A group of young people who traveled from Millstone Township watch the anti-abortion documentary “40” Jan. 24 in St. Denis Church, Manasquan. Lois Rogers photos

A group of young people who traveled from Millstone Township watch the anti-abortion documentary “40” Jan. 24 in St. Denis Church, Manasquan. Lois Rogers photos

By Lois Rogers | Correspondent

When pro-life advocates scheduled showings of “40” – the documentary on the effects of legalized abortion in the United States – for Jan. 24 in St. Denis Church, Manasquan, their vision was to tap into the well of interest in the annual March for Life in Washington, set for Jan. 27 this year.

In just about an hour, the film that looks at 40 years of abortion in the United States since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, did just that for 43 people at the morning session and some 71 parents, children and individuals who paid rapt attention to the large screens on either side of the nave during the evening presentation.

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The presentations were sponsored by St. Denis Parish and the Mary’s Pro-Life Ministry – a consortium of pro-life groups from parishes in the Southern Monmouth Deanery including St. Catharine/St. Margaret, Spring Lake; St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Avon; Holy Innocents, Neptune; St. Mark, Sea Girt, and St. Rose, Belmar. 

Mary Kellenberger was among those who found the film especially illuminating because, she said, it presented many insights on the issue. She said she was moved by the sentiments of the young men and women featured in the film who spoke on the loss of their children.

A group of young people who traveled from Millstone Township to view the film signaled their approval. Mary Brogan, 17, called it “very well put together.” Patrick Maher, 18, a student at Thomas Edison State University, Trenton, who said he got the group together with his social ethics class in mind, appreciated that it presented “more than just a Catholic point of view.”

The film, which includes testimony from both secular and religious perspectives, clearly makes the point that while some people are uncomfortable with speaking about choosing life and think there is no point discussing “settled law,” the need to focus on the right to life of both mother and child remains incontestable.

Through firsthand accounts of women, children and men whose lives have been directly impacted by abortion, “40” offered a range of points that made a strong spiritual, philosophical and scientific case against the deadly practice.

Hosted by Rachel Hendricks, who recently stepped down as president of Mary’s Pro-Life Ministry, and Stephen Kenny, who is following her in the post, the screenings included question-and-answer sessions and social hours so people could share their insights and ideas.

Father William Lago, pastor of St. Denis Parish, joined Hendricks and Kenny for the evening question-and-answer session, where the emphasis was on the substance of the pro-life ethic.

All three agreed that the reasoned approach of the film – which focuses on the dignity of the human person from the moment of conception – makes it an appropriate choice for students in both public and parochial schools.

Hendricks said the key to getting a pro-life message into public schools where presentations by Planned Parenthood are largely accepted is to present a more secular argument.

“You can get a program into the public schools with a pro-life message if it is balanced,” she said. “It cannot be denied.”

Kenny, who recently moved to Spring Lake, taught at St. Joseph School, Montvale, for years. He shared that a positive attitude with parents and children is always the best approach. “For the most part, kids know a lot, and they are very interested.”

That younger people want to get involved is exemplified every year at the March for Life, he said. “You see so many young people at the march. It shows they are not alone.”

Father Lago, Hendricks and Kenny said they are hopeful that this year’s march will attract the publicity from the secular media that it deserves but rarely gets.

When screenings of “40” were planned, Father Lago said, organizers had no idea that another march with a decidedly pro-choice focus had been scheduled for Jan. 21 on the exact same landscape where millions have gathered annually to decry abortion on demand that has cost 55 million to date in the United States.

He said the march this year is timely. “People are seeking encouragement, to be with people” and to take a real look at the issues.