By Christina Leslie and Lois Rogers | Correspondents
Nearly 100 sturdy souls stood in the plaza of Trenton’s State House Annex Jan. 22 for the annual Rally for Life, eager to send a clear message to legislators, passers-by and anyone who would listen: They support life in all its forms, at all its stages, from conception to natural death.
Photo Gallery: 2019 State House Rally for Life
Among them were scores of Catholic faithful and representatives from around the state who braved frigid temperatures, including Bishop James F. Checchio of the Metuchen Diocese, who led the opening prayer and remarks.
“Let the light of your divine wisdom guide our leaders and shine forth on all our actions … Let them be inspired to respect life as they discharge their duties,” he prayed.
Referencing legislation in Trenton that would legalize assisted suicide, Bishop Checchio urged all to remember that the lives of the elderly and disabled are at risk, too. “Stand up for life so that our voices will be heard. Life at every stage and the dignity of all people must be celebrated and protected.”
The rally, sponsored by the New Jersey Right to Life organization, fell on the 46th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
Carmine Armenti of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Ewing, and the Ewing Council Knights of Columbus, said he thought it was important to be a show of support “to hopefully overturn Roe v. Wade.”
“The more people who come out shows our state Legislature that we need some change,” he said.
Walking with Armenti was Pat Hennessy of St. Alphonsus Parish, Hopewell, both of whom were taking part in the Mass and rally for the first time.
“Coming to the Mass and the State House is very rewarding,” Hennessy said. “This is very close to my heart.”
Marie Tasy, New Jersey Right to Life executive director, introduced each speaker. Pro-life legislators quoted somber statistics in a well-modulated tone, while others shared personal stories of regretted abortions, urged legislative action, or shouted their views and engaged the shivering supporters in a revival-like call and response chant. No matter their background or mode of delivery, the message was unanimous: life matters.
Chris Bell, founder of Good Counsel Homes, shouted to the crowd, “Why are we here?”
“For life!” came the response.
“We live in a contraceptive culture, even after conception,” Bell said, relating the story of a 22-year-old pregnant woman whose parents had urged her to abort three babies and were pressuring her to do the same for a fourth fetus. “We pray for forgiveness and healing and hope,” said Bell, and repeated, “We are here for life!”
Young people, too, made their voices heard. Jeremy Whaley, treasurer for Students for Life at The College of New Jersey, Ewing, noted the aborted “are aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters robbed of the chance to be in our lives. We need to show persistence and strength ... we want the culture of life.”
Patrick Smith, assistant athletic director of St. John Vianney High School, said the rally was a good experience for everyone, especially the handful of students from the Holmdel school.
“We are defenders of life in all its forms,” said Smith, whose wife, Audra, and daughters, Caeley, 11, and Kiara, 13, attended the Mass and walked to the rally. “It’s invaluable for the kids to live their faith and put it into action.”