Nanette Levin, Special to The Catholic Virginian

Parishes in the western part of the Diocese of Richmond have become active in the 40 Days for Life campaign. Started in 2004 by four individuals in Texas, the movement, which became a national campaign in 2007, is a global initiative designed to discourage abortions through prayer and fasting, community outreach and a vigil during spring and fall events.

St. Andrew, Our Lady of Nazareth and St. Elias Maronite Catholic Church in Roanoke, as well as Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Salem; Resurrection, Moneta; and St. Joseph, Martinsville, contributed to the effort organized in the Western Vicariate.

The most recent world-wide gathering occurred during Lent, Feb. 4 through March 25, with the organization claiming 645 saved lives during this campaign.

Dorothy Marshall is in her first year of overseeing the 150 volunteers who participated in 40 Days for Life in the Western Vicarate.

“The churches that are involved are mainly the Catholic churches. Each took a day or a morning or an afternoon to come in and cover those days,” she said.

Marshall hopes to strengthen the campaign by encouraging parishes to start a pro-life group, advocating prayer and fasting for moving the Spirit, and working on getting more non-Catholic churches involved.

“Our presence may remind them (women with unplanned pregnancies) that there are other choices (than abortion),” she said.

Marshall was touched by a woman who dug a cross into the snow and left a sign that said, “Miss my aborted child.”

“It can make a difference, so when you see . . . those kind of signs, you realize that abortions do hurt people in ways that are never talked about in Planned Parenthood,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking, but also empowering for us because it’s why we’re there. We don’t want women to feel this way after they have an abortion.”

Participants pray and speak in front of Planned Parenthood on Peter’s Creek Road in Roanoke.

“The mission is to bring truth about God’s gift for life and to bring mercy and love to aid these women so that they know we are here to help them,” Marshall said. “Not to make them feel bad, we just want them to know the truth and we want to be able to help them because abortion hurts them as well as it destroys their child.”

Maura Piccerillo, chairperson for the Right to Life Committee at Resurrection, said her parish developed the group to care for and comfort women.

“For the last 40 Days for Life that just ended, our group made prayer cards and on the prayer card we put a baby sock and we had a prayer in the back,” Piccerillo said. “On the front we had a picture of a baby and we had the 40 Days for Life dates.”

Parishioners were asked to pray daily during the 40-day period then take the socks and contribute them to Students for Life.

Kyle Eisenhuth leads nearly two dozen people in the Students for Life group at Liberty University.

“We go sidewalk counseling every Saturday,” he said.

He explained that Roanoke has the closest Planned Parenthood to his Lynchburg location, so he coordinates with Marshall during 40 Days for Life.

“(It’s) great practice for being a pastor,” he said, noting his plans include attending divinity school. “You have to deal with people and people have to be handled differently.”

Every Saturday morning during the academic year, members of Students for Life from Virginia Tech are in front of the Roanoke Planned Parenthood.

“(We) talk to women that go in, offer alternative resources, bring goodie bags, hold signs on the road. (We’re) there to pray for the women, for the babies and for the workers,” said Margot Davis, co-president of the group.

“If we can be out there one day and talk to one woman and convince her that she’s loved and supported and she can have her baby and she’s strong enough to have her baby and say no to abortion, that’s worth all of the time that we spend out there and all of the days that we don’t get to talk to anyone and all the days we endure the cold and the snow,” said Davis.

Resurrection Parish holds fundraisers to help support area resources that operate without government funding, including Blue Ridge Women’s Center and Bedford Pregnancy Center, in order to provide support for those 40 Days for Life participants talk to.

“When a woman comes to us and we can actually talk to them, we need a place to send them and we want to help them,” said Marshall.