‘Saving lives and helping women’: The diocese’s 40 Days for Life campaign

  • Tim Biggins, the director for the Springfield Diocese’s 40 Days for Life campaign for 15 years, stands with the Rev. Dan Pacholec, pastor of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Westfield, who directs pro-life activities for the diocese. The two were gathered Monday morning along with about 20 other people in front of a Planned Parenthood of Western Mass Health Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Alice and Alan Zedonis, of Easthampton, talk about why they chose to support the 40 Days for Life event at the Planned Parenthood of Western Mass Health Center in Springfield. Alan Zedonis shows a photo of him with a young child at one of the other events the two attended recently. The prayer campaign, which began in late September and continues through Nov. 6, seeks and end to abortions. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Carolee McGrath, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Springfield, listens as Alice and Alan Zedonis, of Easthampton, talk about why they chose to support the 40 Days for Life event at the Planned Parenthood of Western Mass Health Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Alice and Alan Zedonis of Easthampton talk about why they support the 40 Days for Life event at the Planned Parenthood of Western Mass Health Center. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Diane Dryjowicz at a 40 Days for Life event Monday at the Planned Parenthood of Western Mass Health Center in Springfield. Dryjowicz volunteers for the Bethlehem House in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Carolee McGrath, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Springfield, listens as Alice and Alan Zedonis, of Easthampton, talk about why they chose to support the 40 Days for Life event at the Planned Parenthood of Western Mass Health Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/24/2022 9:11:02 PM

SPRINGFIELD — It’s been more than 50 years since a geneticist approached Alice and Alan Zedonis about an abortion, yet the couple remember the conversation like it was yesterday.

The medical professional told the Easthampton couple while discussing the health of their unborn baby five decades ago that if they wanted to test the baby for Down syndrome through amniocentesis, they would need to promise to have an abortion if it were discovered.

“I immediately said ‘no.’ … it was surprising,” said Alice Zedonis as she recalled that day.

Today, the Zedonises, who describe themselves as pro-life and attend Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Easthampton, have four children and several grandchildren.

On Monday morning, with umbrellas in hand, the couple stood on the sidewalk in front of the Western Massachusetts Health Center of Springfield, operated by the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, encouraging passersby to pray to end abortion.

“A lot of people think it’s a religious issue, but it’s really a humanity issue,” Alan Zedonis said. “If the strong don’t stand for the weak, who will?”

The Zedonises were one of more than 20 people who were bundled up with blankets and hooded jackets lining the street in downtown as part of the Diocese of Springfield’s 40 Days for Life fall campaign. As the rain transitioned from a drizzle to a heavy downpour, several juggled umbrellas with their rosaries extended in prayer in one hand and signs encouraging people to reconsider having an abortion in another.

“Pray to End Abortion” and “You Don’t Have To Do This Today” were two of the signs on display.

The ecumenical effort is part of an international campaign that aims to end abortion locally through prayer and fasting, community outreach, and a peaceful all-day vigil in front of places that perform abortions. This is the first time the campaign has been held since Roe v. Wade was overturned, though the effort has taken place annually since 2007.

The Rev. Dan Pacholec, director of pro-life activities in the Diocese of Springfield and pastor of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Westfield, noted that the crowd of people who had assembled make it a point to keep things peaceful. In fact, no one stands on private property or near entrances in an attempt to block entry.

“I think it’s the hope every day that as people come by, they see people committed to prayer and to supporting life in the womb, and that hearts change ... there’s no arm-twisting,” Pacholec said. “The experience of standing up publicly in prayer for a cause that’s so important for our faith, and for the protection of children in the womb, is just wonderful to see.”

According to the diocese, the international campaign has helped save more than 22,000 babies from abortion. Locally, organizers report that they know of at least 26 babies who have been saved.

“No woman I have ever met has ever come back after keeping their baby and said, ‘Darn, I wish you weren’t here,’ ya know? They always come back and say, ‘I’m so glad you’re here’,” said Tim Biggins, leader of the Springfield campaign.

Biggins, who attends Holy Name in Springfield, has been leading the local campaign since it began 15 years ago.

“It’s saving lives and helping women,” Biggins said.

In a statement to the Gazette, Planned Parenthood said: “Facts are facts: abortion is health care and patients deserve to make their own health care decisions with medical professionals, free from intimidation or judgement. PPLM’s focus is on delivering excellent health care that allows our patients to live healthy lives, care for their families, and determine their futures.”

Since Sept. 28, people from parishes throughout the Pioneer Valley have signed up to stand outside the Western Massachusetts Health Center of Springfield from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Springfield Bishop William D. Byrne is leading people in prayer throughout the campaign.

Carolee McGrath, who works for the Springfield Diocese, said at one point on Friday afternoon, she stood alone praying at the health center. In a matter of minutes, she said, she was quickly joined by several others.

“The idea is to have someone covering each shift of the day,” she said.

McGrath, who attends Saint Cecilia Church in Wilbraham, has been involved in the anti-abortion movement since her youngest of five children was an infant. To her, following an ultrasound is following science.

“I need to be here,” she said. “No one is going to speak for these babies. I need to step up and be here and pray for them. Prayer is a powerful way to get the message out. People may think I’m a weirdo and may even give me a one-finger wave, but if I can change even one person’s mind, it’s worth the risk.”

The campaign runs until Sunday, Nov. 6.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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