Earlier this winter, as pre-dawn Anchorage drivers passed by the gray professional building at 4001 Lake Otis Parkway, about the only sign of life outside was colored text dancing across an electric sign. Unseen was the somber celebration of a Mass in near-freezing temperature at a nearby empty parking lot.
There, more than a dozen men knelt under the glare of streetlights and turned their focus to God, praying for the distraught mothers who enter the gray building each week where their babies are later aborted at the local Planned Parenthood clinic.
Hours before the sun cracked the horizon, these men had gathered with Dominican Father David Maichrowicz to offer the Oct. 29 Mass and pray for mothers and their unborn children.
For four years now, Catholic Men For Life, an apostolate of Holy Family Cathedral, has organized this Mass and the ensuing peaceful prayer vigil outside Planned Parenthood. The all-day event takes place twice a year, during the larger spring and fall 40 Days For Life prayer campaigns, which take place outside abortion clinics around the world, including Anchorage.
“We’re out there rain or shine,” Catholic Men For Life organizer Mario Bird said of the days when his group prays. “It seems to be snow rather than rain or shine the last few times we’ve been out. But we’re there to provide a peaceful, prayerful witness and to do so in a masculine way.”
Beav Deering of Holy Family Cathedral founded Catholic Men For Life in 2013. For years, Deering has organized a summer “Father’s Hike.” The multi-day outing offers an environment where men can support one another in their vocation to fatherhood or the priesthood. Of the many topics discussed on these hikes is the silence from most men surrounding the issue of abortion. Deering thought of forming a pro-life group composed of Catholic men to address this.
“I ran it past this group of men who’d been hiking with for a few years and they all said, ‘We need to do this,’” Deering recalled.
He then enlisted the support of the Dominican priests who minister at Holy Family Cathedral and the group formed a website for the inaugural 2013 prayer vigil.
“I envision hundreds of strong men, humbling themselves while standing on the street corner, begging the Blessed Mother for assistance, pleading for justice for the vulnerable, and help for the innocent and misguided,” Deering appealed to Holy Family Cathedral in a March 2013 address.
Although he fell short of 100, approximately 50 men did turn out for that first gathering.
At the most recent vigil, men knelt near signs with icons of Mary and Christ, praying the Rosary, Our Father and Glory Be. Every few minutes a friendly honk would sound from the passing traffic.
Sometime during the afternoon, a SUV parked near the vigil keepers and a family came out questioning the men as to why they took such a hard line on abortion.
The exchange lasted about five minutes.
“By the end of the conversation, they were willing to listen,” Bird recounted. “I think we ended the conversation more on common ground than not.”
Those kind of face-to-face encounters aren’t common but they do arise. Being uncomfortable participating in a public prayer vigil is normal and shouldn’t disqualify someone from taking part, Bird said.
“Put your trust in the Holy Spirit and come out with this, we’re not here to wave signs and pick fights,” he added. “We’re here to pray, to witness for those who are voiceless.”
Deering agreed, saying men need to step up and embrace their role as protectors of life, family and the faith. Failure to do so because of public discomfort or the desire to “watch a football game” is a sign of weakness among men, he said.
“If all the Catholic men in America would stand up for what is the truth and what is right, it would not happen,” Deering said of abortion. “Lets face it, it would not happen, that’s just it, I have the same call, come on guys, hold the line.”