The Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of Denver was to have presented the fifth annual Celebrate Life Rally and March in downtown Denver on Saturday, Jan. 12. The event has grown from 800 to 5,000 participants over the past five years and is a peaceful protest of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Lynn Grandon, program director of the Respect Life Office and a key organizer of the event, said the march began as an alternative for those who could not travel to larger events in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco.
“Denver is beautiful, with much to see and do, so we thought, ‘Why don’t we start a march here?’ We did, and people love it,” she told Our Sunday Visitor.
A rallying point
The event was to begin with morning Masses in downtown Denver churches, as well as churches in the Denver suburbs. Parishes in the city with Masses include historic Holy Ghost Church at 11 a.m., and the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception at 11:30 a.m. Denver’s St. Joseph Parish was to have a Mass in Spanish at 11 a.m.
After Mass, a rally was to begin on the west steps of the state capitol at 1 p.m. with David Bereit, a Catholic convert and co-founder and former CEO of 40 Days for Life, serving as emcee. Featured speakers were to include Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, a past participant in 40 Days for Life who has made pro-life advocacy a priority as both a priest and bishop. Before entering seminary, Archbishop Aquila worked as a hospital orderly, and he has shared his horror at once having been directed to clean up a room in which an abortion had just been performed (he was not present for the abortion, and had played no role in it). After his ordination, Archbishop Aquila has regularly returned to abortion clinics to pray the Rosary in front of them.
New to the rally in 2019 was to be speaker Elias Moo, who was recently hired to serve as superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Denver. Special guests at the rally were to include the McGarrity family, who have four children of their own and four with Down syndrome whom they adopted.
“The McGarritys really live the message we promote in the Respect Life Office, that every human being has value, worth and dignity, and should be loved unconditionally,” Grandon said.
The march was to follow at 2 p.m., at the conclusion of the rally. Marchers walk a shorter route than similar marches in other major cities, circling around a city park and returning to the capitol building steps. The 25-minute walk, Grandon explained, is for “our grandparents and moms with babies who can’t go a long distance.”
A variety of performers participate in the march, entertaining along the way. These include Aztec, Folklorico and Irish dancers, as well as a mariachi band. At the conclusion of the march, the St. John Vianney seminary choir, made up of 40 seminarians, was to sing a medley of patriotic songs. Grandon noted that the choir has been a highlight of the day, and “last year left our veterans in attendance in tears.” She added, “This event has brought a lot of excitement and camaraderie to our local Catholic community and has really been a rallying point for those of us who believe in the right to life.”
‘Come shine your light’
Celebrate Life’s theme in 2019 is “Come Shine Your Light,” Grandon said, in contrast to the political and social situation of the state, “which [is] getting so dark. The darker it gets, the brighter our lights are going to shine.”
The darkness, she explained, included the election in 2018 of the state’s new governor, whom she fears will ally with the state legislature to focus on LGBT and gender identity issues.
Colorado has also legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Grandon remarked, “We have more marijuana shops in Denver than McDonalds and Starbucks combined.”
Regarding abortion, Colorado was the first state in the U.S. to liberalize its abortion laws in 1967, six years before the Roe decision. Denver’s Stapleton Planned Parenthood, Grandon said, was the second largest Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in the country (after Houston). When she was first hired for the Respect Life Office eight years ago, former Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput directed Grandon to open a pro-life medical center across from the clinic. The center has thrived since, she said, and has provided many with alternatives to abortion.
Many witnesses to life
Among those planning to turn out for Celebrate Life again this year was Val Haas, a Denver Catholic active in the pro-life movement. She has participated since the first march, and has marveled at its rapid growth.
She said, “Lynn has done a beautiful job in attracting a diverse group of pro-life groups and uniting them into one single voice. She has also brought in a large number of non-Catholics who share our pro-life beliefs, and made it a beautiful day of celebration.”
Haas noted that she had always been “passionately pro-life,” but had that conviction tested in 2013 when her 18-year-old unmarried daughter came home from college to announce she was pregnant. She said, “It really hits home when you have a crisis pregnancy in your own family.”
Her daughter has since moved back home and had her child; Haas and her husband have also helped with childcare as their daughter finishes her studies as a nurse. The whole family, including their new granddaughter, are regular participants in the rally and march.
“We love the Denver March,” Haas continued. “It is upbeat, youthful and although we all want to see the end of abortion, we’re happy to be there.”
Haas added that she has also launched Footprints, an organization to help women in crisis pregnancy situations like that her daughter was once in. She said, “We have to fight for life from conception to natural death. This is no time to sit back and not engage.”
Nancy Doty from Littleton, a Colorado suburb, has been active in supporting the pro-life cause. She participates in Celebrate Life “to let people know that there is an alternative to abortion, and that many of us care about the fate of unborn babies.”
She enjoys the enthusiasm of the participants, as well as the high quality speakers. She added, “It’s wonderful to be surrounded by so many people who share the pro-life view.”
Deacon Alan Rastrelli serves at St. Thomas More Church in Centennial, a Denver suburb. He attends Celebrate Life annually, and as he is a physician, is part of a pro-life medical group of marchers. He explained, “I go as a way to make a statement that we should respect life, and to mourn the many lives that have been lost to abortion in the womb.”
His car bears a sticker, which reads, “Abortion is not health care.”
His family includes seven children and 24 grandchildren, many of whom turn out to walk. They pray the Rosary as they walk.
Deacon Rastrelli laments that the secular media coverage of Celebrate Life is typically sparse. However, being at the event, surrounded by thousands of like-minded people reminds him “we’re not alone in this fight. There are many people around who are pro-life and are willing to express it.”
Jim Graves writes from California.