By Alexandra Theis
Editor’s note. This appeared in the Catholic Anchor, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Anchorage. It is reprinted with permission.
A group of 75 pro-life advocates braved the chill and freezing rain to pray at the 14th annual Ecumenical Memorial Prayer Service on January 18th at Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery.
Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz opened the ceremony with prayer, reflecting upon Pope Francis’s recent statement about a “throwaway society” that thoughtlessly discards anything undesirable or inconvenient. He implored God’s mercy for “the times we have adopted that attitude in our relationships with one another, and toward our unwanted, unborn children.”
The gathering included a presentation of roses, which struck an emotional chord with many present. Twelve participants each placed a rose at the foot of a monument, erected by the Knights of Columbus that memorializes babies who have been lost to abortion. Each rose represented five million babies who have been aborted since Roe vs. Wade was implemented on January 22, 1973. To localize that reality, Christopher Kurka, president of the Alaska Right to Life, noted that 1,629 abortions were performed in Alaska in 2012 — an average of four abortions per day.
In light of these statistics coupled with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act which threatens to increase abortions at the cost of American taxpayers, speakers offered words of encouragement and advice at the prayer service. Several elected officials also shared thoughts at the service.
Ann Curro, one of the event’s organizers reflected, “I was asked why we have political statements read here, and why we have politicians here. The answer is that it’s important for us to remember that there are people in our government who believe the same way we do on certain issues.”
Since the prayer service began 14 years ago, the event has included a letter from Alaska’s sitting governor. In his statement this year, Governor Sean Parnell reminded those present of their duties.
“We recognize that human life begins from the moment of conception, and in the case of the unborn, it is our responsibility to be the voice of those who cannot speak,” he said in a letter that was read aloud by a representative at the gathering.
Calling to mind the words of former President George W. Bush, Governor Parnell’s letter encouraged Alaskans to “look forward to the day when all children, born and unborn, are welcomed in life, and protected by law.”
Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell attended the memorial service and spoke about government spending on life-saving measures.
Treadwell observed that in working in government “you’ll find again and again and again that we have a shortage of money to save lives. We need to find money for fire trucks, we have to find money for EMTs, we have to find money to get icebreakers for search and rescue, we have to help medical research, and it astounds me that we have one penny at all to take away life.”
In spite of this, he finds reason for hope and he reminded those gathered that in 2010, the parental notification act before abortion became state law, a measure which he believes has saved many lives. Additionally, just before the New Year, he signed off on a regulation which prevents state funds being used to pay for abortions which are not defined as medically necessary.
“This regulation will help us stem that tide of that awful expenditure,” Treadwell added.
Encouraging Alaskans to continue to oppose the culture of death, he called those present to “work very hard to build a culture of life. We need to work, as our governor said, to change the government, to stem the tide of abortions in our state and nation.”
Several speakers noted a milestone for Alaska’s pro-life community, which last year realized a long-awaited dream for the Community Pregnancy Center, a resource for pregnant women. The nonprofit now has a permanent location from which to offer free services in aiding pregnant women, who may otherwise turn to abortion. Their new office is a former abortion facility at Tudor and Lake Otis, which they acquired and “redeemed for life,” shared Heidi Navarro, of the Community Pregnancy Center.
Youth representative Anthony Irsik, of Palmer, reflected on why some members of his generation are pro-choice, and what can be done to change hearts.
Irsik observed that so many adolescents feel undervalued.
“Why should teens believe in pro-life?,” he asked attendees. “They don’t even believe in themselves.”
Because they don’t feel worth connecting to, they find other, artificial means of connecting with others, through texting, and social media, Irsik noted. If they were to become pregnant, this attitude of non-connection affects how they feel about life, making it feel easy for them dispose of it.
Irsik encouraged those present to try to connect to teens in a genuine manner that shows concern about how they are doing.
Father Leo Walsh, pastor of St. Benedict Church in Anchorage, offered the closing prayer. He mourned the innocent lives lost to abortion and asked God to stir hearts to reach out to those affected by abortion while at the same time working towards a society that honors life from conception to natural death.