Hundreds of Oregon Catholics take part in peaceful vigils outside clinics where abortions are performed, hoping to change the culture, one heart at a time.
These demonstrators argue that abortion is not a women's issue, but a matter of human rights for the most vulnerable.
Though many vigils go year-round, special 40-day gatherings are set for fall and spring. This autumn, the project, called 40 Days for Life, began Sept. 26 and ends Nov. 4.
In Portland, the group gathers 9 a.m.-6 p.m. each day during the 40 days at Planned Parenthood, 3231 SE 50th.
"Being involved in the pro-life movement is like having a front row seat for the Holy Spirit," says Therese Ruesink, a leader of the Portland vigil and a member of Madeleine and St. Rose parishes in Northeast Portland. Ruesink, a 57-year-old retired speech pathologist, began praying in front of clinics when she learned that many women who get abortions suffer emotional pain for years.
"I never had any enemies before," she says, noting the frequent visceral reactions. At first, she was shocked, but now she prays for people, including those who work in abortion clinics. Vigil-keepers often greet workers, who have been ordered not to speak to protesters. One worker broke down in tears and said she wished she could leave the job.
In Beaverton, 40 Days for Life comes in addition to a weekly gathering, 7 a.m.-7 p.m. every Friday at Planned Parenthood, 12220 SW 1st St. That's just three blocks from St. Cecilia Church.
Marie Barzen, a member of St. Cecilia, helps lead the vigil. She tells the story of the mail carrier who scowled at protesters for two years, but slowly had a change of heart. The carrier, who had had an abortion, thanked the vigil-keepers and now writes a pro-life blog.
About 60 percent of those who react to the group are supportive.
The kickoff for 40 Days for Life in Beaverton included retired Auxiliary Bishop Kenneth Steiner, Father Joseph Nguyen and an evangelical minister. The pro-life movement is one place where ecumenism simply happens, Barzen explains.
In Salem, the vigil takes placed 8 a.m.-8 p.m. at Planned Parenthood, 3825 Wolverine St., near McKay High School and a shopping mall. Respect life volunteers have opened a pregnancy center next door.
More and more churches have become involved, says Cheri Crocker, a grandmother and member of St. Joseph Parish who leads the effort. Sometimes the ecumenical group prays the rosary or reads scripture. Posters of Our Lady of Guadalupe are common.