In fall 2010, a few days after the kickoff of her first 40 Days for Life campaign, Nikki Bruni was greeted one night by a group of people outside her house wearing masks and robes, banging pots and pans, and chanting her name like they were demons. They were trying to scare her off.
Unfazed, Bruni asked them if there was anything they wanted to talk about. They weren’t interested in talking. To their credit, they recognized Bruni’s talents and the Holy Spirit at work and tried to put an end to it.
Under her leadership, the 40 Days for Life campaign in Pittsburgh has grown exponentially with each campaign. In her first campaign, 40 churches participated. Now there are more than 100 and the number should only increase. She has built a database of 1,300 churches in the Pittsburgh area and spends months making phone calls and reaching out to increase participation.
The pro-life initiative started in 2004 in Bryan-College Station, Texas, and has quickly spread to more than 19 countries. The 40 Days for Life organization claims that more than 7,000 abortions have been prevented, 83 abortion workers have converted and more than 40 abortion facilities have closed as a result of its efforts.
A 40 Days for Life campaign consists of a focused 40-day period of intense prayer and fasting, community outreach and a 40-day peaceful vigil outside of a local abortion facility. Some communities have a 24-hour vigil through the 40 days. This year, the national 40 Days for Life campaign began Sept. 25 and will finish Nov. 3.
Claimed for life
Bruni is a mother, wife, artist, hair stylist and an unexpected pro-life leader. She has been a pro-life Christian her whole life, but she only began getting involved in pro-life work in the last four years.
“I grew up with ‘Saturday Night Live’ and MTV. I was clueless about morality. But several years ago, I had started to pray for God to increase and me to decrease. One night something came over me and I started crying. I felt like I had been claimed,” Bruni said. “Soon after that, I was cleaning the house and I heard them talking about 40 Days for Life on the radio. I began to read along with the daily blog, and it made me cry thinking about those babies.
“I couldn’t think of anything else. I tried to learn as much as I could. I saw everything through the lens of abortion, but I didn’t know anyone else that felt that way. It’s hard when you see how terrible something is and everyone else is going along like everything is fine. It’s really lonely,” she told Our Sunday Visitor.
At the time, Bruni belonged to a Protestant church and was disappointed when her pastor told her that he didn’t want to talk about abortion because it was too political and that it may upset women in the congregation who had had an abortion.
Undeterred, Bruni began to pray outside the abortion facility in downtown Pittsburgh. She could sense God strengthening her. She experienced the good and the bad: A father sitting sobbing after his child had been aborted and a young mother coming to thank her for helping to change her mind and keep her baby.
Drawn to the Church
|A pro-life supporter holds a 40 Days for Life sign in front of a Wilmington, Del., facility in 2010. This year’s national 40 Days for Life campaign runs through Nov 3. CNS file photo
About a year ago, Bruni began to notice that the majority of the churches in her database were non-Catholic, but the majority of the churches that participated were Catholic. The Catholic churches also didn’t need much persuasion to join. She also noticed that she was the only non-Catholic working on the 40 Days for Life committee.
On a particularly disappointing day in front of the abortion clinic, she set aside her aversion to Mary and asked another woman praying there if she had an extra rosary. She did — with instructions on how to pray it.
“Within a few minutes into the prayer, I began to feel like I had a friend with me, lifting me up and encouraging me,” Bruni said. On the way home in the car she remembered thinking, “You know, if I’m hanging around all Catholics and now I’m even praying the Rosary, I may as well see if I can become Catholic.”
Bruni was concerned because she had been divorced and remarried, but after working through the annulment process, she was received into the Church this past Easter. Her husband, Joe, a lifelong Catholic, was overjoyed.
“The Catholic Church is the only thing that can stand up to persecution because it is united. Catholics are not just looking out for themselves. An evangelical church may have thousands of members, but that is still pretty small. You can’t accomplish anything of importance unless you are going to spread out and connect,” Bruni said.
Bruni considers the area outside an abortion clinic a war zone.
|Nikki Bruni poses with her “Memorial of Mercy” painting. Photo courtesy of Nikki Bruni
“When you do pro-life work, it is spiritual warfare,” she said. “That’s why you need to pray and fast. You are stepping on the devil’s toes. It’s a special area that he has a stronghold in. It makes sense because God sent our savior through the womb of a woman. So he has this particular hatred for women and new life.”
Though her work seems like it could be intense, Bruni remains completely calm. She talks about her frustrations in trying to get more pro-life Protestant churches to participate in 40 Days for Life, and with the patrons of the gay bars near the Planned Parenthood building who harass them as they try to pray. But she’s not hung up on these things.
Perhaps her attitude is best summarized by her painting “Memorial of Mercy,” which has been on display at several churches in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The painting is 9 feet tall and consists of 2,470 squares that each contain an image of a baby. (2,470 is the number of babies who died from abortions performed at the Pittsburgh Planned Parenthood clinic in 2012.) The images come together to form St. Faustina’s image “Divine Mercy Jesus.”
Perhaps Bruni maintains her calm by accepting what she can’t change and taking action on what she can.
“Babies are going to die anyway, but it’s better if there are people there,” she said. It shows respect that it’s a person, and you care enough that it’s a person who is going to die. The other alternative is to not go down there. If nobody cares enough, nothing will change.”
“I didn’t invent 40 Days for Life,” she said. “The national team gives you the training. God gave me the drive. I asked myself why am I putting in all these hours and not getting paid? But I couldn’t stop. It’s a God thing. He wanted this to happen.”
Mark Sullivan is co-author of “St. Monica and the Power of Persistent Prayer” (OSV, $12.95) with Mike Aquilina.