Vigil brings believers together in life prayers
People walked and prayed in all kinds of weather for 960 hours
By Joanne Flemming
Ellen Wilhelm of Manitowoc couldn't even imagine herself praying on a busy street corner outside an abortion clinic. She feared there might be protests or confrontation.
Instead, the St. Francis of Assisi parishioner found that it "was so prayerful, so rightly done, a very holy experience."
Wilhelm was one of hundreds of people of different faiths who took turns praying in two-hour shifts for 40 days in May and June - a total of 960 hours - asking for an end to abortions performed at the Medical Arts Building in Green Bay. Their vigil ended on June 19.
Lori Koschnick, Newton, vigil organizer, said more than 700 people signed statements of peace, agreeing to maintain a "peaceful, prayerful presence" on the sidewalks outside the clinic. And more than 1,000 wristbands were given to participants to wear during the event.
Tom Donovan, diocesan pro-life ministry coordinator, said the vigil "made visible the reality that abortion takes place in our community. I think there has been a tremendous amount of increased awareness."
Tina Pallini of Ss. Peter & Paul and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishes, Green Bay, said, "So many people came together to pray for the end of abortions. It was an ecumenical effort to pray for awareness of the sacredness of life."
Pat Boyer, Green Bay, head of the Christians in Business Association, estimated that participants included representatives of 12 or more non-Catholic churches. He estimated spending 22 hours himself praying at the vigil. Jim Freund, De Pere, who is Jewish, reportedly participated from midnight to 4 a.m. on 38 of the 40 days.
Each vigil day was divided into 12 two-hour shifts, Koschnick said. People could sign up on-line or at their churches. Many parishes from throughout the diocese signed up for full or
partial days. Participants mainly came from the Green Bay/De Pere area; others came from Manitowoc. There were some from the Milwaukee Archdiocese. Holy Rosary Parish, Kewaunee, sent a school bus with 20 middle schoolers, Koschnick said.
Participants walked with a "slow, meditative pace" around the front, side and back of the Medical Arts Building, which is on a corner. Koschnick said she heard them praying rosaries, chaplets of Divine Mercy and the Stations of the Cross. They could also say prayers and sing hymns printed on the back of the anti-abortion Life Chain signs they carried.
The vigil continued through all kinds of "Wisconsin weather," said Diane Ellis, Rockland, a member of the Latin Mass Association. The first few days participants experienced freezing rain, high winds and even a tornado, said Koschnick. Temperatures were in the 90s when it ended.
"Whatever (the weather) was was OK because you knew Christ was there with you," Pallini said. "It was whatever he decided to bring."
When groups arrived, members tended to stay together because they didn't know what to expect, Koschnick said. As they became more comfortable with the vigil, they separated and went their own ways to pray.
Pallini said participating was "out of the box for me, out of my comfort zone." However, the vigil "raised awareness that something was going on here that is wrong."
Other highlights from the vigil:
People of all ages took part, including elderly, some of whom had difficulty walking or were in wheelchairs.
David Parker, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, Pulaski, said that when his doctor ordered him to walk as therapy for his back, he decided to do it on the vigil's 2-4 a.m. shift Monday through Friday.
Josey Kanzenbach, Ss. Peter & Paul Parish, Green Bay, who with her husband participated for 54 hours, said the day of the Bellin Run a runner prayed two rosaries as he walked with them.
A seminarian, who had run the Bellin, walked another four hours at the vigil.
Diane Sutton and Carol Seward, who organized the North Dallas 40-day vigil in Texas, spent three days at the Green Bay event.
Medical staff from nearby Bellin Hospital and the public told vigil participants they were unaware abortions were performed at the Medical Arts Building and/or thanked them for their prayers.
Three women who had scheduled abortions decided not to go through with the procedures after vigil participants explained what other options they had.
When asked what would happen next, Koschnick said she hoped that people would continue to pray on their own. A database of participants is being set up so they can remain connected. And there are discussions about holding a 40-day prayer vigil in Madison.