in God. You know what? God believes in my parents too. How do I know? He gave them me."
"But not all kids are as lucky as me," it read. "I want to thank you all for braving the streets of Boston to stand up for all us unborn kids."
Despite the serious nature of the event, Cangemi kept his tone lighthearted by using word play and sports references throughout Umbert’s e-mail. He also gave a dozen young people signs to carry in the march. Some of them read, “Unborn kids are people too,” “Life is like baseball. Everybody deserves a chance to bat” and “Save future Red Sox fans. Stop abortion.”
The walk began at the corner of Beacon and Charles Streets where participants were met by over 50 protesters chanting, “Pro-life, that’s a lie. You don’t care if women die.” Several of the protesters wore grim reaper costumes.
Some participants in the walk replied with their own chant, “Pro-choice, what a lie. Babies never choose to die,” but most of the time they walked quietly through the streets of downtown Boston. Some groups prayed the rosary.
Many young people from parish youth groups and area colleges brought banners with them to let people know they support women facing crisis pregnancies.
Colleen Pearl said she has been participating in the walk for all 15 years of her life and walks every year so that future generations will be able to live and to know that abortion is wrong.
Colleen, a parishioner at St. Joseph Parish in Holbrook, wore a shirt she bought on RockForLife.com that read, “You will not silence my message. You will not mock my God. You will stop killing my generation.”
Paullette Martinvielle, from Holy Trinity Parish in Fall River, said the event is “very positive and uplifting.”
"It's good to see more of the younger people taking part and seeing the value of life, because that's our future," she said.
Wendy Moore, part of a group from St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine in Boston, said that giving women the option to abort their children is imprisoning them in a choice of death.
"It's a choice of isolation," she said.
Moore said she wants to support women in making the right choice, one that will not lead them to “spiritual imprisonment and deep sadness.”
"Many women who get an abortion feel like they don't have a choice," she said, adding that she wants to say to them, "I will support you so that you can make a choice you can live with."
Michael and Whitney Pencina have participated in the walk together for four years and were married just over a year ago. Being pro-life has a new significance for them now that they are hoping for a new life in their family, they said.
"The value of life is particularly precious and dear to us," Michael Pencina said.