40 Days Revive Hope for Life (Part 1)
Interview With National Campaign Director David Bereit
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FREDERICKSBURG, Virginia, SEPT. 23, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The question pro-life activist David Bereit is asking these days is not if abortion will end, but when it will end.
Bereit is the national campaign director of 40 Days for Life, a campaign he says has inspired hope that a culture of life is possible.
The campaign begins Wednesday, and will unite pro-life advocates all over the United States, and two cities in Canada, to pray, fast and work together through Nov. 2, the Sunday that precedes the U.S. election day.
In Part 1 of this interview with ZENIT, Bereit comments on how the campaign works, and how it is helping to rejuvenate the pro-life movement.
Part 2 of this interview will be published Wednesday.
Q: Could you give us a brief overview of the 40 Days for Life program, and explain how it works?
Bereit: 40 Days for Life is a very focused, 40-day intensive pro-life campaign that has as its mission an effort to end abortion peacefully and prayerfully in the community, ultimately throughout our nation and throughout our world.
Three things are done for a period of 40 days. The first component is that in the local community we call upon believers to join together in prayer and fasting for an end to abortion. Our prayer is based on the belief that with God all things are possible.
We are not going to win the struggle against abortion on purely human terms. It is not going to be decided purely by the Supreme Court, who is in the White House or who is in Congress.
Ultimately, it is with God that an end to abortion is possible.
The other part of this, the fasting, is very important. I was raised in a Christian tradition that did not emphasize fasting, but when I read Scripture I realized that it talked about how there are some demons that can only be driven out through prayer and fasting. I thought that maybe this is something that we need to do specifically: fasting with the intention of ending abortion.
We have had people do everything from a very significant bread-and-water fast for 40 days, but for most people it means giving up a meal each day or giving up a certain type of food or drink.
One family gave up television for 40 days and said, "We are going to put all of that time that we usually spend in front of the tube into pro-life work." I thought to myself how that would really change our nation if everyone who was pro-life would do that as well.
The second component is the constant, peaceful prayer vigil that is held outside of an abortion facility or Planned Parenthood office. Essentially it draws community awareness to the injustice that is happening at that abortion center.
It also sends a message to those who work at the center, in a very peaceful and loving way, that what they are doing is detrimental to women, detrimental to the community, and that it is not supported by the Church in their community.
The participants are also there to reach out in a compassionate way to those pregnant mothers who are in crisis and do not know where else to turn, to offer them better alternatives that do not imply a lifetime of regrets. So, there is this aspect of 40 days of, in many cases, 24-hour, daily, round-the-clock prayer vigils outside of these facilities.
The third component, then, is grassroots educational outreach. This implies taking a pro-life message to community groups, churches and schools. In many communities, including the site of the very first 40 Days for Life campaign, this went along with a door-to-door outreach that reached 25,000-30,000 homes in the 40-day period.
We engage the media, both the religious outlets as well as the secular media outlets, so as to make sure that those who do not drive by the facility to see the prayer vigil, or those who do not go to a church on Sunday, still get the message.
We spread the message that life is sacred, that it is worth protecting, and that there is hope that we can rebuild, as Pope John Paul II said, a "culture of life" in our nation again. Thus we have prayer and fasting, peaceful vigil, and grassroots outreach all done through a focused 40-day period of time.
Q: How do you encourage the participants to reach out to people who have had abortions?
Bereit: Actually, last week in our training with the 174 campaign leaders we focused on reaching out to post-abortive mothers and fathers, especially in the time immediately after they have had an abortion, when it finally begins to hit them and they say to themselves, "What have I just done?"
We encouraged reaching out to those who have been carrying the pain of abortion for years and have been unable to find healing and forgiveness. We have partnered with wonderful ministries like Rachel's Vineyard, Project Rachel, Silent No More Awareness, and Abortion Recovery International Network.
Amazingly, more than half of the campaigns that we have had to date have been led by post-abortive women who have been the leaders for these campaigns because they have gone through these types of healing programs and have benefited from them.
They want this 40 Days for Life to reach out to other people who are at risk of making that same decision that for them turned into so many emotional, psychological and spiritual regrets down the road. Everything is done in a peaceful, loving, compassionate way during this campaign.
We have seen enormous surges of people who have come out of the woodwork in the communities where 40 Days for Life has been done, and they say, "A year ago, five years ago, 30 years ago, I had an abortion and it has still been bothering me."
Many times some of those people that go through the post-abortive healing become some of the most incredible advocates for life, and are able to share their testimonies to help people realize that, yes, abortion destroys the life of an innocent child made in God's image and likeness, but also it is devastating to women.
They can say: "I've been there. I've done that. I've felt the pain." And that is a very compelling message. We embrace their message. We welcome those who have had abortions to participate in this campaign.
Q: As you do your outreach, what have you found to be the reaction of the public, from both pro-abortion and pro-life groups?
Bereit: We are continually amazed. This campaign has now been done in 139 cities and 43 states, and is being organized in 179 cities for the campaign beginning this month. In that time, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
The pro-life community has been incredibly rejuvenated in those cities where a campaign has been done. We see people from pregnancy resource centers, right-to-life groups, parish respect life committees, diocesan respect life offices, and post-abortive ministries all come together in a common focus for a 40-day period of time.
When I travel around to the different states that have done this campaign, and I look into the eyes of the people that have participated, many of them first-time volunteers for pro-life work, I have seen such incredible hope.
People have told me, "After 35 years of legalized abortion in America, I had begun to despair. I had begun to think that we could never have any part in ending this. But now I have cause for hope."
I realized that it is not a matter of if abortion ends. It is a matter of when abortion ends.
Regarding the abortion industry as a whole, I am amazed that during the first campaign that was held nationally last fall, even Planned Parenthood gave us attention. They set up an entire Web site, and an entire fundraising campaign around the 40 Days for Life. They talked about how they were under siege. They are very concerned.
I am amazed still to date that as an organization we have grown so much. I work out of a little corner of my bedroom. We have a tiny little budget.
This was just an idea a year and a few months ago. Yet here today God has spread this to over 200 cities now collectively, and inspired hope all over the nation.
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On the Net:
40 Days for Life: www.40daysforlife.com/about.cfm