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Thursday, September 25, 2008

40 Days Revive Hope for Life, An Interview with National Campaign Director David Bereit

By Genevieve Pollock

FREDERICKSBURG, Virginia, SEPT. 23 and 24, 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 began 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.

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.

Q: What explanation do you give for why 40 Days for Life is growing and spreading so quickly to so many new cities?

Bereit: Number one it is because of prayer. It is because of the Holy Spirit. That is my strongest of convictions.

In second place it is because of the amazing people that God has called to be a part of this effort. I have heard some of the most incredible stories of people who have never been involved in pro-life work before they heard about this campaign. They got involved, launched local campaigns, mobilized hundreds of people, saved dozens of lives, and really turned the tide in their communities.

We have seen two abortion facilities go out of business following 40 Days for Life campaigns. We know of five abortion-clinic workers who have left the abortion industry, telling the 40 Days for Life volunteers that it was because of them and their prayers.

Q: Why did you decide to make this next program, beginning today and ending Nov. 2, coincide with the national elections? How important do you think the abortion issue is in these elections?

Bereit: Well, the campaign dates were the same that we used last year, because they worked very well, but we also felt that there was certainly no coincidence that the 40 days lead up to the Sunday immediately preceding the national election in America.

We believe this is a crucial time here in our nation. This is the year, 2008, when the death toll from abortion has crossed the 50 million mark. This is the year when the abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, crossed the billion dollar mark in revenues, over $336 million of that coming from American taxpayers.

After 35 years, if abortion was a good thing, it would be settled in the minds of people. But we have recognized that abortion has not been a good thing. It has not done any good for women, and it has certainly been destructive to the lives of the 50 million children that have been lost.

There is no more important time in our nation's history than right now for people to pray, to fast, and to put their faith into action. We will be able to do big, big things, because we have a big, big God who can do all things.

We took a tour of the capital recently. We got the opportunity to get down on the floor of the House of Representatives chamber. There, up on the wall, above where the Speaker of the House sits, it says in big letters "In God We Trust."

And I thought, one of the problems we have had these last 35 years of legalized abortion in America, is that we have put our trust in everything else but that.

We have put our trust in who resides in the White House. We have put our trust in who is walking the halls of Congress. We have put our trust in who are the black-robed judges sitting on the United States Supreme Court. We have put our trust in the state legislatures. We put our trust in politics.

This year we must recognize the importance of that statement "In God We Trust," and we must return our faith there. He is the only one who will never let us down.

I really believe from the bottom of my heart that this year is going to mark the beginning of the end of abortion, and I think we are already starting to see that play out all across the nation.

I see it in the eyes of the people. I see them putting their work into action. I see them in position now all across the country. I am amazed. I have never seen it like this before.

Last year we had some really good things happening. Reports around the country showed that people were going to planning meetings, and they had 15 or 20 people getting involved. By comparison, this year I went to three different planning meetings in Nebraska, and at these three meetings there were 500 people.

These people were on fire and they were ready to do things. I am seeing planning, intensity, and work like I have never seen. It gives me enormous hope.

Q: Are you expecting any specific results from this campaign?

Bereit: The most important result we hope for is that each of us who are involved grow in holiness during the campaign. That is more important than any immediate result.

Yes, we hope and pray that we will see many children's lives saved. Nationally, thus far in the previous two campaigns we have reports of 514 children saved, and we want to see many more children saved.

Yes, we want to see many people spared from making a decision for abortion. Yes, we want to see a lot of post-abortion healing happen.

But most importantly we want our nation to turn back to God, and that is going to start through each one of us. It will begin through our faithfulness, through our personal growth in holiness. Personally, I have never had the degree of spiritual growth like I experienced during my first 40 Days for Life.

Q: What are some ways that people can join in the 40 Days for Life effort?

Bereit: The first thing I would tell anybody would be to get down on their knees and begin to pray. Pray about what role God has for you in this effort.

Certainly for many people it will be to join in the prayer and fasting from today to Nov. 2. For many people it will be to participate in the vigil campaign in 179 cities throughout the country.

On our Web site we have a list of all the locations where the vigils will be held, and people can go there, they can find the location nearest to them, they can get the information, and they can come out to the vigil.

Maybe it will be one hour a day for the 40 days, the equivalent of a workweek, and they can have the opportunity to save lives. Maybe it will be once a week. Maybe it will be just once during the 40 days.

They can go and be there in prayer in the place where there is so little hope, at an abortion facility or Planned Parenthood office, to be a beacon of light in the darkness there.

Another thing is that people can discern if God is calling them to be a part of spreading the pro-life message through personal outreach. Maybe it will start with talking with their friends, or family members, people at their parish, people throughout their diocese, people they work with, people they go to school with or that their children go to school with, and inviting people to join together in this effort during these 40 days.

On our Web site we have a section where people can sign up for the daily e-mail updates and devotionals during the 40 days.

We have national leaders such as Father Frank Pavone and other clergy, other national pro-life leaders, who will be sending out a daily devotional with a Scripture reflection and a call to action for people during the 40 days. We have heard so many great reports from people that tell us it is such an inspiration to know that their intentions are being united with others around the country.

For those people who are in a city that does not have an organized campaign this fall, they may discern that God is leading them to lead a campaign down the road. We are very likely to do another campaign again next Lenten season, and one again next fall.

Q: What message would you like to give to people who are interested in participating in this campaign?

Bereit: The main thought that keeps coming back to me as I work with people during this campaign, is that years from now in the history books, there is going to be a chapter about abortion, and about how this great injustice ultimately ended. As with every great injustice, such as segregation or slavery, or any other injustice in America and throughout the world, all of them eventually fell or will fall.

Abortion will eventually fall. When it does, and when the history books are written, our children and our grandchildren are going to be reading about how abortion ended.

I believe that they are going to be reading about the year 2008 and how this year was the beginning of the end of abortion. And we will have to answer to them what we did or did not do during this crucial time in American history.

I believe that the faithful, God's people, who are willing to pray and fast, who are willing to hold peaceful vigil, who are willing to spread the pro-life message, and do anything they can to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, I believe that we will be able to tell our children and grandchildren, "I did everything that I could possibly do. I was willing to do the things that needed to be done in order to end abortion."

It is the legacy that we are going to be known for. People will look back at us and will measure us by how we met this great evil, this great injustice. Abortion will be in the history books. The question is what role will we have played in bringing it down? That's the message I really want to get across to people.

Ultimately of course, we live with the desire that when we each arrive in our heavenly home, we want to eventually hear those words, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

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