Hispanic Catholics pray as they march around Lawrence’s Campagnone Common as part of an Aug. 25 pro-life vigil organized by the Respect for Life Ministry at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish. Pilot photo/ Christine Williams
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LAWRENCE -- With music resounding from speakers on a hot and sunny afternoon, more than 100 Hispanic Catholics danced and celebrated life at Campagnone Common Aug. 25. A billboard on the stage read “Celebremos la vida,” in English “Let us celebrate life.”
But the festivities were much more than a fiesta. It was also a celebration of the lives of the unborn.
The pro-life vigil, held from 5-8 p.m., was the third organized by the Respect for Life Ministry at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Lawrence. The first was held in the park in 2001.
Jose Luis Rodriguez, who started the vigils as well as the pro-life ministry at St. Mary’s, said the outdoor venue draws attention to the event.
“It is a testimony to the people outside the church so that the city of Lawrence can understand that this is something we should be concerned about,” he told The Pilot.
Abortion is a brutal act that cannot be tolerated, and the Catholic Church is rightly concerned about it. The Church not only speaks out about the evil of abortion but also supports women in choosing life by providing assistance to them, he added.
Rodriguez, who moved to the United States from Puerto Rico in 1973, said most of the vigil’s participants were Puerto Rican or Dominican -- as are the majority of Lawrence Hispanics.
The event, entirely in Spanish, began with praise and worship music and continued with a march around the common while participants prayed the rosary. The prayers were recited over the sound system and could be heard throughout the park.
Campagnone Common, located in the north central part of Lawrence, is surrounded by major civic buildings, including city hall, the library, the courthouse and the high school. Also called North Common, the 17.5-acre plot was donated for public use by the Essex Company in 1848. In 1946, the park was dedicated to the three sons of Stephen and Maria Campagnone who died while serving in World War II. Several monuments to fallen Lawrence soldiers from many of the nation’s wars can be found on the common.
The stage area, where the march began, has maintained the circular shape of a fountain and wading pool that was removed years ago.
Rodriguez told participants that the procession is a testimony to the people of the city. Marchers were witnesses to Christ and defenders of the lives of the unborn, he said.
After the procession, the music began again with Luis Ramon Polanco, a singer from Santo Domingo, at the lead. Between songs Polanco spoke about the culture of death, which leads to abortion, violence and alcoholism. He prayed that Christ would grant “new life” to all.
“Fill me with your Spirit and nothing more,” he sang, ending the song saying, “Thank you, Lord.”
Under the “Let us celebrate life” billboard behind him, were pictures of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Sacred Heart of Jesus and a fetus underneath a cross. The pro-life movement has been consecrated to the hearts of Mary and Jesus, Rodriguez said.
The words on the picture with the fetus read, “Why should I die if someone already died for me?”
Rodriguez explained that Christ died for all so that all may live, and so Christians must defend life. He added that he was very happy with the turnout for the event but wished that more priests would have been able to attend.
“We are growing as a ministry in Lawrence but we really need the support of the hierarchy,” he said. “I am very, very concerned about that.”
Rodriguez and other members of the pro-life team from St. Mary’s handed out prayer cards to all participants with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe holding an infant away from a dragon. Then those gathered were asked to spiritually adopt and name a child who may be in danger of being aborted.
Franciso Rosario, a lay preacher from New York, spoke about the image of Mary on the prayer card in his 30-minute, often animated, reflection. His voice reverberated through the common and echoed off surrounding buildings.
Mary is the protector of life because she protected the Christ Child from Herod and his armies when they killed all the male children two years old or younger in Bethlehem. The Slaughter of the Holy Innocents is the saddest moment contained in the Bible. Not only did King Herod want to kill the savior of the world, but he assassinated many children, he said.
Rosario asked how anyone could want to kill a child.
Every country in the world condemns suicide and murder, yet many of them have legalized the killing of children by their mothers and fathers, he said.
But abortion does not just kill a child. It also kills a mother. Once her child dies, her right to be a mother is gone as well as her love and happiness, he said.
Catholics must be guardians of life. To do that, they must speak out against abortion, help pregnant women in need and offer up their pain and suffering for life, Rosario said.
“Being Christian is not a title. It is a way of life,” he added.