Hundreds of pro-life supporters braved the January cold to participate in the 2021 Annual Rally for Life in Montpelier, commemorating the 62 million unborn babies who have lost their lives in the 48 years since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion throughout pregnancy.

After two church services — one at St. Augustine Church and one at Lighthouse Christian Church, both in Montpelier — the march took place from Montpelier City Hall to the steps of the Statehouse where participants gathered for a short ceremony in recognition of the unborn and for a group photo.

“It is important to start the day with Mass because it places God first in our hearts,” said Phyllis Harkonen, respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington.

In his homily at the Mass, Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne acknowledged the divisions in both the country and the state that center not just on the abortion issue but on issues like race, reproductive rights and same-sex marriage. But he encouraged his listeners to follow the Golden Rule and treat others the way they want to be treated.

“We are not going to change minds and convert hearts by being angry,” he said, discouraging an “us-versus-them attitude.” And in difficult times, he urged them to turn to Jesus: “Remember, Jesus gives peace. It is His peace that consoles us.”

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, participants in the morning events had to wear masks and socially distance; unlike in previous years there was no gathering for a speaker inside the Statehouse.

“Everyone is focused on saving lives from this terrible virus. It is more important than ever to remind Vermonters that all lives are precious and must be protected,” Mary Hahn Beerworth, executive director of Vermont Right to Life Inc., said in an interview before the day of the march.

Many participants at the march wore the white masks the group provided with the word “LIFE” printed in green. Some carried matching signs while others carried signs bearing messages such as “Pray to end abortion,” “Defend Life” and “Women deserve better than abortion.”

It was estimated that more than 250 people participated in the rally.

“We are here because we have not forgotten those who are most vulnerable. Going out in public as pro-life, we open ourselves to being vulnerable — vulnerable to the judgement, anger or indifference of others. We are the voice for those who have no voice,” Harkonen said in an interview before the event.

“Extreme abortion legislation was the focus of the 2019 [Vermont legislative] session, shocking new numbers of Vermonters into action,” Beerworth said in the interview. “When Planned Parenthood of Vermont lobbied for legislation to allow unlimited, unregulated abortion throughout pregnancy, they exposed their callous disregard for unborn human babies.”

As a result of not only passage of this law but also of the proposal to amend the Vermont Constitution to “enshrine” abortion language there, “Vermont Right to Life has seen renewed interest, new donors and new volunteers at the local level,” she said. “Best of all, we are seeing young people stepping up to defend human life.”

Harkonen hopes God will use the witness of rally participants to change hearts and that others are encouraged by their presence. “I pray that God gives us all the grace to be kind, gentle witnesses, to be His face of love, mercy and compassion to everyone we meet,” she said.

Standing for life is not something only Catholics do, she added. “It is a human event. A culture that does not respect the life and dignity of all its people will affect everyone in it. We are not here in isolation but as a group inclusive of all people of good will that professes the truth of the value of each and every human person.”

In remarks at the closing of the gathering at the front steps of the Statehouse, Beerworth, speaking through a megaphone, said, “We have come here today and we have gathered in front of the Statehouse to fulfill our long-ago promise to the unborn that we will commemorate this sad anniversary [of legalized abortion] each year – despite the cold, despite Covid. And we commit to continuing to remind Vermonters, as well as the lawmakers who govern our state that every abortion stops a beating heart, and we pledge by our presence here today that we will not be silenced and that we will never ever, ever, ever, give up the effort to restore justice for the unborn. Together, let’s bring Vermont back to life!”

There will be a virtual portion of the 2021 Rally for Life online within 48 hours of the event’s conclusion. The virtual coverage will include some photos of the outdoor event along with a taped interview with abortion survivor Melissa Ohden of Kansas City, Missouri. She will be one of the guest speakers at the Life Symposium on scheduled for Oct. 2 at the Doubletree by Hilton in Burlington sponsored by the VRLC Educational Trust Fund.

To access the virtual portion, go to vrlc.net or to Facebook and search for Vermont Right to Life Committee.

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