Standing as a witness for Life matters – 40 Days for Life opens in Fort Myers and Sarasota

A group of students from the Bishop Verot Catholic High School Respect Life Club were at the forefront of being public witnesses for life during the opening of the 40 Days for Life Spring Prayer Campaign on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023.

The students, joined by Bishop Frank J. Dewane and dozens of others, led everyone in praying the rosary in front of a Planned Parenthood abortion facility in Fort Myers. Simultaneously, a 40 Days for Life prayer campaign began in Sarasota.

40 Days for Life is an internationally coordinated 40-day campaign that aims to end abortion locally through prayer and fasting, community outreach, and a peaceful all-day vigil in front of abortion mills. The spring campaign encompasses Lent and continues through April 2 (Palm Sunday). Since its 2007 beginnings, 40 Days vigils have led to the saving of more than 22,000 babies as thousands of cities participate. The Diocese of Venice has been involved with 40 Days for Life since the beginning with vigils taking place in the fall – to coincide with October, Respect Life Month – and in the spring – during Lent.

Bishop Dewane celebrated the Ash Wednesday Mass at nearby St. John XXIII Parish and stressed the importance of protecting life while offering words of encouragement to those who stand as public witnesses for life.

“Continue to give of yourself, always lifting up with prayer those who are harmed by abortion,” Bishop Dewane said. “We ask the Lord to be with us, giving us the courage to speak up for life, and to speak up for each individual made in the image and likeness of God.”

Mary, a sidewalk counselor, said she is a counselor today by the blessings and grace of God. She shared her journey of sadness and joy. Now a mother and grandmother, Mary was 16 when she got pregnant. The father was not around, she was a naïve girl who was terrified of the consequences her pregnancy might mean to her family, so she believed she had no other option than to kill her unborn child by having an abortion.

“Abortion was presented as an easy solution to my ‘problem,’” Mary said. “It just opened up other problems of self-destruction… because the guilt took over me.”

It took many years, with the help of the support of several different post-abortion groups (Support After Abortion and Project Rachel are available in the Diocese of Venice), and the care of an understanding husband before she could confront her demons. “I know what I did was wrong, and I know that God forgives me. The hardest part was that I needed to forgive myself.”

Once that forgiveness took hold in her life, Mary became a Pro-Life advocate and is now a sidewalk counselor, offering pregnant mothers positive alternatives to abortion through resources such as pregnancy help centers and counseling. “I know being out here makes a difference. I’ve seen the young mothers choose life. You are changing minds. You are saving lives.”

Many of the Bishop Verot students took part in the National March for Life on Jan. 20, in Washington, D.C. There they joined hundreds of thousands as they became the new “Pro-Life Generation.”

Jeanne Berdeaux, Diocese of Venice Respect Life Director, said 40 Days for Life remains an important component in the multifaceted fight to end abortion. The reason is many people think the fight ended in June 2022 when Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

While a great victory, the ruling did not end abortion, but put the issue in the hands of individual states. For example, in Florida, where there is a Pro-Life governor and legislature, the current law allows abortion up to 15 weeks. Proposed legislation, a so-called heartbeat law, would change that to 6 weeks. Berdeaux said that is not enough as life begins at conception and any access to abortion is wrong.

Bishop Dewane said we need to pray that everyone develops a respect for the dignity of life and for all to stand as a witness for life, being a voice for the voiceless – the unborn.

The Fort Myers prayer vigil is from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily, on the public right-of-way in front of Planned Parenthood at 6418 Commerce Park Drive. In Sarasota, the vigil is 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily outside the regional headquarters of Planned Parenthood, 736 Central Ave.

Participants are welcome to spend as much time as they wish with many Parishes having designated dates and times. Some commit to taking part for a few minutes, an hour, or all day as they stand in the public right-of-way. Appropriate signs will be provided at both sites but are not needed to stand and pray. For those unable to be present in front of an abortion facility, they are encouraged to pray from home and fast for the end of abortion.