MERIDEN – Defenders of life left the 14th annual Respect Life Conference Oct. 19 reenergized, thanks to a day of talks that included keynotes from two of the most prominent leaders in the pro-life movement today: Jeanne Monahan, president of the March for Life Educational and Defense Fund; and political activist and former ambassador Dr. Alan Keyes.
"I think the reason this country is failing is because Christians have stopped following their calling" that is found in "God’s authority," said Dr. Keyes during his talk.
"We have to restore our Christian foundation or our nation will perish," said the former ambassador to the United Nations, who ran against Barack Obama in his 2004 Illinois bid for the U.S. Senate. "By taking God out of politics, we will be returning to the dark night of the soul."
Repeatedly referencing the "predators" and "liars" who are abusing the United States Constitution and Declaration of Independence, he stated, "The American people have repeatedly said that they don’t want so many of the things that are going on," naming rising debt, the Affordable Care Act, a rise in poverty, the culture of death, and the redefinition of marriage as examples. "It’s destroying the moral spirit of our country."
Noting that "one day, we may be called to bear witness" to rights and beliefs, Dr. Keyes challenged the audience to "stand up for truth" and work to secure "our God-given rights."
The event is sponsored each year by the Pro-Life Outreach Ministry at Holy Angels Parish to observe October as Pro-Life Month.
"It was a great speech," said Jim Hafey of Holy Family Parish in Enfield, of the 90-minute talk by Dr. Keyes. "He inspired me about what we know is the truth as Catholics. He understands the issues of our country," and is "a person who lives what he believes."
In her remarks, Ms. Monahan, whose organization coordinates the March for Life, reflected upon that event’s last 40 years, during which 55 million abortions have been performed in the United States.
Despite the "sad reality" of the past four decades, the flip side, she said, is that "there are so many victories" today.
Among them, she said, are "a radical change" in pro-life public opinion, due in part to advances in science and technology that enable parents to see a fetus or hear a heartbeat with sonograms and ultrasounds; a groundswell of young supporters; an increase in state laws making it more difficult to get an abortion; and the growth of 2,500 pregnancy centers as opposed to 450 abortion clinics.
Even results of national polls, she said, now show "pro-life" as the "new normal." And NARAL, the national pro-choice organization, is having a hard time recruiting young people or getting supporters to show up at rallies, she added.
At age 41, Ms. Monahan reflects the general age group of 85 to 90 percent of people who descend upon Washington every January for the March for Life. Elected president last November, she fills the shoes of the indomitable Nellie Gray, who died last year at age 88, and who started the march in protest of the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
"We have God, reason, science and technology, truth and experience on our side," said Ms. Monahan, who noted that the emphasis of the pro-life movement now is on "building a culture of life." She announced that the theme for the March for Life next January will be adoption.
Archbishop Henry J. Mansell welcomed participants and used the occasion to thank several people, including longtime conference organizers Mary M. Byczynski and Deacon George W. Frederick; Father Robert J. Rousseau, director; Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist Suzanne Gross, coordinator of Pro-life Activities for the Archdiocese of Hartford; and Mary Lou Peters, organizer of the 40-Days for Life Campaign.
Participants also had their choice of three morning workshops to attend. They were presented by Theresa Bonopartis, director of Lumina Hope & Healing after Abortion, an outreach of Good Counsel Homes in the state of New York; Deacon Thomas J. Davis Jr., a deacon at St. Ann Melkite Catholic Church in Danbury, who is associate director of the Pope John Paul II Bioethics Center at Holy Apostles College in Cromwell and is an assistant attorney general of the state of Connecticut; and Elizabeth Gillen, director of the 1st Way Life Center in Enfield since 1984.
Nearly 30 pro-life organizations also displayed information and materials at the event.
"It was amazing, very uplifting," said Phyllis Tarsi of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Parish in Waterbury. "Each speaker made you want to go out and spread the word. It reinforced our beliefs."
Added Nancy Ball of St. Joseph Parish in Meriden, "It was a very inspiring day, especially Alan Keyes and his call for each person to go out and tell others about God’s love."