PUBLIC WITNESS • Some 20 pro-life parishioners from the Roman Catholic Churches of Toms River (RCCTR) Cohort and beyond take part in an hour-long Rosary for Life on the Seaside Heights boardwalk.  Jennifer Mauro photos
PUBLIC WITNESS • Some 20 pro-life parishioners from the Roman Catholic Churches of Toms River (RCCTR) Cohort and beyond take part in an hour-long Rosary for Life on the Seaside Heights boardwalk. Jennifer Mauro photos

“Everybody’s thirsty for the Word,” Brigida Alexander said as passers-by glanced curiously at the group of faithful standing along the Seaside Heights boardwalk on a recent Friday morning.

“With one prayer, one Hail Mary, we can make a difference.”

Alexander, of the Legion of Mary ministry in St. Veronica Parish, Howell, was among some 20 people from various parishes around the Diocese to gather July 26 for a public recitation of the Rosary. Though sponsored by the Respect Life Cohort 24 – whose members comprise the Toms River parishes of St. Joseph, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Luke and St. Justin the Martyr – the Rosary for Life drew faithful from parishes across Ocean and Monmouth Counties. 

“Good morning,” one or two faithful said to those who passed by on foot or bicycle while the rest of the group continued to pray. Some visiting the boardwalk on this sunny, humid morning nodded; others looked at the group curiously, and a handful made the Sign of the Cross as they jogged by.

“I’m proud of my faith and proud to be Catholic. I’m not ashamed to say I pray,” said Anna Roma, vice president of the Rosary Altar Society in her parish, St. Maximillian Kolbe. “I believe in prayer. I think it’s very powerful.”

Fellow parishioner Joan Flakker, secretary of the parish Rosary Altar Society, said the public prayer “helps the ministry and the community. It builds a better bond among all of us.”

As the group prayed, Mario Minervini of St. Joseph Parish worked diligently to build those bonds. The 95-year-old World War II veteran walked the boards, approaching young and old alike to say hello, hand out age-appropriate educational materials and discuss pro-life issues such as abortion, adoption and physician-assisted suicide.

“Some people say no thanks, but a lot of people take them,” he said of the pamphlets. “Education is key in pro-life work.”

Minervini has a long history with the Respect Life ministry, having spent hundreds of hours over the years outside both the Planned Parenthood buildings in Toms River (which is now closed) and Shrewsbury. He related stories of speaking and praying with women entering the clinics for an abortion.

“If we can help these women with their problems, they see a way out,” he said. “Help the women, save the baby.”

Pat Scott of St. Justin the Martyr Parish spent eight years advocating for life outside the Toms River clinic. “I was adopted at

4 1/2 years old, and I thank God every day for the beautiful parents he gave me.”

Over the years, she said, the pro-life advocates helped many women they met outside the building, preventing abortions by walking with them through their pregnancies or simply by planting hope or providing information as the mothers entered or left the clinic.  “A few of the women came back to the clinic and said thank you for talking to us, all the while holding their new baby.”

Dave Parnell, 40, of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Red Bank, recalls the first time he saw the pro-life advocates – most of whom are in their 60s and older – outside the Planned Parenthood in Shrewsbury. It was a day of bad weather, he explained. “It made me think, ‘They’re out there and I’m not?’”

“It’s sad, I don’t see a lot of people my generation out there with them. That’s disheartening, but I’m not going to let that stop what we’re trying to do,” said Parnell, who’s currently organizing a Respect Life committee in his parish.

“We have great young adults in this Diocese, and if we could reel them in to being more active in this ministry, that would be awesome. I think that’s what we are lacking right now,” he continued. “When the older generations pass on, who’s going to be left? That’s nerve-wracking to think of and where we are headed.”

The public Rosary, all agreed, sends a powerful message. “It shows others there are still people who believe in God and that there are people who care about you. It lets [women considering abortion] know we are here,” Roma said.

And, simply, “that all are welcome to come and pray.”