Modern-day Calvary: Eucharistic procession at 40 Days for Life Dayton
By Gail Finke
On a chilly morning in November, more than 100 people assembled for a Eucharistic procession with Father Stephen Imbarrato, the first ever held at a 40 Days for Life Dayton prayer vigil.
Most attendees were Catholic, but several of Dayton’s famously interfaith pro-life leaders came in solidarity. Bryan Kemper, Youth Outreach Director of Priests for Life, livestreamed the procession (see the bottom of the page for the video). Father Imbarrato, a visiting speaker from Priests for Life, said the procession was only the third he has held since joining the national pro-life group, but is far from the first he’s held at abortion businesses.
“Abortion is the sacrament of the Evil One,” he said. “It’s only right that we bring Our Lord, who conquered death, to what is literally the gates of Hell.”
The Santa Fe priest was in town for a whirlwind of pro-life events, which included a talk on end of life issues, a talk for college students and others on pro-life activism, a talk at Carroll High School, three Masses, and the Sunday afternoon closing rally for 40 Days for Life Dayton.
Rev. Katherine Marple, a pro-life activist who protests at the Dayton abortion business all year round, shot this short video of the Nov. 4 procession. For a longer video, and for a video for his talk sponsored by the University of Dayton Flyers for Life, see the end of this piece.
Father Imberrato is one of several people, including former Dayton resident, Bonnie Borel-Donohue and long-time pro-life activist Dr. Monica Migliorino Miller, who aim to revive the “rescue” model of pro-life protest. Once a hallmark of the pro-life movement, this model of activism includes prayer and sidewalk protest – but also includes protesters willing to enter abortion businesses and risk arrest for refusing to leave.
Dr. Miller, like other protesters in the heyday of rescues, served jail time for her actions. In September Father Imberrato, Borel-Donohue, Franciscan Friar of the Renewal Father Fidelis Moscinski, and seven others were arrested during what they call “Red Rose Rescues” in Virgnia and Michigan. The strategy is based on the Canadian protests of activist Mary Wagner. After walking in the businesses and handing women in the waiting rooms red roses, the American protesters told the women they wanted to help them and asked to take them out of the building for help.
In both locations, they report, staff took the women out of the waiting rooms, where the two groups sat on the floor and sang hymns until they were eventually arrested (a third group in New Mexico chose to leave rather than being arrested). “The policeman who arrested me kept saying, ‘Father, please leave,’ Father Imberrato said. But all eight resisted arrest and most of them, including both priests, were eventually dragged out the doors by police.
The Dayton events, however, were quieter protests. All forms of protest have their place, Father Imberrato said, and most important thing people can do to help end abortion is whatever they find themselves called to do.
“We are all called to Calvary,” he said at a luncheon following the procession. “These mills are modern-day Calvary. The default position of any pro-life person should be that everyone active in the movement is where their conscience and the Holy Spirit moves them to be, and trust that the Holy Spirit will move them to do more and more and more.
“There are many strategies that work. We need to respect each other. We are afraid to lose, so we are always looking for the one and only way to do this. We can’t be afraid to lose, we must trust the Holy Spirit and proclaim the dignity of our brothers and sisters in the womb — and get out on the streets. It’s a war.”
Common in some areas of the country, Eucharistic processions to abortion businesses require a bishop’s permission. Priests for Life, with its related ministries Deacons for Life and Missionaries of the Gospel of Life, offer to coordinate Eucharistic processions at any diocese in the country, saying that their incarnational nature is a direct challenge to abortion, which denies the dignity of the human body and person. They accomplish numerous things at once, Father Imberrato said: they are encouraging to Catholics who labor at pro-life ministries, bringing Christ to their work and showing support of the clergy; they encourage Catholics who are not involved in pro-life work to become so; and they witness to the world the real presence of Christ in the darkest of places.
“I’ve always wanted one!” said long-time Dayton pro-life activist Ruth Deddens. “It’s time we bring Him out, and bring Him here.”
Jeanette Niezgodski, who helped bring Father Imberrato for the weekend, said she was inspired to hold a procession after attending “a huge one at Notre Dame,” Fellow planner Gary Taphorn kept scheduling events, she said, turning a short appearance into a packed three days. But despite the group’s attempts to contact area parishes and pro-life organizations, she said, outside participation was smaller than the organizers hoped. “Word has to get out,” she said. “Father told me that for a city the size of Dayton, we should have had 1,000 people today.”
But Paul Coudron of Dayton Right to Life, a main sponsor of 40 Days for Life Dayton, called the weekend “very satisfying.”
“You always wish there could be more,” he said. “Especially with the depth he discusses the issues. He motivates me to be more active, and as director of Dayton Right to Life, I’m definitely active.”
Doing more is Father Imberrato’s constant message. “If you are discouraged, do more,” he said. “Jesus is about encouragement. The Evil One is about discouragement. If you get discouraged, you are committing the sin of despair, despairing of our hope in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You need to say, ‘What more can I do?’ People say, ‘Where are the priests? Where are the bishops?’ But if they complain but they don’t rise up themselves, then I say, ‘Where are the laity?’
“People ask, ‘Why aren’t there more people protesting?’ The reason is: Because we didn’t bring them. None of us is doing enough.”
At his homily at morning Mass at the Church of the Incarnation in Centerville following the procession, Father Imbarrato invoked St. Charles Borromeo, whose feast it was, and the women at Calvary.
“Let us not be like the apostles, who fled the foot of the cross,” he said. “Let us be like the holy women of Jerusalem. As we go to our modern-day Calvary, let us be witnesses to both those who are alive and to those who are dying each and every day. The modern pro-life movement tends to focus on the women – as indeed we should. If we don’t encounter them and help them, we are not going to save their babies. But let us not forget that first and foremost abortion is about the bloodletting of innocent babies, the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters, who are dying alone, in suffering, unnoticed. Let us always be servants to the unborn.”
For more photos of the event, see the gallery at our Facebook page.
This video of the 40 Days for Life Dayton Eucharistic procession was streamed live and is now on the Priests for Life website, where by the time of this publication it had been viewed 19,000 times.
Father Stephen Imbarrato’s talk on pro-life activism, sponsored by the University of Dayton Flyers for Life.